States of the Arts


Self Portrait as Man, God, the Devil

by Mustafa al-Hallaj

View an image of a detail of the artwork →

A dozen diving arms swim through black ink, emerging from static strands of hair atop an old man’s head. Chimeric creatures crane towards the grabbing fingers, bony fossils petrified in the chalky carving. A naked woman covers her ears at the collective sigh of a perishing crowd. In a ghostly film cast across her like acetate, a knee presses into her body, a striding antagonist to her clenched elbow. Nascence and expiration are packed together within one square inch of dye; these details are but thumbprints on a thirty-seven foot façade.

Words by Elizabeth Brown


directed by Hany Abu-Assad
Feature film

View a still from the film →

A naked, young man hangs by his wrists from the ceiling. We see nothing but the darkness of the room containing his sinewy body. A widescreen camera lens guillotines his arms and legs, his helpless limbs maimed by the borders. Electric light sears the man’s flesh as an interrogator seeks answers, duly beating him until sanguineous streams ooze thick and fresh from his nose, lips, and throat. A romance transgressing the West Bank wall buoys a leap from his incarceration, but with a catch that sees the blood lost from his face trickle down to stain his hands.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

The Lost Button

by Fatena Al-Gharra

View an image of the author →

‘This morning, the shop windows look drab.’ In just seven words, the opening line of ‘The Lost Button’ transports us to its sombre setting. The observation may be a simple one, but its immediacy is compelling. The day is young; the street is lifeless and unwelcoming. Pressing on, we learn of the aloof and absent-minded passers-by, their detachment accountable for the dullness of the scene. Then the narrator zooms in in on a single, small detail: a modest button, which quickly becomes the most alluring entity present. The poem openly laments the flaws of the wandering folk, apathy and guile, while yearning for earnest sympathy and true affection.

Words by Hugh Maloney

A Love Song

by Dam

View an image of the group →

Two friends talk idly over the obscure hum of indiscernible chatter. A girl passes by and acknowledges them both, but greets one, Tamer, more keenly. Her casual entrance ignites his troubled tale of adolescent love, and the struggle to cope with the pressures of social convention. While he laments in passionate rhyme, a qanun flourishes wildly behind him, moving in arching motifs before fishtailing between two chords, in counterpoint with the bass line. A shrill ney flute enters, the group of instruments sustaining a melodic presence that adorns Tamer’s fiery words.

Words by Hugh Maloney

More to discover

Self Portrait as Man, God, the Devil: You can read an article about Mustafa al-Hallaj on the Middle East Revised blog, and another by Samia Halaby for Jadaliyya.

Omar: You can view the trailer here. Interviews with Hany Abu-Assad available online include those by Nicolas Rapold for Film Comment, Livia Bloom for Filmmaker Magazine, Nana Asfour for The Guardian, and Carlos Aguilar for IndieWire.

The Lost Button: You can read the poem, along with other works by Fatena Al-Gharra, here.

A Love Song: You can listen to the song here, and read the lyrics here.

Question of the day

Which Palestinian artworks would you recommend, and why?
Let us know on
 Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

Visit the brutal concrete wall that divides Palestine and Israel; it has been decorated with some telling artworks.

– Marina Lewycka, author (The Lubetkin Legacy, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) (via The Brief →)

Also on Silent Frame