Artist Profiles

Meet the Artist:
Kamal Boullata

Kamal Boullata
Anna Seaman
29 June 2023

Born in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem in 1942, Boullata went on to study fine art at the Accademia di Belle Arti, Rome in 1965. When war broke out at home in 1967, he was in Beirut and was not able to return to Palestine. He lived the rest of his life in exile moving from Morocco to the US – where he received an MFA from Corcoran School of Art, Washington, DC in 1971, then to France and eventually to Germany, where he lived out the rest of his life. However, the city of Jerusalem was continuously alive in his heart. He once said: "I keep reminding myself that Jerusalem is not behind me, it is constantly ahead of me."

Kamal Boullata’s work straddles the sometimes-yawning gap between precise mathematical thinking and the slippery inexactness of abstract aesthetics. Early on, he combined an interest in religious iconography (which he learned under a childhood tutelage with Khalid Habibi, a renowned painter of icons) with an embrace of the literary tradition. This led him to become a key figure in the hurufiyya movement during the 1970s and 80s – using Arabic script as a stylistic Modernist form. However, his background as a historian not just of art but also science, scripture and myth, informed his practice. As such, his art combines his personal story, academic research, history and the region’s multiplicities, all couched within the global narrative.