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 exhibition, 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 series 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.
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.
with intense dedication to and passion for the source material, these artworks shed
light on Antarah’s legacy by using his poems as the main voice to narrate his
struggles against racism and the patriarchy. The crowing piece is a
10-meter-long laparello style mural painted with scenes of both tragedy and
triumph with a series of 24 other drawings. The project includes a handmade, hand
stitched artist’s book painted with Chinese Ink completed after a yearlong labor.
A year in the making, this collection is an ode to love and life, solitude and death. Planned for exhibition 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 series 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. Dongola Limited Editions will launch an artist’s book of the same name at this exhibition. Conceived as a limited edition of 73, Storm and You are Free will be on sale and displayed in the presence of the artist during the event.
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