Adonis Diaries

Preserving Jerusalem’s history, against all odds

Posted on: January 16, 2018

The master artist preserving Jerusalem’s history

Jerusalem, occupied West Bank – In his small and cramped studio, Shehab Kawasmi moves carefully around piles of centuries-old photographs, stacks of drawings and thick books.

by 3 Jan 2018
The master artist preserving Jerusalem's history
A realist painter, Kawasmi uses his brush to draw hundreds of historic and religious landmarks in Jerusalem’s Old City, the place where he was born and raised.

“I feel it is my duty as an artist to preserve the history of our city for future generations,” said the Palestinian aritis, who has dedicated his life’s work to depict the rich history of his city.

Born in 1959 in the holy city’s Chain Gate neighbourhood, just a few steps away from al-Aqsa Mosque, the Palestinian painter grew up surrounded by Jerusalem’s numerous monuments.

For him and his friends growing up in the 1960s, these iconic landmarks were their playground, a place of affinity and inspiration.

Drawings of Old Jerusalem from the artist’s book [Al Jazeera]

Ever since his teenage years, the Old City, with its ancient landscape, interlinked souqs and Roman, Christian and Islamic architecture, has always lured Kawasmi to recreate it on canvas.

“I used to draw Jerusalem landmarks for friends and family as gifts, but later on they encouraged me to do it professionally and full time, and this is how I started my Jerusalem collections,” he said.

Kawasmi has so far published a number of books with his creations and has exhibited both at home and abroad.

His vast collection includes drawings of intricate artwork from inside al-Aqsa Mosque, Ottoman architecture, Christian landmarks, churches and ancient archaeological sites.

They are all based on his own observation of the famous landmarks, as well as photographs he has taken of them.

Kawasmi has also assembled a vast collection of old photographs of many of Jerusalem’s historical and religious places dating back to the previous centuries.

His latest book, Kan Yama Kan, or One upon a Time: Jerusalem before a 100 years, has more than 70 black and white realistic drawings depicting the Old City’s history and religious significance.

Drawings of Old Jerusalem from the artist’s book  [Al Jazeera]

Every time the topic turns to Jerusalem, Kawasmi’s face lights up as he describes the Old City’s ancient passageways, many of which outsiders would find puzzling and confusing.

He and other local Palestinians know almost every corner of the city’s narrow lanes, its secret alleys, its Roman caverns, its Christian monasteries and numerous Ottoman and other Islamic landmarks.

“I can never get lost here,” said Kawasmi.

Like every Palestinian from Jerusalem, every corner of it is practically imprinted in my memory since childhood.

“This place represents my entire life – as a child, an adult and as an artist.”

Shehab Kawasmi in his studio [Ali Younes / Al Jazeera]

Kawasmi said the publication of his latest book hit a snag due to the high cost of printing its glossy cover-to-cover content.

But things took a turn for the better when King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is the custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, decided to sponsor Kawasmi’s effort after coming to know about it.

“King Abdullah saved this project with his generous donation, and I am so grateful for that,” he said.

Abdullah also purchased 100 copies which he gifted to participating delegations during the Arab League summit held in Jordan’s capital, Amman, in March.

Currently, Kawasmi is working on another book of drawings dedicated specifically to al-Aqsa Mosque and its ancient artwork.

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