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Palestinian artists win prestigious Israeli art prize for first time

In winning the prestigious 2023 Rappaport award, Hannan Abu-Hussein and Maria Saleh Mahameed mark a breakthrough for Israeli-Arab artists.
"The Last Pill," by Maria Saleh Mahameed, Maya Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Rappaport Prize committee announced last Wednesday that Arab Israeli artists Hannan Abu-Hussein and Maria Saleh Mahameed were the laureates of the 2023 award, the first time Palestinians have won the prestigious honor.

The annual prizes are awarded by the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Foundation to one established Israeli artist and one promising Israeli artist, in conjunction with the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Prizes named after the late Jewish philanthropists are also awarded for biomedical research and groundbreaking social change endeavors by women.  

The judges chose Abu-Hussein for her leadership of projects focused on Jewish-Arab artistic collaboration, while Mahameed was honored for her “sober portrayal” of the complex schisms afflicting Israeli society. The prize for an established artist is $35,000 and an artist under the age of 40 receives $15,000, and the foundation produces catalogs of their work and hosts solo exhibitions. The winners are required to donate one of their works to the Rappaport Foundation’s collection of Israeli art.

The award, one of the most significant in Israel’s art world, is considered an important milestone in the careers of its winners, who include such renowned artists as Zvi Goldstein, Nurit David and Yair Garbuz. This year’s two female laureates have been flooded with congratulatory messages on social media from well-wishers from Umm al-Fahm and others in the Israeli Arab society, proud of their achievement.

It is no coincidence that the two artists honored this year both hail from Umm al-Fahm, one of the only Arab towns in Israel to have an art gallery. Established in 1996 at the initiative of local artist Said Abu Shakra, the gallery exhibits works by Arab and Jewish artists and has drawn local and international acclaim. With few institutions within the Israeli Arab society dedicated to art, and extremely limited budgets, the gallery has taken upon itself other tasks as well, such as producing research books on Palestinian art and establishing a collection of Israeli-Arab art and the first historical archive of Umm al-Fahm.

"In Between Destruction" by Hannan Abu-Hussein.

Abu-Hussein, 50, lives and works in Jerusalem. She was one of the first Israeli Arabs to study at the Jerusalem Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, registering without the knowledge or approval of her family. She holds a graduate degree in arts and design and lectures at the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art and at the Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology and the Arts. She has also headed projects in east Jerusalem bringing together Jewish and Palestinian artists.

Abu-Hussein’s works have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Israel and abroad. Many of her paintings, installations and video art examine the status of women in the heavily segregated, patriarchal Arab society. In explaining their decision, the judges cited her educational work and “struggle to change in-depth social and gender patterns" as reflected in her artistic creation.

Mahameed, 32, is a graduate of the Oranim Academic College of Education and currently lives in the village of Ein Mahil on the outskirts of Nazareth. She paints in charcoal chalk for the most part and uses fabrics as a platform for her works. Her work has been displayed in solo exhibitions at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, the Maya Gallery, the Jerusalem Artists House and the Umm al-Fahm Art Gallery, and she is the winner of several awards. She was awarded the Beatrice S. Kolliner Prize for a Young Israeli Artist by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in December.

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