Al-Hallaj - Self Portrait

Translation / Interpretation / Caption Text

The final major work

Mustafa al-Hallaj’s major work clearly owes a great debt to Pharaonic art. The sequencing of figures and backgrounds in one image extending over ninety-seven meters actually outdoes any of the ancient arts of narration, be they Egyptian or Assyrian. This great work was begun in the mid 1990s. Engraved on masonite modules, each measuring sixty by eighty centimeters, it is a continuous horizontal image, measuring over ninety-seven meters.

Mustafa had planned to continue this outpouring until the end of his life; but sadly, his life ended prematurely. He was excited that his friends were intending to submit it to the Guinness Book of Records.

When I asked him for a title to the work, he mentioned that it was a “self portrait as a man, a god, and a devil” then showed me his three self-portraits in the work. “As one peruses the print, each part is called forth by the previous image," he affirmed. In one section is a figure bent at right angles from the waist, holding up a graveyard on his back.

A bird that the artist called a “Hodhod,” the Afro-Eurasian Hoopoe or “Stink bird,” precedes the man. Because the bird has a smelly bump on its head, according to Mustafa, in folktales it is said that it carries its dead mother buried in its head. About the man in this particular section of his frieze he revealed: 

Our friends when they die are buried in us . . . Their bodies go to the graveyard but their personalities stay with us. We Palestinian artists are an orchestra. We are one choir… We have many friends and many died. We are a walking graveyard of these personalities who left.

Mustafa was honoring lost comrades in struggle as he poured decades of his experiences into this work.