RAMALLAH, West Bank — Amneh Baagour's career as a mosaic artist started seven years ago when her daughter, a post-graduate art student, rejected Baagour's offer to help her daughter with her projects. Today, the works of the 67-year-old autodidact mother and her academic daughter, Kinan el-Rubaie, are often displayed side by side in exhibitions.
Baagour makes mosaics. Rubaie, an artist with a Ph.D. in art education from Egypt’s Helwan University in Greater Cairo, uses various media such as photography to clay. Together they have held a number of joint exhibitions, including one in Cairo in 2013 and the Phoenix Exhibition in Palestine in 2016. Both love to use Palestinian symbols such as horses, fish, eyes or olive branches in their works.
Baagour has been interested in crafts ever since her childhood in Lebanon's Beddawi refugee camp. She was born into a family of Palestinians evicted from Jaffa in 1948; the family’s means were small, and toys and books were rare. She was taught to sew at the refugee camp. She also learned embroidery and even how to cut hair, thanks to a teacher at the camp who worked with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
When Baagour turned 18 in 1970, she got married and left the camp to live with her husband in the southern Lebanese village of Chebaa, where they had four daughters. They then lived briefly in Tunisia and returned to the Gaza Strip in the 1990s after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.
Baagour participated as a young woman in various embroidery exhibitions organized by the Union of Palestinian Women in Lebanon, but her interest in mosaics did not start until she was well into her 60s and living with Rubaie in Greater Cairo so that Rubaie could study at Helwan University.
As part of her academic projects, Rubaie had to make mosaics at home; her mother offered to help by cutting the pieces of glass and stones. Baagour decided to have a go on her own after her daughter rebuffed her offer.
“My mother watched me as I worked on the mosaics. Then she tried on her own, and her creations were dazzling and far better than mine,” Rubaie admitted to Al-Monitor. “Mosaics are a difficult and painstaking form. It requires a great deal of mental effort and care, as you need to bring [together] minuscule pieces to develop color schemes, shading and depth. Small pieces of glass or stone contain a lot of color grading [and take] a lot of time and effort to arrange. Cutting pieces into squares and shapes also results in small wounds. So, many artists go for an easier type of art.”
Baagour said she learned a lot from her daughter. “I not only learned how to make mosaics, but I also spent time sifting through books and attending exhibitions and seminars with my daughter. When her friends used to come over for a visit and talk about art, I listened carefully. What I did not understand, I asked my daughter.”
Baagour's favorite pieces are her "Architectural Mosaic,” which depicts the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and her first creation, the “Colorful Horses Mosaic.”
Her love for Palestinian symbols is also shared by her daughter, whose Ph.D. was on the use of the cultural symbols in Palestinian women’s garments. Rubaie also works on mosaics occasionally, but she is a multidisciplinary artist and her recent works range from calligraphy to oil paintings. Rubaie has participated in many group exhibitions in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Palestine. She has held two solo exhibitions: “Dreams like Windflowers" at the El Sawy Culture Wheel in Cairo, and “Return of Migratory Birds” at the Young Artists’ Forum in Ramallah.
Baagour says ensuring the production of high-quality mosaics is difficult because some of the materials — from glass to grout — are difficult to find in Gaza. Although mosaics are part of the Palestinian heritage, she says there is very little official support for this art form.
Despite all the hardships, Baagour has managed to participate in 30 art exhibitions in Egypt and Palestine over the past few years, representing her country locally, internationally and in the Arab region. She has also received several awards, including in the Spring Salon in Egypt in 2010 at the El Sawy Culture Wheel; the 2016 Phoenix Exhibition, a joint exhibition with her daughter in Ramallah; and the 2010 group exhibition "Saturated Souls" by artists of the International Foundation for Arts and Culture in Cairo.