Sophie Halaby in Jerusalem: An Artist’s Life
By Laura S. Schor.
2019, Syracuse UP, 978-0-81561-1-127. $34.95 pb.
Reviewed by Piney Kesting on September 9, 2020
This richly detailed biography of Sophie Halaby (1906–1997) uncovers the career of a pioneering Palestinian-Russian artist whose life spanned most of a tempestuous century, but whose art captured the timeless beauty of her adopted home: Jerusalem. Born into an affluent Christian Orthodox family in Kiev, Halaby and her family escaped to Jerusalem in 1917 at the time of the Russian Revolution. In 1929 she became the first Palestinian woman to study art in Paris, returning in 1933. Other than a brief interval drawing cartoons in 1936 critical of the British Mandate (1920–1948) and Zionist nationalism, Halaby devoted her life to painting still-life and landscapes of her beloved Jerusalem. Despite a life marked by Arab-Israeli wars, and loss of her home and property in 1948, she never let politics shape her depictions of Jerusalem, which Schor describes as “a window into the life she envisaged.” Schor places Halaby’s life and works on the pages of Palestine’s cultural history, where it belongs.