Khaled Hourani

A private view of the artist’s home in Ramallah

‘You know, I’m more than an artist,’ says Khaled Hourani at his home in Ramallah, as he adds the final spices to a maklouba dish he’s preparing in the kitchen. ‘I don’t even know if I’m a good artist, but cooking, ah, that I am certain I’m good at.’

With the kitchen at the centre of the home — exposed to both the living room and library at one end and the garden at the other — the openness of the space is intentional. The home is ‘without boundaries,’ as Hourani puts it. He demolished the walls that cut the kitchen off from the living room and library with what seems like an almost existential approach to design: ‘Why should I keep them?’ he asked himself. ‘I don’t think the eating space should be divided from the living space.’

Wherever a person moves their library, know that they have chosen their home.

Oddly enough, Hourani’s most well-known project ‘Picasso in Palestine’, which lasted from 2009 to 2011 ostensibly divulged the boundaries associated with Palestine. Standing in the centre of his living room, with memorabilia from the project hung behind him, he explains how the project eclipsed his previous works, as well as those that followed. ‘It’s almost like a burden,’ he says, ‘it shadowed all of my work.’ Despite its massive success, ‘Picasso in Palestine’ is only an iota of Hourani’s varied output.

The current project he is working on is a fiction story inspired by artefacts and art pieces being moved from Libya since 2011. Since much of the work is writing, Hourani has been mostly working from his two-bedroom flat in the suburbs of Al Tireh, a neighbourhood near Ramallah. And it shows — next to his unmade bed is a small caramel-coloured wooden nightstand where he stacks the current books he’s reading. ‘I always read a few books at a time, like a series. That way when I finish one I’m not as sad, I just continue with the others.’

He often moves from room to room. Taking a seat on his closed balcony with a painting drawn by his late brother hung on the wall behind him, Hourani recalls his first interaction with art.

During his younger years while in grade school in his hometown of Hebron, he tried out for a football team. ‘I was always on standby and never allowed to really participate in the games.

Then I tried painting and suddenly I gained the attention of the teachers and principal,’ he says. Reminiscing about his childhood he bursts into laughter. ‘They even let me go to the girls’ school to do an art project. I thought, “Wow, I’m being allowed into this mystical place that’s usually forbidden to us in the boys’ school.”’

Despite the spaciousness of his apartment, the most comforting spot for the artist is his revered library. Little souvenirs from Hourani’s travels and former art projects are scattered around the house and the library’s bookshelf is no different, stacked with sentimental tokens, like colourful ashtrays from Tunisia and glass bottles covered with stickers. The provenance of old pieces coalesces with the faded colour of books collected throughout his life. ‘Not a single book is for someone else,’ he boasts, holding a book up titled, ‘The History of Art’.

‘Wherever a person moves their library, know that they have chosen their home. Everywhere else is just a hotel room,’ Hourani quietly says as he stares at the messy stacks of books piling up. Mulling over his comment for a moment, he continues, ‘Your bed, your clothes, all of that can be moved easily and changed, but your library… that is your ultimate home and life.’

Hourani nearly missed the opportunity to buy the home. As the previous owner, a friend, asked him if he knew anyone interested in purchasing property, Hourani first thought of his siblings, who suggested that he buy it. ‘I chose this place because of its peace and serenity. It’s unlike Ramallah’s tumultuous nature.’

Each space is entirely in use by Hourani — the garden, for example, carries its own character, inviting guests to enjoy the pots of mint leaves, thyme and sage that sprawl across the concrete. Hovering above them, too, are different shades of green that dangle from the fig and apple trees. ‘During summer, my days, mornings and meetings all happen in this garden,’ says Hourani.

Mixing politics, history and culture together, Hourani’s art attempts to reflect the underlying context of a given milieu. An example is the beige curtains, which drape over his windows and expose the block Arabic calligraphy printed on them. ‘I like to incorporate our history into my art. It’s my social interaction with different lives that inspire,’ he explains.

Hourani’s 2002 project ‘Thoub’ is emblematic of this — a series of paintings that are in actuality made from embroidered cloths to resemble the Palestinian woman’s traditional dress, dyed black by widows during periods of grief. Gradually, the paintings expose the colours underneath the black dye — representing the passing of time between loss and coping.

Remco de Blaaij, curator at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, describes Hourani’s work as ‘led by an uncontrollable need to collect stories.’ And his home is a direct representation. On a wall in the living room painted maroon, Hourani has hung a black, burnt wooden paddle formerly used by a Palestinian baker. ‘It carries his story with it,’ Hourani explains, ‘it’s more than just a piece on a wall.’

On top of the television are two picture frames of his family — a photo of Hourani’s sons sits next to a photo of renowned Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish. Chuckling as he carries Darwish’s photo, Hourani jests, ‘I grew up thinking he was my uncle because we always had a photo of him in our home.’ Darwish’s former Ramallah home neighbours Hourani’s garden, slightly obscured by the trees and white gate surrounding his home.

‘Art is everywhere… everyone is an artist,’ he remarks as he looks towards Darwish’s home. ‘Even your house is art.’

Published in the issue 56 — The Snow Issue of Brownbook Magazine

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