Written by Alessandra Amin
Samira Badran was born in Tripoli, Libya, in 1954, into a family of noteworthy Palestinian artists. Her father, Jamal Badran (1909-1999), was an artist and an expert in the field of Islamic arts and crafts. A skilled sculptor and painter, he applied his expertise to materials as varied as parchment, paper, ceramic, wood, and glass, and was also prolific in artistic bookbinding and embossed leather works. Along with his brothers, Abdel Razzaq, a photographer, and Khairy, a weaver, Jamal Badran established a studio in Jerusalem in 1945 for the advancement of national and Islamic artistic traditions. Though the Badrans lost the studio during the Nakba, forcing Jamal to relocate his work to Libya, the family moved back to Palestine in 1962, where Jamal founded his arts and crafts studio in Ramallah. [i] He also played an essential role in the restoration and renovation of the burnt minbar (pulpit) of Al-Aqsa Mosque.[ii]
At the outset of the Six-Day War in 1967, the Badrans left Palestine for Amman and then Beirut, where they spent six months before returning to their home in Ramallah. This experience left a deep impression on thirteen-year-old Samira, who recalls the terror of hearing Israeli fighter planes above her family’s house, and the humiliation of being strip-searched at the border when she re-entered the country.[iii]
Samira graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1976 and completed graduate training in etching and painting at the Academia de Belle Arti in Florence in 1982. During the two years that elapsed between finishing in Egypt and beginning in Italy, Badran taught art at the UNWRA-run women’s teacher training center in Ramallah. During this short period, she made a number of mixed-media drawings that the artist herself considers “nightmarish.”[iv] Using ink, watercolor, and collage on brown paper, Badran evokes the suffocating difficulty of life under occupation through imaginative, vivid compositions in which machines and everyday materials seem to take on lives of their own. In Twenty-Five Barrels (1977), for example, a hominid figure lies wrapped in a shroud and bound to a wooden pole by ropes, completely enclosed in a cage except for its horse-like head. Atop the cage, an alligator lies beneath heaping piles of barrels, broken and distorted, many of which seem to have eyes and even faces. Throughout the dense, intricate drawing, Badran thwarts her audience’s efforts to distinguish between the organic and the mechanical, creating a tangle of hybrid forms that appear simultaneously as creatures, objects, and machines. As the viewer’s eye progresses from the earthier, warmer lower register to the cooler, brighter upper register, it finds itself repeatedly ensnared by the immense detail of the drawing, lingering on figures at once familiar and foreboding. The sense of crowding created by the image is palpable; one thinks of the densely populated refugee camps where Badran taught during this era, the inhabitants of which were living in a land that felt both like home and like an alien landscape.
This piece, which appeared in one of Badran’s earliest exhibitions, is characteristic of her work in the late 1970s. Drawings such as Horse (1976), Jerusalem (1977), and Cement Machine (1977) show similar formal preoccupations with bundles and folds of fabric, tightly-wound coils of wire and rope, and pieces of broken machinery, and are populated by the artist’s hybrid, Frankenstein-esque creatures. There is a certain futility to them: they feature dwellings that cannot provide shelter, beings that cannot move, machines that do not seem to work.
Although her artistic practices have evolved over her forty-year career, Samira Badran continues to produce work that considers themes of mobility and claustrophobia in the Palestinian context. One example can be found in her first short film, Memory of the Land (2017), a mixed-media animation, where the protagonist of this film is a pair of legs without an upper body, which Badran has stated she designed in order emphasize the severe Israeli restriction of Palestinian movement between areas of their fragmented territory.[v]
Samira Badran has exhibited extensively across the globe in cities as diverse as Florence, Baghdad, London, Jerusalem, and Washington, DC. She has lived and worked in Barcelona since the early 1980s.
[i] For more on Jamal Badran, see Kamal Boullata, Palestinian Art from 1850 to the Present. London; Berkeley, California: Saqi (2009): pp. 70-77.
[ii] Personal correspondence with artist, May 2020
[v] See Errika Zacharopoulou’s interview with Samira Badran for the 2018 Glasgow Film Festival: https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-short-film-festival/shows/memory-of-the-land-an-interview-with-samira-badran
Artist’s website: http://www.samirabadran.com
Amirsadeghi, Hussein, Salwa Mikdadi, and Nada Shabbout, eds. New Vision: Arab Contemporary Art in the 21st Century. London: TransGlobe Publishing, 2009: pp. 90-93
Bland, Salua, ed. Filastin al-Hadara (exhibition catalog). Amman: The Khalid Shoman Foundation – Darat al-Funun, 2018: pp. 198-207
Boullata, Kamal. Between Exits: Paintings by Hani Zurob. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2012: pp. 120-124
Boullata, Kamal. Palestinian Art from 1850 to the Present.London: Saqi, 2009: pp. 26; 272-274
Halaby, Raouf. “Art Palestine International’s 2014 Exhibit.” Counterpunch website, 28 March 2014. https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/28/art-palestine-internationals-2014-exhibit/
Interview with Erika Zacharopoulou for Glasgow Film Festival, 2018: https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-short-film-festival/shows/memory-of-the-land-an-interview-with-samira-badran
Obrist, Hans Ulrich and Hoor al-Qasimi, Do It Bil Arabi (exhibition catalog). Sharjah: Sharjah Art Foundation, 2016: pp. 98-99, 104-105
Slitine, Marion. “Bridge to Palestine: Voyage au Coeur de la Création Contemporaine Palestinienne.” ONORIENT Agency website, 29 September 2015. http://onorient.com/bridge-to-palestine-voyage-coeur-de-creation-contemporaine-palestinienne-9061-20150929
Subcontracted Nations (exhibition catalog). Ramallah: A.M. Qattan Foundation, 2018: p. 263