It is a remarkable thing to appreciate potential and hope when you are surrounded with anguish and pain. Born and raised in a Rafah refugee camp, Laila Kassab is an extraordinary Palestinian artist, who creates larger than life abstract paintings. Her paintings depict her true emotions about the ongoing war in Palestine and how it is affecting the lives of thousands of people. 

I like to express my feelings about things in a unique colour way. I am a Palestinian woman. My presence in life is what brings life, love and joy and positive energy. I don't allow myself to be weak,” said Kassab in an interview with Arts Help. 

Kassab’s paintings are nothing short of being unique; the spectator will be astounded with her creative use of colours, representation of women and inclusion of nature. Closely aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions,  she is making endless efforts to represent the true emotions of Palestinians through her art. The painting The Pain of My City Jerusalem to the Rest of the Days, captures the epitome of Kassab’s pain and anguish. She tends to personify Jerusalem as a beautiful woman, while Israel is depicted as a monster trying to evade and destroy her.

Kassab’s plea for peace and justice can be found in her own description of her painting as well. “Jerusalem here is the beautiful woman who is whispering to her bird that she wants to feel freedom and that the flowers of peace will sprout in it and end of wars,” she writes in a Facebook post.

The strong use of women and feminine figures in her paintings highlight the role of women in a war ravaged country. 

While residing in the a refugee camp within the Gaza Strip, Kassab had joined a London-based organization with the mission of establishing connections with Palestinians in her local. The group she joined received some of her paintings which were smuggled and later exhibited in the United Kingdom in exhibitions “Who can sleep in Gaza?” (2014) and “Art under Siege” (2017). They've also been displayed throughout in countries like United States and France and are appreciated around the world.

Although she weaves undeniably vibrant pictures, she hides a substantial message in the names of her paintings. They are a testimony to how visually stunning art can harbour pain, broken dreams and shattered hope. By demonstrating her paintings in various exhibitions around the world, Kassab has found a way to express herself, without leaving Gaza. Her paintings see the world she so badly wants to explore. 

Butterfly by Laila Kassab. Image courtesy of Insider Outsider Art.

Kassab’s paintings usually  force her spectators to halt and ponder upon her situation and many others belonging from a war stricken environment. Undoubtedly, through her art she inspires so many and continues to encourage the message of peace and justice.

Her paintings, such as the Butterfly, encapsulates feminism in the form of a deity. A fierce Palestinian woman, bearing a crown, flying upwards with hope and although her face is distorted, she still dons a smile.

“I love being a colourful woman like a butterfly. Educated. Free. Unruly. Quiet. Childish. Many situations resemble my paintings,” added Kassab in an interview with Arts Help.

Love and Passion by Laila Kassab. Image courtesy of Insider Outsider Art.

Similarly, through her painting, Love and Passion, the Palestinian artist illustrates the role of women by closely relating them to nature; commenting that no matter how unsettling and difficult things become, a nurturing figure such as a mother can never deny shelter and protection to her children. Such expression of art compels the audience to think about all the women stuck in a country that is constantly in a state of war. Regardless of the hostilities created by mankind, Mother Nature never betrays its children and the circle of life continues. 

Cruelty but Hope by Laila Kassab. Image courtesy of Insider Outsider Art.

Cruelty but Hope is another testament of how war hurts those beyond our imagination. It takes more than life, it also takes away hope and any beacon of positivity that one might have. Observing her painting, the onlooker will see the different hues of blue intricately encompassing nature. The introduction of colourful peacocks, sea life and floral abstracts surround a strong woman rooted in the ground with a piercing gaze in her eyes. Yes, there is cruelty being inflicted but nevertheless, there is still hope. 

Prisoner of Life by Laila Kassab. Image courtesy of Insider Outsider Art.

As a woman, Kassab feels responsible to show her support for female activists who have been captured and imprisoned by the Israeli government. The painting Prisoner of Life has been inspired by the female activist, Ahed Tamimi; who was arrested in December 2017 because she fought back against the Israeli government and was not released until 2018. Again, we cannot deny that women play an important role in Laila’s paintings. The woman that you see here is not just Tamimi, but also so many other women in Palestine, who might not be in criminals but definitely feel like they are prisoners. 

Kassab has attributed a harrowing name to this strikingly beautiful painting. The bird that she mentions can be seen attached to the long lustrous locks of a woman bearing a child. The right half of the painting again showcases bright yellow and orange colours, and a soul piercing gaze looking up at the observer with malicious intent. Could they be representing a massive explosion? 

“In my country, we do not find even a single chance for success, and we see our future as ambiguous or ambiguous. But we love our country,” shared Kassab with Arts Help. 

Final Minutes of a Dialogue before Killing of the Bird by Laila Kassab. Image courtesy of Insider Outsider Art.

These are haunting words of a survivor who appeals to the world about the importance of peace and justice. It is our responsibility to remember Laila and her fellow Palestinians in the same way as her paintings; colourful, joyous and hopeful while living in an unjust dark reality.  

Over the last century Palestine has found itself in a constant state of war; leaving many Palestinians living in unfathomable conditions. War and conflict is so embedded in their system that many don’t know any other way of living other than a constant lookout for safety and peace. Currently, Gaza and Israel have declared war against one another as relations between them take a turn for the worst. 

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