A leading abstract painter and an influential scholar of Palestinian art, Samia Halaby is recognised as a pioneer of contemporary Arab abstraction. “In Arabic art, seeing is an analytical and thoughtful process,” she says. “This impression is the experience of a visual language which reflects the symmetry of growth in nature.”
Born in Jerusalem, Samia Halaby (1936) and her family were expelled from Jaffa in 1948 with the creation of the Israeli state and fled to Beirut. In 1951, they emigrated to the United states and Halaby attended the University of Cincinnati for a degree in Design and graduated from Indiana University with a master’s degree in fine art in 1963. Soon after, she began teaching academically and was known for introducing her groundbreaking undergraduate studio art programme to universities across the US. Notably, Halaby was also the first full-time female associate professor at the Yale School of Art.
In 1966, she received an academic grant to research visual culture, Islamic architecture and geometric abstraction in the Arab world. Also influenced by the abstraction movements of the West, she engages the two in a career-long investigation into abstraction and how reality can be represented through form. She writes: “Abstract painting deals with the general, which includes illusions of natural principles, physical motions, distribution patterns, light conditions, social organizations.” Halaby creates her abstract works by experimenting in a variety of media like drawing, printmaking, computer-based kinetic art, and free-from-the-stretcher painting.
Halaby’s work has been collected by international institutions including the Guggenheim Museum of Art; Yale University Art Gallery; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Art Institute of Chicago; Cleveland Museum of Art; the Institut du Monde Arabe; Detroit Institute of Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, Indianapolis Museum of Art, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Mead Art Museum, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and the British Museum.