Palestinian Folkloric Fairy Tales: Palestinian Painter, Bissan Rafe

By Federico Cao

‘Someone once described my work as emotive and powerful without the need for jargon yet criticized that my politics use art as its tool; to which I simply replied: ‘Politics are the opinions or sympathies of a person, the total complex of relations between people living in society’ (Merriam Webster). Be it governmental, emotional or spiritual, it comes down to every single form of art being a political dogma.’ — Bissan Rafe

Often times the concept of the Palestinian cause is associated with suffering, pain, occupation and martyrdom; thus it is always refreshing when an occasional positive, more pure association breaks such stereotypes.

Bissan Rafe, a fast emerging Palestinian-American artist evokes a breath of fresh air with her latest project breaking away from such stereotypes. A multimedia artist and writer based in Texas (USA), whose work personifies an old Mejana song, a story echoing the plight of the Palestinian Diaspora. She established her official Art Studio (Nohra-Studio) back in 2007 and is currently the Director of International Relations and a member of the directive council at the International Artist Collective, Ali Ribelli based in Italy.

Fairy tales, her new project, is a collection of both individual and collaborative work linking Eastern and Western Asian folkloric cultures through imagination. The new series include 6 projects of which two are already in production. Each project is a full-coloured Text-Illustrated book conveying an original fairy tale. The series as whole will also be collected in an anthology encompassing the 6-fairytale books in addition to a documentary outlining all of the residencies, and countries visited during the creation period.

This spotlight focuses on the most recent projects of the series Fairy tales: Shamms Islet, and The Child Far Away.

Shamms Islet is a fairy tale based loosely on Bissan’s Novelette released earlier in 2012 by the same name under Nohra-Studio/Arabesque Ink literary division. The story revolves around the journey of a westerner wolf to the summit of a high mountain where he meets and befriends a girl imprisoned on an islet there with only a giant shadow for a companion.

As a major in Biological and Physical Science, Bissan draws heavily from her scientific background to establish the meat of the story, which revolves around the physiological traumas induced by isolation, altruistic behaviour, and social Darwinism. 

Shamms Islet ties inspirations from three regions: Beisan (Palestine), Big Bend (TX, USA), and Yamanashi/ Fukuoka (Japan). The creation process involved several art-residencies and travels to the mentioned locations with the final production-taking place in an upcoming three-months residency scheduled for Japan in 2013.

How is the project is conducted is one of the most attractive aspect about Bissan’s work.  Naturopathic medicine, art and folklore were masterfully woven into the fabric of the story combining elements from the various involved regions. For example, the fashion the characters wear is based on Palestinian traditional dresses observed by the artist during her last trip to the Occupied Palestinian Territories back in 2011. The backgrounds of the illustrations and settings are linked to locations in Yamanashi, Big Bend and Beisan. The techniques used to produce the illustrations are inspired by the Japanese art of Emakimono (Storytelling), not to mention the remedies outlined in the story are linked to Arabic and Japanese traditional medicine.

The 2013 Japan residency will feature Shamms Islet the exhibition along side several workshops and talks conducted to promote the story in the East Asian culture thus bringing a wistful taste of Palestine to the Japanese art network. The story has been translated English, Arabic and Italian with future plans for a Japanese translation as well.

The Child Far Away is an illustrated fairy tale; collaboration between Italian-American writer, Jason R. Forbus and Miss Bissan Rafe, revolving around the refugee child and dreams based on the setting of the Island of Ventotene. The construction and presentation took place in Italy, Portugal and Palestine with revenues generated to support the book’s donations to third world country and refugee camp schools. The illustrations are heavily influenced by Bissan’s Palestinian background and Forbus’ Italian heritage.

Thus far, the story has been translated into 15 languages by professional contributors, which include English, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, German, Mandarin, and French published by Ali Ribelli.

The Arabic version of the book includes documentation of Bissan’s visit to Palestinian refugee camps and UWARA elementary schools back in 2011 featuring student artwork rendition of the fairy tales.

The Child Far Away is currently undergoing musical production do to premier on the Italian Stage sometimes in November 2012 with an original orchestral music score by Italian composer Cristian Maddalena and an exhibition installation by Bissan and Jason Forbus.

Bissan, the artist originally from Beisan is but one example of the refreshing art one feels resonating from young Palestinians with yet another innovative approach redefining the Palestinian cause and image. Her new series, fairy tales, is a beautiful rendition of the Palestinian history and reality through vibrant breath-taking illustrations and gripping style of storytelling.

(The illustration above is copyright of Bissan Rafe. To learn more about Bissan and her art, visit:

– Federico Cao is an Architect and art appreciator based in New York (USA) and Turino (Italy). He contributed this article to Contact him at:


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