Artist’s Voice: Michelle Samour

Michelle Samour (Mass Cultural Council Drawing & Printmaking Fellow ’14), creates sublime pigmented handmade paperworks.  Her recent project Borders and Boundaries, Looking for Palestine, explores the multifaceted challenges of the Palestinian Diaspora.

In this series, “Borders and Boundaries,” I am referencing the traditional crafts and cartography of the Middle East, beginning with my own history as one of the Palestinian Diaspora, to talk about how the redefinition of borders by colonialists over a hundred years ago continues to create disruption and chaos in the Middle East.

Using the tropes of indigenous design that I grew up with (oriental rugs, Palestinian costume and embroidery, mother of pearl/abalone handiwork), my work celebrates the cultural history of this region while at the same time subversively critiquing it. The resulting work’s seemingly purely decorative appearance and jewel-like qualities, are methods for speaking about the value of land and its preciousness. I am interested in drawing the viewer into a narrative whose history of conflict is in contrast to the work’s aesthetic richness.

All of the images in this first series of “Borders and Boundaries: Looking for Palestine,” are of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Palestine’s transformation since the partition of 1948. By mirroring the cartography of these areas, assembling them to create new forms along with the negative shapes that result from their mirroring, I am referencing both the Reductionist and Systems approaches often used to understand conflict.

Reverse painting on glass backed with foil (often referred to as tinsel painting) has been the medium/process that I have used in this work. In my recent installation at the Southwest School of Art, I have made the map pieces out of pigmented, handmade paper that I pinned to a mirrored substrate with map pins. Together these pieces form an ornate oriental rug and map and suggest the possibility of movement and reconfiguration.

“Borders and Boundaries: Looking for Palestine” is a self-examination of the role of Western powers in shaping other parts of the world, and speaks to my personal experience as one of the Palestinian diaspora, an identity that still remains exotic and untouchable.

Learn more about Michelle’s working process.

All images courtesy of Michelle Samour.  Video of Michelle Samour  by Amelia Damplo.

1. Looking for Palestine: The West Bank, 2016, Reverse painting on plexiglass, foil, 61″H x 37″W x 2″D
2. Looking for Palestine: The West Bank, Detail, 2016, Reverse painting on plexiglass, foil, 61″H x 37″W x 2″D
3. Looking for Palestine: Jerusalem, 2016, Reverse painting on plexiglass, foil, 61″H x 37″W x 2″D
4. Looking for Palestine: Jerusalem, Detail, 2016, Reverse painting on plexiglass, foil, 61″H x 37″W x 2″D
5. Looking for Palestine: Israel, 2016, Reverse painting on plexiglass, foil, 61″H x 37″W x 2″D
6. Looking for Palestine: Israel, Detail, 2016
7. Looking for Palestine, Southwest School of Art, San Antonio, 2017, 10’H x 6’W x 2″D, Mirrored Mylar, foam insulation board, pigmented handmade paper, map, sewing pins
8. Installation detail
9. Installation detail

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