Storm and You are Free: Antarah in Black on White Fatima El Hajj
Fatima El Hajj (b. 1953) has been considered one of Lebanon’s most avid landscape artists. For over 40 years, she has chosen to express through landscape the most radical and existential moments in her life. It is through her garden and deep connection to nature that she formed a strong link between her own personal life and the painterly practice that earned her respected reputation. Trained in Leningrad in the late 1970s, El Hajj chose to later pursue her higher studies in Paris in line with her Lebanese mentors Shafic Abboud and Amine El Bacha. She has since managed to deconstruct nature’s elements to produce vibrant paintings of interrelated forms.
In this artist’s book, Storm and You are Free, El Hajj departs from her signature style in both materiality and subject. A tribute to Antarah Ibn Shaddad (AD 525–608) – a heroic figure in Arabic literature and poetry – this largely monochromatic work studies a man with a legacy of epic proportions. Son of an enslaved Ethiopian princess, Antarah grew up in servitude and suffered from the darkness of his complexion – the color of his skin became the source of discrimination and servitude expressed in his famous poetry.
El Hajj’s understanding of the Arabic Knight’s life was translated into shades of black on white. She used the single color in its diluted tints to explore ascendency from slavery to freedom. In her interpretation of Antarah, he is not only the valiant equestrian nor the intrepid champion but is also the first one to call for the battle of liberation in Arab history. Black and white become mirrors of the struggle between cruelty and the story of his famous love for Abla and plight for freedom. Black becomes the metaphor of the life struggle of Antarah – the warrior, the soldier, and the lover.
The handmade, hand stitched artist’s book painted with China Ink completed after a yearlong labor is an ode to love and life, solitude and death. Launched at a time when the youth of Hajj’s native Lebanon are themselves rallying together in defiance of patriarchy and sectarianism, the artwork visualizes themes of injustice and slavery in the artist’s own search for freedom. Her immersion into the Arab Knight’s poetry is in reflection of personal tragedies and a desire to remember life beyond these conflicting forces. It is a strength that, in Hajj’s own words, “can only be found when artist allows themselves to be totally consumed by their art.”
Created with a passion that frames centuries of storytelling throughout the Arab world, this artist’s book, conceived as a limited edition of 76, is ultimately a vision of history told through the eyes of those living it. Fatima El Hajj, in the peak of artistic maturity, has culminated her work in a striking transparency to share the magical world she envisions.
Storm and You are Free: Antarah in Black on White
Boxset holding an artist’s book (180 illustrations) printed on cotton paper, coptic binding with a unique hand-drawn cover (24.5 x 33 cm) and a Giclèe print on hahnemuhle photo rag 380 gsm 100% white cotton (21.5 x 29 cm)
Limited Edition of 76. The artist’s book and the accompanying print are signed and numbered by the artist