Basharat Bashir

Avertible Tragedy

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This is the  journey of an artist born in 1853 and named after his deceased brother, which unfolds as a painful narrative marked by the persistent shadow of low self-esteem. His deeply ingrained sense of inadequacy haunted him from early childhood, as he harbored the belief that his departed brother would have surpassed him in every aspect of life. Despite possessing an extraordinary perception of the world, he remained mired in feelings of inferiority, often compelled to overcompensate for his perceived shortcomings.

Throughout his formative years, his attempts to impress his parents with unnatural behaviors only deepened his despair. Exaggerating his failures unnecessarily, he eventually abandoned the pursuit of a serious career, resigned to a life where securing his future seemed like an insurmountable challenge. Amidst the turmoil of his mental condition, one steadfast companion he carried with him was his unwavering sincerity.

His literal interpretation of the world around him, coupled with his unnatural sincerity, made his journey fraught with difficulty, impacting both his life and relationships. Exploring various jobs, facing rejection in some and voluntarily leaving others, he grappled with a unique perspective that set him apart. Despite his struggles, he endeavored to be helpful to those around him, prioritizing the well-being of others over his own precarious condition.

A turning point emerged when he secured a decent job of  teaching the book of God to peasants and coal miners. Finally feeling a sense of worth, he immersed himself emotionally in their lives, adopting their lifestyle and even sharing in their struggles. Amidst this transformative period, he began to sketch scenes and people around him, using rudimentary materials.

The catalyst for his evolution as an artist came when his economically well-established younger brother, knowledgeable about the art world, recognized the ray of hope within his drawings. Encouraged by his brother’s support, both emotionally and financially, he returned to the city to learn from contemporary artists. Initially emulating the styles of those he admired, he eventually forged a unique artistic identity that garnered acclaim from established artists of the time.

However, despite his newfound success, he found himself unable to sell any of his works. Entirely dependent on his brother for sustenance, housing, and art materials, his self-reliance waned as his brother embarked on a new chapter in his life through marriage. Overwhelmed by a sense of shame, he refrained from seeking assistance.

Descending into depression and anxiety, his mental health deteriorated rapidly. Once again, his brother stepped in, admitting him to an asylum where he sought refuge and stability. Upon discharge, he returned to live with his brother’s family, caught again in a cycle of dependence.

As hope dwindled and the artist faced the grim reality of his circumstances, he took his last canvas, remnants of paint, and brushes to a vast field. There, in solitude, he painted for hours, grappling with profound questions about his existence, worth, and the possibility of creating something positive. The torment of his thoughts found solace in his final painting, and with poignant resignation, he chose to end his life, leaving behind a legacy marked by the complexities of mental health, artistic passion, and the perpetual quest for hope.

Vincent Van Gogh, who lived as an unsuccessful artist and was compelled to tragically end his life, is now widely regarded as one of the finest artists in history. His works, once dismissed by art enthusiasts, now command millions in the market. However, this financial success brings no benefit to the artist himself, as he has long since passed away. Despite creating art with unparalleled passion, Van Gogh’s genius was initially overlooked by many. Today, there are numerous young artists struggling to make a living from their art, and to prevent such stories from repeating, we should strive to genuinely appreciate and support these artists who wholeheartedly produce remarkable artworks. As they say ‘buy from the living artists, the dead do not need the money’.

 Ismail Shammout

Art can be a form of relief and a means of expression for the people living in places afflicted by violence and oppression. Art provides a way to share experiences which otherwise remain untold and restricted within an individual. The role of political art is very significant in places experiencing tyranny and forced occupation as in such places there are always strict laws forced on people preventing them from any physical demonstration or protest. There have been many artists in the past that with their creativity stood against the oppressors and led several movements against illicit occupational forces. One such artist was Palestinian born Ismail Shammout.

Born in 1930 in the Palestinian town of Lydda, Shammout’s life unfolded against the backdrop of the forced exodus of his family, one of the 25,000 residents driven out by Israeli occupation on July 12, 1948. Enduring the harsh journey, Shammout and his family were fortunate to find refuge in Ni’lin, north of Ramallah, after being welcomed with bread and water.

As the hope of returning home faded, Shammout’s family relocated to the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza. There, Shammout supported his family by selling homemade halva while also nurturing his artistic talent through drawings and paintings.

In 1950, determined to pursue his artistic dreams, Shammout journeyed to Cairo. Upon his return to Gaza in 1953, he held a successful art exhibition that paved the way for subsequent exhibitions, including one in Cairo with fellow Palestinian artist Tamam Al-Akhal, who later became his wife. The exhibition, inaugurated by Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nasser, enabled Shammout to study at the Academia De Belle Arti in Rome.

Shammout’s artistic style, influenced by his firsthand experiences, became a powerful representation of Palestinian culture and traditions. His iconic painting “Where to” vividly captures the Lydda Death March, depicting a distraught father with his children amid the forced exodus.

Joining the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as Director of Arts and National Culture in 1965, Shammout played a crucial role in using art to depict the Palestinian struggle. Forced to relocate multiple times, including during the Israeli aggression on Lebanon in 1983, Shammout settled in Jordan in 1992 after the Gulf War.

A key figure in modern Palestinian visual arts, Shammout believed that art served as a conduit to convey the suffering, sadness, and dreams of the Palestinian people. In 1997, he returned to his hometown as a tourist, encountering the painful reality of his occupied house.

Teaming up with his wife, Shammout embarked on their most ambitious project, “Palestine: The Exodus and the Odyssey.” This collection of 19 large murals, created from 1997 to 2000, chronicles the Palestinian plight since the creation of Israel in 1948.

Despite his trials, Shammout continued to paint until his passing on July 1, 2006, leaving behind a legacy as an artist, historian, and activist who illuminated the Palestinian narrative through his powerful and evocative art



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