Tayseer Barakat is a Gaza-born, Ramallah-based artist who works with a variety of materials to create pieces that reflect a combination of Arab and Palestinian visual art and mythology with contemporary aesthetics of political struggle.
Tayseer’s latest solo exhibition, Lightness of Being, launched this week at Zawyeh gallery in Ramallah. Curated by Ziad Anani and Sulieman Mleahat, the collection covers the past two years of Tayseer’s work.
Born in Jabaliya refugee camp in 1959, Tayseer recalled in an interview with Palestine Monitor how he decided at the age of 10 that he wanted to study fine art. Lacking a mentor, Tayseer was offered the chance to study economy at Alexandria in Egypt, but quickly realising it wasn’t for him, he returned to Gaza after three months and focused all his energy on taking the necessary exams and making the right contacts to gain entry onto the Fine Arts course. “It was a huge turning point,” he says, “one of the most beautiful days in my life was when I was accepted.” Despite his family’s reluctance about his choice, they allowed him to pursue his dream. Tayseer was happy to regain his father’s much longed for respect after selling his first piece of art and passing on the money to him.
Since 1984, he has held 9 solo exhibitions and has participated in numerous group exhibitions worldwide.
A reflective and softly spoken man, he began teaching and creating art in Ramallah after his studies. He was refused entry into Gaza by the Israel authorities from the year 2000 for “security reasons”, pushing him into exile. Just six months ago, he was granted a two-day permit to visit his family and place of birth for the first time in 16 years. He described the visit as a whirlwind, “Emotionally, I felt that I was in a blender,” he said.
Evincing his scholarly training at the College of Fine Arts in Alexandria, Egypt, many of the pieces in Lightness of Being demonstrate a unique method of acrylic-work, achieved through gluing two canvases together before separating them to expose a base layer of inimitable texture and colour.
“I’m like somebody who reads tea leaves and sees the world inside. I let the colour and material lead the way,” he explained.
Talking of his most recent work, Tayseer divulged, “It is about human beings everywhere. We Palestinians are a special case but I think it is true of everyone. I’m trying to show the good parts of humanity, and how we are connected to one another.”
Tayseer uses this link with others during his creative process. Other than this, he prefers to clear his mind fully, travelling away from the perceived, conscious and intellectual to roam freely within the soul and release the intuitive, “When I work, I don’t think about anything, I’m like a child. It’s a kind of meditation. I take from my work too. It’s a dialogue. After I finish, it’s the beginning of discovery. Sometimes I wonder, how did I do this, was it me or somebody else? The meaning comes after.”
The collection is a stunning exploration of anger, pain and endurance, yet with the bright colours and tenacious silhouettes, it is not devoid of hope. Tayseer adds, “To create is hope. Art is hope. An exhibition is hope. You communicate with people. You are here, you are alive, you are doing things, feeling things.”
The eponym of the exhibition is perhaps the novel by Milan Kundera about the 1968 Prague Spring. Challenging Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence, the novel posits the contrary: that each person has only one life to live and events do not repeat themselves– in this realisation comes a “lightness” and “freedom”.
The exhibition will run until the 15th of February.