Photography professor wins 2021 Sheikh Saoud Al Thani Project Award

Rula Halawani, an instructor in Birzeit University’s Contemporary Visual Art program, has re-cently received the 2021 Sheikh Saoud Al Thani Project Award to develop the second part of her photographic project, “For You Mother.” 

The project, which Halawani started in 2019, shines a spotlight on how the Israeli occupation changes the landscape, and culture, of Palestine by tracing its impact on the lives, landscape, and histories of Palestinian communities.

Dedicated to Halawani’s mother, the project is an attempt not only to document the changes brought about by the occupation, but also to highlight Palestinian steadfastness in the face of these transformations. Remembering her mother, Halawani says, “As I grew into adulthood, I could not help but repeat Mother’s words, ‘Even when we die and leave this world, our spirits will remain floating in the skies of our county, Palestine.’”

The project, Halawani added, is her way of capturing her mother’s words using photography. She used archival photographic portraits of people who lived in Palestine before the 1948 Nakba and forced displacement. Using fading techniques, Halawani integrated the portraits into the skies of Palestinian cities and towns, achieving an effect where people look like “float-ing spirits.” These images, she explained, not only show the beauty of Palestine, but also un-derline the inextricable link that Palestinians have with their homeland. 

For her powerful imagery, Halawani was awarded a grant as part of the 2021 Sheikh Saoud Al Thani Project Award to complete the second part of her project. The award, part of the inaugu-ral Tasweer Photo Festival in Qatar, was granted to Halawani and five other photographers from Western Asia and North Africa to support their unique projects. 

Charlotte Cotton, Tasweer’s Artistic Director and one of the jury members who chose this year’s project awards winners, praised Halawani’s “For You Mother” project, saying that it captures the powerful contrast of “beauty and resilience - disappearance and regrowth” in its images. She added: “I am incredibly excited to see how Rula Halawani will grow the second ‘chapter’ of her ‘For you Mother’ body of work. This recently started project summons Hala-wani’s personal history and the meaning of wildflowers in Palestine.”

The details of Halawani’s upcoming project are still under wraps, but she notes that it will delve further into the history of Palestinians and highlight the deep links that exist, and that come into existence, between them and their land.