Hazem Harb weaves fabric of Palestinian life and suffering into latest exhibition

Artist uses gauze, invented in Gaza, to express the reality of resistance in his homeland

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Hazem Harb's latest solo exhibition, Gauze, is a journey into his past and recent works that reimagine facets of reality connected to his homeland Palestine.

Spread across two different spaces, it includes newly produced works and retrospective pieces dating back to 1998. They not only reveal the diversity of Harb’s chosen mediums, from charcoal to acrylic and collage, but also the multifaceted expressions of identity throughout his career as a visual artist.

Curated by Munira Al Sayegh, founder of Dirwaza Curatorial Lab, the exhibition at Tabari Artspace, the DIFC, also marks a return for Harb to the use of the material gauze within the context of varying Palestinian iconographies and narratives.

“The new works presented in this exhibition, using both charcoal and gauze, mark a departure from my contemporary approach to collage,” Harb tells The National.

“These new works are visceral and my physical reaction to and way of synthesising the anguish of recent months.”

Other new works in the exhibition include the circular acrylic collages, Watermelon I and II, where Harb has restored images of a watermelon from a 1917 fresco found in a home in Nazareth. There is also The Last Escape, a rectangular piece that overlays a photograph from Harb's family visit to Gaza with Arabic text that translates to "The Last Escape".

Harb’s practice has taken a drastic turn since the Gaza conflict started.

As a Gazan native with numerous family members still residing there, Harb couldn’t create art the way he has been previously, he says. The meticulously crafted collages of archival images, which his practice has leaned towards in the past, were replaced with expressive and much darker works.

Dystopia is not a Noun, the series he presented at Abu Dhabi Art in November, showcased eight large-scale drawings and a sculpture. Disfigured bodies twisting and writhing from out of demolished homes, drawn with expressive charcoal gestures, were harrowing.

“Everything has changed,” Harb told The National at the time.

“My mind, my studio, my desk, my materials, my personal life, my professional life, my attitude, my approach as an artist, everything has changed.”

Dystopia is not a Noun was a return to materiality for him. Seven additional works from the same series that were not shown are showcased in this exhibition.

Harb’s return to materiality is further showcased in his latest piece, Gauze #22, a work that includes 14 framed pieces of gauze material on fine art cardboard.

In 2004, during Harb’s early years as an artist in Gaza, gauze was his unexpected artistic medium. The translucent, thin fabric created through a loose open weave is often used for clothing, medical dressings, bookbinding and by artists for sculpting and mixed media artwork.

Gauze is also a material that originates from Gaza. It is a poetic and poignant reality that Harb connects to his national and cultural identity, especially to the time when he was a young artist.

“I used gauze in my experiments as both a material for sculpting and as a blank canvas,” Harb says.

“It formed the backdrop for my personal resistance, which has always been expressed through my art during the suffering of my people that defined my youth.”

Two decades later, as Harb returns to his expressionistic method of creating and making meaning through art, his new gauze works are like his charcoal drawings – a compelling and stark reminder of the fragility and reality of human life.

Harb has laid the gauze on brown fine art cardboard that feels both random and intentional. Bodies appear to float and yet are still and lifeless. The gauze bodies are laid down in rectangular frames that sit incredibly close to one another in the small backroom of the gallery, where the lighting adds an intimate and closed-off experience.

The frames act as both windows and burial plots. The gauze is also a reference to the kafan, the white cloth that traditionally shrouds bodies before burial in Islamic tradition.

Here, Harb presents a more subtle but equally powerful means to describe the imagery of Palestinian corpses in Gaza posted on social media platforms since October 7.

Harb elaborates that his return to the use of gauze is a means to “unearth the untold stories embedded in my city and to illuminate the genocide that has impacted my people".

His use of gauze, almost like a painterly material that depicts floating bodies, becomes a confronting and compelling message that connects the realities of Palestinians to a solitary space.

Hazem Harb's exhibition Gauze runs until February 15 at Tabari Artspace, DIFC

Updated: January 31, 2024, 6:38 AM