A mermaid donning a predominantly red and white Palestinian thobe dominates the oil painting of Imad Abu Shtayyah's Yafa-Mermaid, 2015. She fills nearly the entire canvas except for the upper...
IMAD ABU SHTAYYAH, Palestine
Medium: Oil on canvas
140.5 x 105 cm
A mermaid donning a predominantly red and white Palestinian thobe dominates the oil painting of Imad Abu Shtayyah's Yafa-Mermaid, 2015. She fills nearly the entire canvas except for the upper register. The thobe merges with the mermaid’s body – her red, yellow, green, and white fins reflect the colors of the fabric. The threads of the intricate tatreez (traditional Palestinian embroidery) reach above the collar and seem sewn into her neck. Her white scarf, typically worn by Palestinian women, floats behind her like a veil.
Her arms are extended like a whirling dervish. Her left-hand reaches for an orange floating on the water's surface, connecting the mermaid and the shore. In the upper section of the painting appears the small coastal town of Yafa in blue and brown hues. It is as if the city, with its strong bond to the sea, were partially underwater. The light grey and earthen outlines of the old stone houses with distinct architectural features rise along the picturesque shore. The red and white striped lighthouse is visible towards the right end. The vertical structure emerging among the buildings is the Ottoman clocktower in Market Square. Above the city float white clouds and seagulls.
In contrast to the left hand of the mermaid that ushers toward the city, her right hand extends downwards beneath it. The mermaid’s arms and hips are adorned with colorful translucent fins. Her tail fin is a contrasting vivid vermilion. The painting, like the mermaid, is submerged in a deep-sea hue. The shades range from light blue at the top and saturate towards the bottom of the painting, reflecting a harmonious microcosm. The brushstrokes are indiscernible to the eye. The lush colors glisten like water, melting into each other. This accentuates the bond between land, sea, and mermaid.
In the lower register of the painting, the mermaid is surrounded by a school of fish gliding above clay pots. Undoubtedly, the pots symbolize the remnants of ancient civilizations and trade routes. The fantastic sea creature is accompanied by a goldfish. The mermaid looks like she is standing in the water with a determined, slightly stern look and wide eyes. She symbolizes freedom: a recurrent motif in Shtayyah’s and Palestinian art.
Though the central figure of the painting is the mermaid, her reaching out to an orange is of great significance. The luscious citrus fruit symbolized Yafa’s wealth and ingenuity. The oranges floating in the water like a net symbolize Palestine as well as its loss. The turmoil that has befallen this city stems from a heritage that was compromised during the Palestinian struggle. As the orange trees were uprooted from their ground, so were the Palestinians. As such, the Yafa mermaid reaches toward her heritage and land while submerged in a deep and rich history – an endless sea of the past.