After more than four decades of art-making one would think that Laila Shawa hardly needs introducing. Yet, few cognoscenti seem to be familiar with the entire range and volume of her extensive oeuvre. Certainly, amongst Western collectors, Shawa is best known for her ongoing series of silkscreens and prints The Walls of Gaza, whilst Arab patrons buying in the late 1960s and 70s still rate highly her sizeable group of works entitled Cities and her sumptuous depictions of horses. Shawa's intensely colourful painting sequences Women and the Veil and Women and Magic solidified her reputation as a major creative force critically engaged with the Arab world and "one of the few Arab artists to successfully break through barriers in the West." (Dr Christa Paula)
Laila Shawa was one of the first Arab artists to successfully break through barriers in
the West. -
Lawrence Joffe quoting Dr Venetia Porter in The Middle East, Laila Shawa:
still shaking people up,
Laila Shawa was born in 1940 to one of Gazas old landowning families. She was exposed to art
received her first serious training at the Leonardo Da Vinci School of Art in Cairo from 1957-1958.
she matriculated at Romes Academy of Fine Arts spending summers with Oskar Kokoschka at his School
Seeing in Salzburg. After graduation Shawa went home to supervise arts and crafts education in refugee
for UNWRA and entered into an informal apprenticeship with UN war photographer Hrant Nakasian. In 1967
moved to Beirut to paint full-time for nine commercially successful years. When the Lebanese civil war
returned to Gaza and for the next decade collaborated on designing and building the Rashad Shawa Cultural
Shawa took up residence in London in 1987 and soon after started her socio-political critique Women
Veil resulting in acclaimed paintings like The Impossible Dream. This was followed
by a long series exploring the
practise of magic and witchcraft in Islam embodied by the Hands of Fatima now in the collection
of the British
Museum. She gained international recognition with her ongoing cycle of silk screens and prints collectively
as The Walls of Gaza (from 1992). Evolving from photographs taken by Shawa over many years of
appearing on the walls of Gaza, they record and investigate alternative modes of communication and repeatedly
draw attention to the emergence of generations of severely traumatized Palestinian children.
Shawas pioneering work during the 1980s of utilizing photography as integral to art production
has left a lasting
mark on contemporary Palestinian art. For the artist, it signified a departure from the traditional
paint medium and
instigated such works as the controversial installation Crucifixion 2000: In the Name of God
at the Ashmolean
Museum, Oxford, and her immediate reactions to 9/11 in the form of sculpture entitled Clash.
With her 2008 Dubai
exhibition, Sarab, she briefly returned to painting with a 29 piece collection which expropriated
design from its historical context, asserting its role as primary visual identifier of Islamic popular
culture. In January
2009, in response to the invasion of Gaza by Israel and the high death toll among children, she commenced
III series, two works from which she has entered into this competition.
Laila Shawa lives and works in London and Vermont.