Abed Abdi was born in Palestine, in the northern city of Haifa, February 1942. At age 6 he and his mother and siblings were forced to flee when they were uprooted from their home during the violent Naqba of 1948 and for three years they moved from one refugee camp to another in several surrounding Arab countries until their return to Israel. Abdi made his connections in the Israeli art scene through the Communist Party in Haifa which also gave him protection. The artist was a major motivator of a “Liberation through art” movement by Palestinian artists who lived in the areas of Palestine that were lost to Israeli Occupation in 1948. The trauma of living the Naqba in their childhood is what lead them to using art as an outlet. Abdi belonged to that generation of young Palestinian artists and this shows through the themes of his paintings and sculptures.          

In 1962, at the age of 20, he was the first Arab to join the Israeli Painter and Sculptors Association. He also held his first exhibition in Tel Aviv.

In 1964 he received a scholarship to study in East Germany with the help of the Communist Party, and a year later he enrolls in the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts where he specialized in mural arts and environmental sculpting. He was taught by professors Gerhard Kettner and Lea Grundig (who was a student of Otto Dix and a communist Jew. She and her husband developed a very personal relationship with Abdi and as his mentors, had much influence on his work.

In 1970, he obtained his Master’s  degree and was selected among other graduates to create a mural in front of the Cultural Palace (Kulturpalast) in Dresden. This mural still stands today as a cultural landmark of unified Germany.

After his studies abroad, Abdi returned to Haifa and started teaching children visual arts in schools and community centers. From 1985 until his retirement in 2007, he taught fine arts and the history of arts in the Arab Pedagogical College in Haifa.

In the beginning of his career Abdi was working mostly on graphic art. As a student, he published a series of graphic works about refugees, Palestinian villages and daily life in occupation which were mainly black and white. These remained a theme throughout his artistic career but later he started using more color. A noticeable detail in his overall works is that he not only depicts Palestinian and Israeli cityscapes but within them makes it a point to emphasize religious institutions of all three Abrahamic religions, sometimes even side to side. This focus shows how motivated he is to use his art to better relations between Christian and Muslim Arabs, and Jews. His most recent works consist of more mixed media, using metals, sometimes with bullet holes or objects that allude to life as a prisoner of war. He also uses textiles, photos, beads, and his last series was a set of drawers with personal memorabilia that everyday Palestinian people might hold on to. Abdi still has a strong connection to the past.

Sources