by Prof. Avner Giladi, 27/9/2010
Down the street that connects downtown Haifa with Mount Carmel, and for that it is called Al-Jabal Street (the Mountain’s Street) – there is an enchanting courtyard. Everyone who passes through feels as if he was passing through time to Haifa of early last century. Small garden with lemon and loquat trees and flowering local shrub, and some scattered – hidden artworks as if they grew from earth too. On one side of the garden there is a simple room. In this room the visitor finds Abed Abdi surrounded by art works of his own hands, curling smoke of a cigarette and offering Earl Grey tea with a rosemary twig dipped in it.
The scene is so natural and harmonious that one might assume Abed was born and raised in this yard, he and his father and mother and ancestors. But thats not the case!
True, Abed was born in Stanton Street, five – ten minutes walk eastwards, over the Churches Quarter, that in recent years disappeared almost completely from sight and placed under the shadows of concrete and stone monsters of the [new] Government Compound. But his way from there, from Stanton street , to the studio in ‘shara Al- Jabal’ [Mount Street] was Long, Curley and Harsh.
It begins in year of Nakba , with forced displacement from the house, the city, and the Homeland. Abed, five years old, his mother, his brother and sisters rolled from Haifa to Acre, from Acre to camp Mia – Mia and from there to Damascus in an abandoned mosque sheltering several Palestinian families.
In these provinces of refugeeness, in the shade of fear of death, bereavement, physical weakness and loss of honor, Abdi the child fills his sack that would be spilled in front of our eyes, years later, in drawing, illustration, painting and sculpturing. Motifs and materials in his works originate from those days: the scene of the wide halls of the stables in the refugee camp, where sheets of Utah were the walls of the “Family Flat”, in memory of the densely barred ‘Sheareia’ windows where the boy glanced through from his temporary residence in the mosque in Damascus to the street or in the scene of rounded and swelled bellies of the women in the ‘Hammam’ in Damascus there he used to visit with his mother. Out of this refugee hood experience Abed Abdi the artist was born, the “Painter of triangular Domes ” (Rassam Al Kibabb – Al Mothalatha), as was named by the poet Moshe Barzilai…
Had Happened and fortunate Abed and three years of displacement and wandering ended in family Union and return to Homeland City. Where, In Haifa, he was taught by important artists, including known Zvi Meirovitch. From here he made his way to Dresden in Germany for studies at the Art Academy. By this Abed was, like many others, accomplice in the largest Venture of the Israeli Communist Party that has helped young people get their training in Eastern Europe and built from the foundation layer of professionals, intellectuals and academicians, whom contribution to the Palestinians in Israel is still significant today in many fields.
In Dresden, the city that was a symbol of the destruction of Europe in a whirlwind of madness and hatred, Abed received his studies from a Jewish artist, a Holocaust survivor, Lea Grundig, In an atmosphere of working [class] anti-nationalist and internationalist solidarity. All these shaped his mature artistic personality.
Abed Abdi’s works of art express suppressed pain and bitter longing, even if in a symbolic and delicate language. What’s more nostalgic than an individual floor tile that stands in the center of one of his works. For many of us it is a reminiscent of our parents or grandparents house and here, In Abed’s art work it is a source of aesthetic experience, of harmony and relaxation. Just knowing that the tile was displaced from an abandoned house in Wadi Al – Salib turns it to a monument, a memorial to community that is gone. What is more romantic, allegedly, barred and dim windows of old houses that the artist calls us, almost in all of the outgoing work under his hands ,to peek inside and raise imaginations of sights, sounds and smells. But the secret hidden in these homes is not sweet secret for most of its inhabitants are gone and the fate of those left standing still is also not known.
I admire this ability to collect fractions and perpetuate them, protesting silently and yet not lose hope. Abed Abdi defines himself as “Palestinian, inseparable part of the Middle East and the Arab world”. “My Personal experiences” he says, “are Mediterranean and Muslim cultural experiences. Simultaneously – and this is not necessarily contradictory – I am also related to the Western world, the European.” Luckily – I say this as an Israeli Jew – Abed is also an Israeli that despite his pain and frustrations as son of the Palestinian nation is not desperate looking for rails to the Jewish art lover, to talk to him in art language and at the same time teach him to recognize the suffering of the other, the neighbor.
The public aspect of the work of Abed does not stop here. Recall the years of his work as an illustrator at the editorial of Al – Ittihad newspaper, the extensive educational activity in Dar al – Moaalimeen (The Arabic College for Education) in Haifa and in art workshops for the children of Wadi Al – Nisnas, the monuments he designed in Sakhnin (along with artist Gershon Knispel), Kafr Manda and Kafr Kanna in memory of the fallen from the Palestinian uprising in 1936 to the tragic events in Galilee in 2000. And finally, within the visual art organization he founded recently, he is conducting extensive educational activity in workshops for children and adults.
In all of these – In the fertile creativity, In the artistic making for the community and the education of the young generation, there is, on the one hand, ‘Sumud‘ (standing firm) personal and artistic; a kind of repeated statement: ‘Bakken Fi Haifa’ (I am remaining in Haifa), on the other hand – an expression of the belief that there’s still a chance for a better life in this unfortunate Land- a life of equality, respect for rights, recognition of the value of the fellow man and his culture and the suffering of the other.
Abed’s work is for me not only a source of pleasure and elation, like all good art, but also a source of comfort at a time of agonizing personal dilemma of the terrible price exacted by my peoples independence, and Day – to day recharges, my neighbors – Palestinian brothers.