‘Where There is Struggle, There is Art’ – Remembering Heba Zagout

Palestinian artist Heba Zagouti was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. (Image: Palestine Chronicle)

By Ayah Victoria McKhail

The celebrated Palestinian artist and primary school teacher created an extraordinary collection of visual narratives, leaving behind a profound legacy.

On October 13, 2023, Palestinian artist Heba Zagout was killed by an Israeli airstrike that targeted her family home in the Gaza Strip. She was killed along with two of her four children, Adam and Mahmoud.

Zagout is survived by her husband, her children, Faisal and Baraa, as well as her sister, Maysaa Ghazi.

Zagout was born on February 14, 1984, in the Al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip to a family from the village of Isdud, which was destroyed, along with hundreds of others, by Zionist militias during the Nakba, the Catastrophe of 1948.

As a child, she was always captivated by the tales of pre-Nakba Palestine, stories about her village and the simple, but deep-rooted existence of her family and people.

As an artist, Zagout excelled at creative storytelling. Her paintings depict her love and attachment to Palestine. 

Hanny Al-Khoury is a Palestinian-Canadian contemporary artist based in Edmonton, Alberta, who acted as a mentor to Zagout. Al-Khouri believes that a prominent theme colors the Palestinian artist’s work.  

To him, it is a representation of the art that has been created by generations of Palestinian artists who have been narrating both their individual and societal stories since the Nakba. It encompasses a sense of identity loss, while embodying resistance and resolute steadfastness.

 “Through their visual narratives, these artists have continued to express their deep connection to their homeland. Heba’s simple, yet profound journey mirrors the struggle of many Palestinians, who use art as a means of self-expression, only to face the harsh realities of occupation,” Al-Khoury said.

The Israeli bombing of her home destroyed much of her artwork. However, many of her pieces are available in private collections. Additionally, Zagout’s paintings are available through her social media accounts, spreading her message about Palestine, even after her untimely death.

Dania Majid, a programmer with the Toronto Palestine Film Festival, is now committed to upholding Zagout’s memory.

When she and her colleagues began researching the lives of the Palestinian artists and writers who have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces, they were struck by what they unearthed.

“Their works captured so much of Gaza – its everyday life, its horrors and its beauty. Their work was very different, but they had one thing in common: to share the stories of Gaza with the world. We wanted to honor their aspirations and through our event, we shared their work to honor them.” 

By building on the legacy artists like Zagout have created, Majid explains how such art is intertwined with demands for justice. “Over the past few months, artists have been organizing workshops to show films, share poetry, play music, create posters to call for a ceasefire and bring attention to the genocide unfolding,” Majid said.

“Many filmmakers, musicians and writers have built networks and campaigns to boycott institutions that are complicit in Israel’s genocide.”

What binds such individuals to Zagout is their unrelenting resolve. 

As Majid emphasizes, “many artists in Palestine have used their crafts to photograph, or create powerful images and messages to the world, or release songs amplifying the strength and resilience of the Palestinian people. Where there is struggle, there is art.”

An Israeli airstrike may have killed Zagout, but her art, her legacy, and the resilience of the Palestinian people will never be suppressed.

– Ayah Victoria McKhail is a Toronto-based Palestinian writer with family in Gaza. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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