Boullata, Kamal (1942–)

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Boullata, Kamal

Kamal J. Boullata (Bullata) is a prominent Palestinian modern artist.


Boullata was born to a Christian Palestinian family in Jerusalem, mandatory Palestine in 1942. He graduated from the Accademia di Belle Arte in Rome in 1965 and attended the Corcoran Academy for the Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., from 1968 to 1971. Boullata stayed in Washington thereafter, teaching at Georgetown University and producing his art. In 1993 and 1994 he received a Fulbright Senior Scholar Fellowship to research Islamic art in Morocco, with the result that in the 1990s, he lived in both Morocco and France.


Growing up in Jerusalem, Boullata studied with the artist of Orthodox Christian icons, Khalil Halaby (1889–1964). The experience influenced Boullata tremendously. He also was fascinated by Arabic script, particularly the square, geometric style of lettering known as Kufic. Boullata recalled spending hours growing up in Jerusalem, sketching the calligraphy he saw on the Dome of the Rock shrine.


Name: Kamal Boullata (Bullata)

Birth: 1942, Jerusalem, mandatory Palestine

Family: Wife, Lily Farhoud

Nationality: Palestinian; American citizenship

Education: Accademia di Belle Arte in Rome, 1965; studies at the Corcoran Academy for the Fine Arts in Washington, 1968–1971


  • 1968: Settles in Washington, D.C.
  • 1990: Publishes Faithful Witnesses: Palestinian Children Recreate Their World
  • 1993: Receives Fulbright Senior Scholar Fellowship to research Islamic art in Morocco
  • 2001: Receives Ford Foundation grant to pursue research on the influence of post-Byzantine art on Palestinian painting

Boullata used the Kufic style of calligraphy in his signature form of art: silk screens that are fragments from Christian and Islamic writings that wrap around the canvas, all the while painted in translucent colors. He described his art form in this way:

In [my] later acrylics, all association with script disappeared. Doubling and dissecting quadrangles generated geometric compositions, still based on the square. Oppositional color contrasts heighten the ambiguity of seeming symmetries, and the fragmentation of angular forms reveals prismatic refractions. Colors thrusting forward and backward in shifting sequences traverse illusionary distance. The eye-crossing demarcations between inside and outside transcend simple reciprocities. Through geometry—whose Greek roots mean "measurement of land"—the exiled artist, half a world away from Jerusalem, relentlessly charts the transition from memory to imagination. (Kamal Boullata. "Art." 2005)

Other examples of Islamic calligraphy and ceramics have inspired his work, as well. Script on the tiles of the Alhambra in Spain served as the inspiration for his twelve-piece 1996 work, "Twelve Lanterns for Grenada." Not that calligraphy is his only style of work; in 2006, he was hard at work designing the stained glass windows of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Potomac, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C.

Boullata is also an author, editor, and researcher. He wrote Faithful Witnesses: Palestinian Children Recreate Their World in 1990, which was published in Arabic, English, and French. Recovery of Place: A Study of Contemporary Palestinian Painting: 1847–1997 was published in 2001 in Arabic. His scholarly articles about Palestinian art have appeared in a variety of journals, including Middle East Report and Journal of Palestine Studies, and his chapter "Art" in The Encyclopedia of the Palestinians (2000; rev. ed., 2005) is a brilliant and detailed exposition of the history of modern Palestinian art and artists.


His work is well regarded around the world, and Boullata is considered one of Palestine's great modernist artists. His work has been shown in the United States, France, and the Middle East, including at the Musée du Palais Carnoles and the Galerie d'art Contemporain Palais de l'Europe, Menton, the Musée du Chateau Dufresne, Montreal, and Galerie Claude Lemand, Paris. He also has received significant research grants. In addition to the Fulbright Senior Scholar Fellowship he received in 1993–1994 to research Islamic art in Morocco, Boullata received a Ford Foundation grant in 2001 to pursue research on the influence of post-Byzantine art on Palestinian painting.


Boullata is still active, but surely will be remembered as a foremost Palestinian modernist artist, as well as a scholar of the history of Palestinian art.


Boullata, Kamal. "Art." In Encyclopedia of the Palestinians, rev. ed., edited by Philip Mattar. New York: Facts on File, 2005.

――――――. "To Measure Jerusalem: Explorations of the Square." Journal of Palestine Studies 28, no. 3 (Spring 1999): 83-91.

"Visual Art: Kamal Bullata." Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre. Available from

                                         Michael R. Fischbach

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Boullata, Kamal (1942–)

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