Riwaq - Cultural Protection Fund Project

A tribute to Mohammad Joulani

It is with huge sadness that we received the news of the passing of artist Mohammad Joulani on Friday, 2 October, at the age of 37. We would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.  Palestine and the world have lost an outstanding talent, a joyful, humble and incredible soul, the one and only, Joulani. 

From paintings that portray serenity to others that depict fury and frustrations, Joulani’s art is the outcome of a growing phase of exploration whereby he questioned themes that he was passionate about; identity, space and freedom to name a few. His art was rooted in his beloved Jerusalem that he drew with passion, in Palestine, from the people to the people, reflecting his resistance, his critical, principled and yet light nature all the way through. 

For Joulani, the most important thing was that art reached the streets and the society in general and that it didn’t remain elitist and confined to galleries. This is very much reflected in his project  ‘Street Museum’ #متحف_الشارع with Palestinian Vision in 2016 and in other artistic interventions he did to engage the community through art. In constant dialogue, and with much respect and appreciation for the older generation of Palestinian artists, ‘Joulani’s artworks embodied the scent of the past and dreams of the future’ (Al Ma’mal Contemporary Art) opening a new chapter in Palestinian art history and a new school. An artist, cultural activist, educator and many other things, Joulani has left us way too early, full of life, ideas and creativity. We will miss him enormously, but his spirit, laughter and heritage live on. 

We were honoured to meet Joulani through his work at one of the British Council Cultural Protection Fund projects in partnership with Riwaq. He brought colour to the old town of Kufr Aqab through his mural on the rooftop of a restored courtyard. As he had done already, back in 2018, beautifying the cramped rooftops of the old city of Jerusalem with his artistic intervention through a series of drawings in partnership with Palestinian Art Court - Al Hoash. You can watch a short video here

He showed us a different Jerusalem through his stroke. Sometimes without lifting his hand from the paper and drawing it in one go, others from the rooftops and walls of the old city for everyone to see and enjoy, or by inviting us to join the dots of historical Jerusalem buildings and learn through his drawings in the book ‘خط القدس - البلد’ (Jerusalem City Line) for Palestinian Vision available to download here. Joulani also reflected on the collective Palestinian experience in his solo exhibition ‘Regular Day’ at Al Hoash in 2016. Contrary to what the title of the exhibition suggested, Regular Day is quite not so regular; it embodied the day to day life of a Jerusalemite in the city.  The artist used mixed media, oil paintings and audio installation to illustrate his schizophrenic state of mind from break of dawn till sunset, caused by a “normal” day. Joulani walked the audience through a myriad of emotions helping them grasp his daily paradoxes, which in return some would relate to. In the six artworks that composed Regular Day, Joulani illustrated how quite normal it is for a Palestinian to live in this schizophrenic state every day, but in real it is quite so abnormal.

Photo 1: A recent series of self-portraits Joulani drew for the 'Epidemic Diaries' by the French Institute of Jerusalem.Photo credits: the French Institute of Jerusalem.
Photo 2: A recent drawing by Mohammad Joulani. Photo credit: the artist's Instagram account.

He didn’t like to speak much about his art. He preferred it to speak for itself and let people react to it and he would just be humbled by that. But when he did, he did so powerfully, like in the text he wrote about his artwork on 4 September 2017 (translated from Arabic). 

‘Here I am leaving my job to write about it. I turn away and see my ghost turning back to his daily workshop, and I'm confused. [See photo 2]. I get confused and reach for the painting to take me back to it, without realizing what I want exactly; Was it a description of a doubt when it was an idea, or a description of a doubt when it was completed and became a form? Am I trying in this work to revive the balance between reality and fiction, or am I trying to kill it and destroy it? Or was Degas right when he said: "One sees what one wants to see. It is false, and that falsity is the foundation of art."? This work was not the result of research I had done or of a plan that I had devised to implement an idea as part of a personal project or exhibition, so I could present it in the language of the operator, the language of the critic, or even the taster. On the contrary, it is a crude statement that the painting itself makes about me, my place, and my daily movements. I am only part of the work that I stand before and as an eyewitness, nothing more. It is the daily conversation between me and my things; My shelves, my boards, my pens and my feathery. But is it a discord or friendship dialogue? I do not know. All I know is that the sound in it is lost because time has passed. It's been since I took my hand off the last colour on the palette. This work then is me in a moment, an unforgettable image of something that cannot be remembered.’

Or in the text he wrote about the last three self-portraits he did during lockdown [see photo 1] reflecting on the idea of repetition and isolation part of ‘Epidemic Diaries’ organised by the French Institute in Jerusalem in May 2020.

“An exceptional experience; The time that is continuing despite the pause, and despite the stability of the place, a narrow space that expands to accommodate the continuous permanent action, a few intensive months as if it is an exercise of life with a Suspension of execution! Isolation; An individual feeling of distinction, which sometimes may be shared by a group of people for political or other reasons, my most intense interest is the transformation of this meaning from its specificity into a collective feeling, as mankind within its individuals, and societies, has experienced it, the experience of isolation and the feeling of restrictions on movement, as they were circles that widen and narrow reaching everyone, urging them to return to themselves. There is no doubt that the world will change after this profound experience, I only hope that it would not become more brutal!”

Le ro7ak essalam, Rest in peace our beloved Joulani. 

Rosa Pérez

Palestinian Artisit and scholar Bisan Hussam Abu Eisheh tribute to Mohammad Joulani

Joulani … Ya Ward … I am not sure what is this that I am writing. Especially after I have decided to say whatever I want to say to you, only in my heart. Also, knowing you the way I knew you; I am anxious that you would laugh about the elaborated words I would say or write about you. I am afraid that your criticality, which I have always admired, would question why I didn’t say those words the last times we met. I can’t help but imaging you laughing at us all right now. I can’t help but imagining your cheeky smile. Please, be soft on us Abu il Jooj. We say what we say because we are heartbroken. Because we are confused. Because we miss you. But … haven’t I always missed you, in between our travels here and there? haven’t we always left tons of things hanging for further discussions, after every encounter? Why this is different Ya Joulani? Even the day I heard about your passing … I went seeking some solace via texting a common friend of ours. Then he shared with me a screenshot from a conversation between you and him. I immediately burst into laughing simply because I pictured you saying your own words in the message the way you usually would. Even when I wanted to cry, you made me laugh. Once again, your smile resolves everything. Just like you made me laugh every time you arrived late. As if nothing has changed … one little laugh with Joulani turns the worst situation into giggles. Then, tell me … how can I write a eulogy for a friend who makes me laugh even when he is leaving for good. Eulogies are for those who died, my friend. And you are far from that. You are just late. Once again you are late, and I will just have to wait for you a little longer. I choose to believe that nothing has changed. As always, I will keep missing you … and as always, you will arrive late. But eventually, we will laugh a lot … and we will continue our pending discussions. Until we laugh again … Salam Ya Ward. 

Bisan Hussam Abu Eisheh

Mohammad Joulani's Biography:

Mohammed Joulani (1983-2020) was a Palestinian artist born in Jerusalem who earned a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Al Quds University in 2009. He taught visual arts at Al Quds University between 2011 and 2013 and at the Friends Boys School between 2016 and 2018. Joulani was pursuing his master’s in Fine Art at Bezalel Art Academy. His last work consisted of three self-portraits reflecting on the idea of repetition and isolation part of Epidemic Diaries by the French Institute in Jerusalem. 

Joulani was granted the Cité Internationale des arts residency in Paris, 2018, and he received the Higher Education Award in 2007 and the 2nd prize for the Ismail Shammout Fine Arts Award, 2016. He was one of the founding members of the Visual Artists Club in Jerusalem.

Joulani participated in his first solo exhibition; Regular Day at Al Hoash Art Court in Jerusalem, Palestine (2016). He also participated in many local and international group exhibitions, including; The Gift Exhibition, Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Jerusalem (2019), Assassination, Yasser Arafat Museum, Ramallah, Palestine (2019), on Women in Revolutions, Gallery one, Ramallah, Palestine (2018), a Sight of Disjunction, A.M Qattan Foundation, Palestine (2017), Mediterranea 18 Young Artists Biennale, Albania (2017), Reviewing Jerusalem #2 Return, Qalandiya International (2017); Diyar Consortium, Bethlehem, Palestine (2016); Colours of Life, Zawyeh Gallery, Ramallah, Palestine, (2014); Fes International Festival for Arts in Morocco (2013); Frau Museum, Bonn Germany (2013); Room of Hope, Diyar Consortium, United States (2011),  and other participations in Egypt, Malaysia, Italy and the Netherlands.