A Byzantine twist: The Dome of the Rock and Kamal Boullata


This piece comes out of a visit to the exhibition of the late Kamal Boullata’s work on show at the University of Cambridge.   My article on the exhibition of “artists’ books”, with some pictures,  was published in Middle East Eye here.

In my ignorance it was the first encounter with Boullata’s work, though he was the gentle giant of Palestinian art and art writing.     Aimee Dawson expertly captures his career in the Art Newspaper here.

Boullata, who was born in East Jerusalem,  spoke of his artistic inspiration as a child from visits to the Dome of the Rock, that architectural icon of the Islamic world, where he sketched the mosaics.     It inspired a line of research for what is likely to be a part-finished blog, and perhaps a part-finished mosaic.

Here’s the  symbolism, or circularity, that intrigues: it’s widely agreed that the Dome of the Rock’s non-figurative mosaics were made using Byzantine techniques.  Several accounts go further, saying they were made by Byzantine craftsmen,  using materials that were supplied from Constantinople.

While you’d be forgiven for assuming – I did – that Boullata’s abstracts were the mark of an exiled Muslim Palestinian artist, he was actually raised in the Greek Orthodox Church, and after his death in Berlin was buried last year in a Jerusalem graveyard.    He was of a Middle Eastern Christian family, ushered to an artistic career in the mould of the surrounding Islamic world, by Islamic mosaics made in techniques first known from Christian churches.

Perhaps I in turn could row back one of the screen prints in Boulatta’s show to a mosaic.

Granada 1996; Furat, one of a set of four triptychs

The work I set my sights on was in the second of four triptychs of abstract screen prints in Boullata’s work Granada, 1996, inspired by the Alhambra Palace mosaics, and the reflecting pools there.

Here is the whole work.   According to the exhibition  caption, the four triptychs are named for the four rivers of Paradise:  Bisan, Dijlat, Jaihun, and Furat.

Granada 1996

In my chosen group, Dijlat, blue shades around a yellow centre gave the impression of a shimmering reflection on water.  I settled on the print on the right – light reflections in my camera confusion the shades.

I started out by trying to paint it.   The unexpected complexity of the pattern led quickly to a blue blunder.


Boullata’s piece is a screen print.     As a novice painter I switched between hand-painting and trying masking tape.    Don’t even ask about colour matching.