Palestinian artist Mohammad Joulani dies at 37

An artist and educator, Joulani was known for local community initiatives that brought art to the public

Palestinian artist Mohammad Joulani died on Friday, aged 37, after a long battle with cancer.

Primarily a painter, he created works that depicted his home town of Jerusalem and often drew himself or an anonymous human figure as his subject to tap into contemporary Palestinian issues.

He was beloved for his local community initiatives that involved painting the rooftops and walls of Jerusalem, particularly in the old city. These murals were often rendered in eye-catching colours and interlocking geometric shapes, as well as references to Palestinian landscape.

His Street Museum programme brought in students aged 13 to 16 to help create the works. Part of a larger Letters to Jerusalem project, the initiative's aim was to foster a sense of Palestinian identity through lectures and courses.

Born in 1983, Joulani studied fine arts at Al Quds University, which he completed in 2009, and was pursuing a master's in contemporary art at Bisalil Academy. He returned to Al Quds University to teach visual arts from 2011 to 2013. Between 2016 to 2018, he worked at the century-old Friends Boys' School in Ramallah.

In 2016, he received the Ismail Shammout Award, which celebrates Palestinian art. The following year, he participated in a biennial for young artists in Albania. In 2018, he joined an artist residency programme in Paris.

His most recent project, a series of self-portraits, was supported by the Institut Francais in Jerusalem and addressed the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first painting, he wears a medical mask while his left eye is obscured by bandage-like strips. The second and third paintings build on the first, showing how the artist drew the initial work.

The Palestinian Ministry of Culture mourned Joulani's death, stating "his passing constitutes a loss for the Palestinian artistic and cultural scene".

Other institutions and galleries have also expressed their grief, including Riwaq, a centre for architectural conservation in Ramallah, and Al Hoash Gallery, which presented a solo exhibition of the artist in 2016, both sharing images and videos of Joulani at work as he beautified Jerusalem's streets.