Born in 1959 in Jerusalem’s Old City, Shehab Kawasmi was tutored by art professors Shibli Kharman and Ibrahim Obeid during the early stages of his artistic development. In 1977, he enrolled at the Artists’ House in Jerusalem to study art, and he completed his studies in Austria and France. Shehab’s first exhibition was held in 1984 at the YMCA in Jerusalem, and in 1985, he held his second exhibition at the Royal Cultural Center in Amman, Jordan. Since then, he has participated in many local and international exhibitions. He is a member of the League of Palestinian Artists, and his work is characterized by historical realism. In 2016, Shehab received the Best Palestinian Artist award given by Al-Quds University for his works that embody Jerusalem. He is the owner of Mishwar, a monthly cultural magazine published in Jerusalem.
Since 1984, Shehab has been engaged in efforts that aim to record the historical character of Jerusalem, its streets, monuments, and narrations of daily life. His pencil drawings take the viewer back in time to Jerusalem during the Ottoman era and in the early twentieth century, and they document the sites and the social and cultural life of an almost forgotten, glorious past. The artist’s frozen moments offer the viewer images of Jerusalem in its utmost beauty – and may cause us to weep over the relics of the past. From the outset, the drawings may seem reminiscent of Orientalist paintings in which foreign visitors and artists aimed to write the history of Jerusalem from their romanticized perspective. But to the careful beholder, Shehab’s paintings soon reveal their Arab origin and identity. Based on old photographs and prints, they are outstanding for their attention to minute detail and for the ability to use shades and gradation to produce an effect that has been described as similar to a “musical mosaic.” Artistic angles are deliberately selected to highlight the holy sites that embody Jerusalem’s Arab spirit. Thus, they present to the beholder integrated artistic works that draw their beauty from Jerusalem’s glamour and archive the civilization of a people who refuse to be eradicated, embedding them in human memory.
Shehab has published several books that contain his works. With his latest output, Kan Yama Kan (Once Upon a Time): Jerusalem 100 Years Ago, he has realized his longtime dream of outlining the history of Jerusalem in a one-volume collection of 100 of his paintings that show Jerusalem as it looked 100 years ago. Currently, he is involved in a project to draw and publish a collection of works that focus on the Haram al-Sharif.
Shehab presents his paintings with many contradictory sentiments. Their beauty brings to mind the saddening state of affairs in Jerusalem today yet at the same time entices the viewer to discover a love for Jerusalem that will support efforts to restore its historical, shining elegance and reinstate human justice.