Shawa, Laila (1940–)

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Shawa, Laila

Laila Shawa is a Palestinian artist and illustrator.


Name: Leila Shawa

Birth: 1940, Gaza City, British-controlled Palestine

Nationality: Palestinian; resident in Britain

Education: Cairo Fine Arts School; Leonardo da Vinci School of Art in Cairo (1957–1958); Accademia di Belle Arte (1958–1964; BA in fine arts); Accademia St. Giaccomo (1960–1964; diploma in plastic and decorative arts); Oskar Kokoschka School of Seeing, Salzburg, Austria, 1960, 1962, 1964


  • 1987: Moves to London
  • 1994: Her work is exhibited at the Washington Museum of Women in the Arts
  • 1995: Finishes Walls of Gaza
  • 1997: Exhibits at the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris


Laila Shawa (also Layla Shawwa) was born in 1940 in Gaza City, British-controlled Palestine, to a distinguished Muslim Palestinian family. After graduating from the Cairo Fine Arts School and the Leonardo da Vinci School of Art in Cairo (1957–1958), she traveled to Italy and studied at the Accademia di Belle Arte (1958–1964; BA in fine arts), and the Accademia St. Giaccomo (1960–1964; diploma in plastic and decorative arts). In 1960, 1962, and 1964, she studied at the Oskar Kokoschka School of Seeing in Salzburg, Austria, with renowned expressionist artist Oskar Kokoschka. She has also worked on United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) children's art programs in Gaza. She later moved to Beirut, and since 1987 has been based in London.


Shawa is an oil painter, a silk-screen artist, and an illustrator of children's books who has also done sculpture. Her famous silk-screen installation Walls of Gaza (1992–1995) exemplifies her ongoing interest in political struggle and oppression, and in children who live with war and deprivation. Her photographs of children and graffitiladen walls in Gaza are juxtaposed on large panels to make the viewer confront the effects of conflict and violence on generations of children. Other works examine breast cancer as a metaphor for other eruptions and invasions, such as the 1991 Gulf War, and atomic bombs, linking the body with the land—a strategy adopted by other Palestinian artists. Shawa's paintings on a variety of subjects, including the restrictions on Middle Eastern women, are reminiscent of Henri Rousseau in style and color.


Shawa's works have been exhibited throughout the Middle East, Europe, and in the United States, including in 1994 at the Washington Museum of Women in the Arts and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in 1997.


Shawa is still active, but clearly already has made her mark as a significant Palestinian artist of the latter decades of the twentieth century.


Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.

Lloyd, Fran, ed. Contemporary Arab Women's Art: Dialogues of the Present. London: Women's Art Library, 1999.

Shawa, Laila. Available at

Shawa, Laila. Laila Shawa Works 1964–1996. Cyprus: MCS Publications, 1997.

                                          Jessica Winegar

                          updated by Michael R. Fischbach