A pioneer among Palestinian artists, Sophie Halaby was the first Arab woman to study art in Paris, subsequently living independently as a professional painter in Jerusalem throughout her life. She was born in 1906 in Kiev to a Russian mother and a Christian Arab father. Her family fled to Jerusalem in 1917 in the wake of the Russian Revolution. Her life was marked by violence and war, including the Arab Revolt from 1936 to 1939, the Nakba in 1948, and the Six-Day War in 1967. In response, Halaby drew a series of political cartoons criticizing British rule and Zionist goals; later in life, she followed the work of younger artists who supported the Palestine liberation movement. However, the political turmoil of her times is largely not depicted in her art. Instead, her work is a tribute to the enduring beauty of the landscape and flora of Jerusalem, often sketched in pen and ink or red and black chalk, and painted with egg tempera, oils, and watercolors. Schor’s compelling biography shines new light on this little-known artist and enriches our understanding of modern Palestinian history.
“Schor’s biographical study of Halaby is the first book on an Arab woman painter of the latter’s generation. Her vigilant and painstaking research conducted over the years brings the pioneering artist from Jerusalem back to life. As the historian leads her reader through a minefield of explosive depths crammed with culprits and victims, she forges a way beyond religious or nationalist blinders to reveal the sheer humanity of the artist. In the process, the reader learns what a creative woman experienced during a tragic period in her country’s history and how she never ceased striving to capture in her painting what has been eternally beautiful in the city of her forefathers.” —Kamal Boullata, author of Palestinian Art From 1850 to the Present
“A rich, nuanced, and sensitive treatment of this brilliant but often neglected painter. The work is especially valuable for its investigation of Halaby’s formative years as a Russo-Palestinian artist growing up in Kiev and Mandate Palestine.” —Salim Tamari, professor of sociology, Birzeit University, and research associate, Institute for Palestine Studies
“Schor’s skillful and painterly approach to Sophie Halaby’s life, work and city gives insight into the remarkable character of a Arab-Russian woman . . . and into her cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem, sketching for us memories of a place that we can barely perceive through the dismal haze of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Like Sophie Halaby’s paintings and work, Schor’s book outlines the wispy contours of a world full of potential where the salons of Paris were just a steamer ticket away for an aspiring Arab woman artist, but one that is constricted by war, colonialism, nationalism, and expropriation over the course of the twentieth century.”
—Leila Hudson, associate professor, University of Arizona