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Abed Abdi's Art: 52 Years of Creation

 by Taleb Haj
Abed Abdi is celebrating 50 years of artistic work this year, and is holding a special retrospective exhibition covering much of his art at the Um El Fahem Gallery. The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive catalog (in Hebrew, Arabic and English) that summarizes Abdi’s work.

 On this special occasion, therefore, I  attempt to provide a short review of Abed Abdi, touching upon milestones of his art and career.


 by Taleb Haj
Abed Abdi is celebrating 50 years of artistic work this year, and is holding a special retrospective exhibition covering much of his art at the Um El Fahem Gallery. The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive catalog (in Hebrew, Arabic and English) that summarizes Abdi’s work.

 On this special occasion, therefore, I  attempt to provide a short review of Abed Abdi, touching upon milestones of his art and career.



Abed Abdi was born into a long standing Haifa family, his mother's uncle, Abed el Rahman el Haj, was mayor of the city of Haifa in the years 1920–1927. In April 1948, Abed Abdi, his mother Khaiyrieh, his brother Deeb and sisters Lutfiye, Suad and Zahra were uprooted from their home, while his father remained in Haifa. From Haifa the mother and her children traveled to Acre from where, two weeks later, they sailed on a decrepit boat to Lebanon. In Lebanon they were first housed in the transit camp in Beirut port, and later moved to the Mieh Mieh refugee camp near Sidon, from where they continued to Damascus. After three years of wandering between Palestinian refugee camps, the mother and her children were allowed back into Israel as part of the family reunification program. His eldest sister Lutfiye still (2011) resides in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.[1]

 During his high school days he learned painting and sculpting at the workshops of Israeli art teachers Yaskil Avraham, Meirowitch Zvi, and sculptor Kafri Mordecai. In 1962 Abdi was accepted for membership in the Haifa branch of the Israeli Association of Painters and Sculptors, becoming its first Arab member, and held his first exhibition in Tel Aviv.[2]

 He then pursued academic studies at the Fine Arts Academy in Dresden (Germany). His professors were Lea Grundig,[3]G. Bondzin and G. Kettner. His masterwork at the Academy received the 2nd prize, which allowed Abdi to spend another year at the Academy and specialize in murals and environmental sculpture.[4]

 In 1970 he received his M.A diploma, and was then selected by his academic supervisor Prof. Gerhard Bondzin, along with a group of other graduating students at the Academy, to participate in the erection of a huge mural at the Cultural Palace (Kulturpalast), built in 1968 in the center of Dresden, a mural which still remains a cultural landmark of this part of unified Germany .


  1. Tal Ben Zvi, The Trailblazer:Abed Abdi Biographical Milestones, in:Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity, published in 2010, at p. 222.
  2. Tal Ben Zvi, The Trailblazer: Abed Abdi Biographical Milestones, in:Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity, published in 2010, at p. 222.
  3. see Lea Grunding on Wikipedia in German. See also a portrait of the student Abed Abdi, made by his professor Lea Grundig (1967) at: Deutsche Fotothek
  4. Amir Abdi,The Wondering Museum in the Works of Abed Abdi, in: Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity, published in 2010, at p. 194



Abed Abdi's Art: Illustrations


Abed Abdi's Art: Illustrations

In the years Abdi spent in Germany (1964–1971) he created a corpus of illustrations, lithographs and etchings mainly dedicated to either the Nakba or the Palestinian refugees. A group of the refugee works which Abdi created in Germany between 1968 and 1971, and which were published in 1973 as a set of twelve black and white prints entitled Abed Abdi – Paintings, offer a glimpse of central motifs that would later recur in many of his works. [1]

Curator Tal Ben Zvi commented that "in these and other works, clearly evident is the mark left by his childhood experiences when he moved between refugee camps, and from the period following his family’s reunification in Haifa. To depict the refugees, Abdi adopted a Social Realism approach of the kind to which he was exposed prior to his departure for Germany, and which he refined while he was there".[2]

In 1972 Abed Abdi returned to Haifa, and worked as graphic designer for a number Arabic publications that appeared in Israel, like Al Ittihad and Al Jadid. He  created illustrations and applied graphic art, posters and book covers.

A recent exhibition, titled Wa Ma Nasina (We Have Not Forgotten) contains a selection from his illustrations. Curator Tal Ben Zvi wrote that "This exhibition is a personal journey in time, memory and history of Palestinians, which constitutes an integral part of the life of artist Abed Abdi, who was born in Haifa."[3]

The exhibition contains paintings and lithographies, created starting at the end of the 1960s, and published in Al Ittihad newspaper, and in Al Jadid literary magazine.

Additionally, some of the illustrations in the exhibition have served as covers of books, and as illustrations inside books. Among the books in which these illustrations were published are:

His friend and colleague, Palestinian poet Samih Al Qasim stated that "Since he started out, Abdi’s brush has attracted my attention. He offered a unique approach. When I asked him for a print for the cover of my second collection of poems, Poems of the Roads, in 1964, he assented with loving enthusiasm. He recognized the harmony in our work: an array that is immersed in the national and human pain of the Palestinian people, and a poem inundated with that pain. His illustration constituted a sharp, deep and beautiful expression of the burning lyrical character of the poems of the time."[4]

Abed Abdi's Art: Caricatures

During his years at Al-Ittihad newspaper in Haifa between the years 1972 to 1981,  Abdi created and published many caricatures, many of which touch upon politics and the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

Some of these are exhibited here.


  1. Tal Ben Zvi, Abed Abdi: Wa Ma Nasina (We Have Not Forgotten) in: Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity, published in 2010, at p. 216.
  2. Tal Ben Zvi, Abed Abdi: Wa Ma Nasina (We Have Not Forgotten) in: Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity, published in 2010, at p. 216.
  3. Tal Ben Zvi, cited on site of exhibition
  4.  Samih Al Qasem, Abed Abdi - An Artist - Phenomenon in: Abed Abdi, 50 Years of Creativity, 2010, at p.



Abed Abdi's Art: Paintings

Abed Abdi's Art: Paintings


Abdi painted a number of color paintings during his studies in Germany, and has continued to do so, especially from the late seventies. In the paintings from the late 1990s, Abdi starts mixing color with other materials, such as glass, wood, metals, etc.

 His paintings include portraits, figures  and compositions. However, his main themes center around his childhood refugee experience, Haifa, the Gallile and other places , the Intifada, and the windows and doors series, those in the tiny alleys of the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas in Haifa, where the artists resides.

 Commenting on this later focus of his art, Samia A. Halaby wrote that “During his mature years, Abdi’s work evolved to greater abstraction. Political comments are no longer explicit. At the Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah in 1997, Abdi exhibited a series of constructions utilizing windows to express a host of themes related to Palestine and the greater Arab world. That which inside, hidden, forbidden, and maybe imprisoned confronts the freedom of those outside curiously trying to look in."[1]

 Of special interest is his Ecce Homo series , and his series Dialogue with David Roberts, in which he contrasts the romantic 18th century works of the Scottish Roberts with the realities of the holy land as seen today.




  1.  Samia A. Halaby, Liberation art of Palestine: Palestinian Painting and sculpture in the Second Half of the 20th Century, at p.38

Abed Abdi's Art: Monuments

Abed Abdi's Art: Monuments

After studying in Dresden, Abdi became the first Palestinian to build monumental art on native soil. His allegorical monuments in Galilee, honoring human fortitude and resistance, include a narrative mural depicting Elijah¡s defiance and survival and a bronze monument dedicated to six Palestinians who were shot on Land Day.[1]

Land Day Monument

In the course of the years following the Land Day events, Abed Abdi and Israeli artist Gershon Knispel were commissioned to build a monument commemorating the Sakhneen Land Day, with support from the Sakhneen mayor at the time, Jamal Tarabeih. On the 30th of March 1977, exactly one year after the demonstrations, the artists presented a model of the monument to the Arab Municipalities Committee and to the wide public. The monument was constructed at the end of March 1978, and the construction itself took several hours with the joint effort of a large number of construction workers from Sakhneen. Tamir Shorek,[2] notes that Jamal Tarabeih, mayor of Sakhneen at the time, was arrested by the police in the course of the construction and accused of granting an illegal construction permit, but he was released within several hours.[3]

The monument was built in the shape of a sarcophagus, a rectangular marble sepulcher, on which motifs of faces and ornaments were inscribed and which characterize classical Greek and Roman funerary art.[4]

A recent exhibition commemorates the erection of that monument, curated by Tal Ben Zvi, who wrote that "this monument, which is identified as one of the turning points in the Palestinian presence in the public arena inside Israel, became a particularly significant and influential factor in everything pertaining to the formation of the national collective memory in general, and the visual memory in particular, of the Palestinian minority in Israel."[5] 

  Read more about the Land Day monument   |  See the Catalogue of the Land Day monument (1978)

Abed Abdi's Art: Other Monuments

Abed Abdi has erected a number of other memorial monuments and murals:

  • In 1984—the memorial to commemorate 75 years for the existence of the Galilean municipality of Shefa Amr
  •  in 1999 the memorial monument in Kafr Kanna
  • and in 2001 the memorial monument in Kafr Manda. 


  1.  Kamal Boullata, Encyclopedia of the Palestinians (ed. Philip Mattar) published 2000 and 2005 by Facts On File, at p.88
  2.   see Shorek Tamir, 2002
  3.  Tal Ben Zvi, The Story of a Monument: Land Day Sakhneen 1976-2006 Abed Abdi and Gershon Knispel
  4. Amir Abdi,The Wondering Museum in the Works of Abed Abdi, in: "Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity", published in 2010, at p. 191. (see images on Abed Abdi's official site)
  5.  Tal Ben Zvi, Abed Abdi: Wa Ma Nasina (We Have Not Forgotten) in: Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity, published in 2010, at p. 199.
    • The Sakhnin monument stood at the center of the exhibition named The Story of a Monument: Land Day in Sakhnin (curator, Tal Ben-Zvi).
    • For further reading on the exhibition see, Gish, Amit, “You Will Build and We Shall Destroy: Art as a Rescue Excavation”, Sedek 2, 2008, pp.117-119.
    • The exhibition's catalogue: Tal Ben-Zvi, Shadi Halilieh, Jafar Farah (eds.), 2008, Land Day: The History, Struggle and Monument, Mossawa Center, Haifa [Arabic].


Abed Abdi's Art: Murals and Environmental Sculptures

Abed Abdi's Art: Murals and Environmental Sculptures

Abed Abdi he has painted a number of murals and erected a number of environmental sculptures in various locations: In Haifa, Jaffa, in three schools at Ibellin , at a school in Zarazir village , and in Nazareth.

In 1984, Abdi created the mosaic at the House of Grace- An Orthodox church in Haifa, and in 1995 advised in the reconstruction of Al Jazzar mosque in Acre.

In 1998 Abdi erected an environmental sculpture Homage to Amman at the piazza of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Art in the city of Amman.

In 2007, Abdi participated in the erection of the Pillar for Friendship and Peace, created at the historical city of Ironbridge in the UK in 2007 on the initiative of BABA - the British Artist Blacksmiths Association.
The pillar includes works by a number of master blacksmiths from around the world. On the occasion of this Abdi stated that

“The iron reflects the relations between individuals and societies. I used rounded pieces of glass as a special element. The iron reflects,through the glass,the relations between individuals and societies; harmony and waves,meeting and continuity.” (1)


  1.  Abed Abdi in: The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths, Newsletter 35th Issue December 2009 at p.10.





Abed Abdi has exhibited in Qatar, Jordan, Germany, France, Hungary, Israel, Belgium and Bulgaria. He has participated in over 50 group exhibitions, among them the joint Palestinian-Israeli exhibition It's possible which toured the USA and Germany between 1988 and 1990. In 1995 he participated in the second exhibition for Palestinians and Israelis in Germany. His work appeared in the Solidarity with the Palestinian People exhibit in Tokyo, Havanah, Berlin, Moscow, Brussels, Belgrade and Athens. He also organized and participated in exhibitions with Israeli and Palestinian artists in Tel-Aviv, Haifa and West Jerusalem in the period between 1980 and 1987 defending the freedom of expression and creativity.


Speaking about his art and the 1973 War, Abdi said:

 "Out of my world view and my loathing of war, and also out of my profound concern for the future of relations between the two peoples, Arab and Jewish, I have shown my two works here in the exhibition entitled Echoes of the Times... When the cannons thundered on the Golan Heights and the banks of the Suez, and when the future of the region was at risk, I recalled the words of Pablo Picasso, and in my work I said “no to war” in accordance with my artistic beliefs; art must be committed and play a role.... In the same way that an artist lives the events of the past, present and future, he also lives the conflict between Man and the forces of evil and destruction. And when society and humankind are in crisis, the artist is required to express himself harmoniously by means of the artistic vehicle at his disposal […] and so […] the role of the artist in his work, thoughts and world view is to reinforce the perpetual connection between himself and the society in which he lives. I was brought up according to this approach and thus I understand the connection between my artistic work and the role defined by Kokoschka, who sought to remove the mask for all those who want to see reality as it is. The role of fine art is to show them the truth".[1]




  1.  A. Niv, Zu Haderekh, 13.2.1974 cited in Tal Ben Zvi, Abed Abdi: Wa Ma Nasina (We Have Not Forgotten) in: Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity, published in 2010, at p. 216.



Abed Abdi's Other Activities

Abed Abdi's Other Activities

Abed Abdi is a member of the Haifa branch of the Israeli Association of Painters and Sculptors, and he has also been active in the Jewish-Arab Center of Beit Hagefen. This has enabled him to bring together Palestinian and Israeli artists, and organize joint exhibitions, bringing the prospects of peace closer.

From 2004 to 2009 Abdi Served as President of the Al Midan Theater in Haifa, and from 1996 to 2000 was a member in the Committee for Arts and Culture in Israel.

Abdi is the Founder of Ibdaa Association(1994) for the Advancement of Visual Arts among Israeli Arabs, and founder of Arabelle (2006), an association for deepening the dialogue between Arabs and Jews through Arts, and was one of the Founding Members of the Khalil el Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramalla (1998).

Since 2008, Abdi is the co-curator of the open air art exhibition bringing together Israeli, Palestinian and foreign artists, attached to the “Holiday of Holidays” multicultural event, taking place in Haifa each year through the whole month of December, celebrating the Christian, the Muslim and the Jewish holidays.



Teaching visual arts

Teaching  visual arts

Abed Abdi began teaching art ever since he came back from his studies in Germany. He taught arts in various Palestinian community centers and schools in the Galilee (eg. in Haifa, Nazareth, Kafr Yaseef, Acre, Jaffa and Shafa Amr). In addition, he has been teaching fine arts and the history of arts in the Arab Pedagogical College in Haifa since 1985, until his retirement in 2007.

He has been teaching art and ceramics in the workshop attached to his studio in Haifa since 2006, offering special courses for young children aged 8-14 from all religious denominations found in Haifa. The course focuses the attention on joint creativity, and ends with a joint exhibition for the pupils. The idea was to bring Muslims, Jews and Christian children together, and thereby promote tolerance and dialogue through the arts.

Abed Abdi believes that joint creativity can bridge between differences. His motivation is simple and rational: “Knowing the other is the first step to understanding him or her, and when pupils are being exposed to pupils from other religious denominations, then joint creativity is another way to let them start talking to each other, learning from each other, and eventually, they will come to respect each other, and possibly work on common themes jointly in during their mature life” - he states.

Veronica Sartore from the Oasis of Peace wrote that Abed Abdi often meets students all around the country, always bringing a series of his works with him and creating this way a ’traveling gallery’: “My purpose is to transform the classrooms into galleries, and to introduce the children into the world of art. It should be noted that generally most of the students have never met an artist; Arab children in particular have very few opportunities to come into contact with art, so the idea is that the galleries should come to the schools!”.[1]

Gannit Ankori, discussing his contribution to Palestinian art, stated that "Abdi's texts offer invaluable documentation about the Palestinian artists, his activities as a teacher and curator in Haifa, and his conscientious documentation of this information, make him an important source for the study of Palestinian art".[2]

Art critic Said Abu Shakra wrote that "There can be no doubt that Abed Abdi’s importance is in his being the first to cross the sea to study in the certain knowledge that the city of his birth needed him to return to act and lead in an unfamiliar sphere of endeavor, and in fact to create something ex nihilo in the complex reality... His importance is in the fact that he acknowledges and is conscious of this reality, and came back to it out of a sense of responsibility, mission and commitment....He is an artist whose name is etched on the Palestinian collective memory and the nascent Palestinian culture[3] both in Israel and beyond."


  1.  Veronica Sartore, Meeting with Abed Abdi, Oasis of Peace site
  2.  Gannit Ankorti, Palestinian Art, 2006 at p.19
  3.  Said Abu Shakra, Preface, in: Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity, published 2010, at p. 225.

Awards and honors

Awards and honors:

  • 1973: The city of Haifa awarded Abdi the Hermann Struck Best Artist of the Year Prize in 1973.
  • 1999: Hermann Struck Best Artist of the Year Prize, municipality of the city of Haifa (for a second time).
  • 1999, 2001, 2002: A number of awards from local Rotary clubs in Haifa, Nazareth.
  • 2008: Abed Abdi became the first Arab artist living in Israel to win the Israeli Minister of Science, Culture and Sport Award for art and graphic art.[1]
     The Jury stated in their decision that "Abed Abdi's Contribution in the making of collective visual culture among the Arab Israeli minority is unprecedented, and could be described as equivalent to Nahum Gutman's extent works."[2]
    Replying to a question from an interviewer regarding the excitement generated by the event in the Israeli media, Abdi said, “If I really am the first Arab artist, it is neither a compliment to me nor to 60 years of the State of Israel”.[3]
    Israeli curator Tal Ben Zvi commented that "Indeed, it seems that thus Abdi faithfully summed up the attitude of both the state and the Israeli art establishment towards Palestinian art inside the Green Line. Abdi, the prolific and groundbreaking artist in so many respects in the sphere of Palestinian art, was forced to wait until he was sixty-six to gain this recognition."[]
  • In 2010, the mayor of the city of Haifa awarded him the title of notable citizen of Haifa .[6]


  1.  see the official catalog of the winners, Ein Harod Museum of Art, at p.22-23
  3. Anat Zohar, “It Doesn’t Compliment Me or the State”, at
  4.  Tal Ben Zvi, Abed Abdi: Wa Ma Nasina (We Have Not Forgotten) in: Abed Abdi: 50 Years of Creativity, published in 2010, at p. 199.
  6.  link to Haifa municipality's announcement

Collections (partial list)

Collections (partial list):

  • Academy of Fine Arts, Dresden, Germany
  • Ministry of Culture, Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Archives of Israel Museum
  • Archives of the art collection of the Presidential Palace, Republic of Hungary
  • Her Royal Highness Princess Wijdan Ali, Amman
  • National Museum, Amman, Jordan
  • Ministry of Culture, Palestinian Authority
  • Municipality of Oldenburg,Germany
  • Municipal Museum of Gyor for Contemporary Arts, Gyor, Hungary
  • Hagar Gallery (Tel Aviv, Israel)
  • Um El Fahem Gallery (Um El Fahem, Israel)
  • Hajduboszormeny Varosi Museum (Hungary)
  • Collection of Amos Shoken (Haaretz, Tel Aviv, Israel)
  • Office of the Chief Archibishop of Hungary (Esztergom, Hungary)

Private Collections:

Israel, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, France, Russia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestinain Authority, USA, Australia, Belgium.

source: Interkulti Monitor

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