Persona April, 5th 2023 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 409 - Alaa Abu Asad

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 409 – Alaa Abu Asad

Last summer at the Wild Summer of Art at Brutus in Rotterdam I saw some beautiful colorful photos of flowers, including poppies. They were ‘wild flowers’, picked in the streets in Rotterdam and photographed by Alaa Abu Asad.

I recently visited him to learn more about these photos. And of course also of the other work of this artist originally from Nazareth (Palestine, part of Israel since 1948), who has been living in the Netherlands for a while.

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A number of folders, booklets and books are already on the table. But first he talks about his flower photos. Alaa: “These are wild flowers, grasses and arugula that just grow on the street. Those plants are not highly regarded, they are called weeds.”

After the pandemic, he wanted to do something “local” about local things. “I liked showing something colorful. I am trained as a photographer and one of my specialties is inkjet printing. What I showed in Brutus was the result of inkjet printing.” He opens a folder and there they are again, beautiful photos of wild flowers, mostly in red, but also some yellow and blue.

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Wild Plants of Palestine

After studying zoology at the Hebrew University, Alaa switched to study Photography at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. In 2018, he published a photo essay with video entitled ‘Wild Plants of Palestine’.

Alaa’s interest with plants started when he worked at the Palestinian Museum and came across the Matson collection (Library of Congress) of wildflowers in Palestine. That became an important source of inspiration. “At the request of the Palestinian Museum, an observational study of the Palestinian flora was led by two professors from Birzeit University, preparing for the inauguration ceremony of the building.”

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Plants and Language

Plants (and especially flowers in a vase) and Language appear to be the main subjects in Alaa Abu Asad’s oeuvre. In particular, it concerns the connection between plants and language. Language involves both verbal language and visual language.

The relationship between plants and language helps him to gain a good insight into the relationship between people and the relationship of people with other organisms. “That way we can look at the relationship with our environment and the earth. You can also talk about other things with these two elements, such as the refugee issue.”

Significant changes are taking place in the field of flora and fauna, Alaa notes. “The same goes for people. People travel further, are set in motion and time shortens. Plants are also set in motion; invasive plants emerge among the native plants. One major cause is climate change.”

People find that scary. “We don’t like change. But it’s going on anyway. Not only in the field of climate, the relationships between people are also changing and that applies – on a larger scale – to countries as well.”

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The Japanese Knotweed

One of those plants is the Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica). This plant is considered one of the most invasive exotics. Once the plant has established itself, it is very difficult to get rid of. The plant has strong rhizomes and stems. Due to its strong vigor, native plant species are being displaced.

Alaa: “We see the Japanese Knotweed a lot in the Netherlands (but also in Belgium, Germany, France and England). We have a relationship with that plant: we hate it. If local plants die out, knotweed will become the new companion.”

When I ask him about his key work, he mentions the research that has been running since 2018/2019 on the Japanese knotweed. There are also other subjects, but they are less acute. The investigation has not yet ended.

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How long has he been an artist?

“To start with: I never imagined that I would become an artist. It happened by chance. I studied zoology, then switched to photography. I’ve always liked photography. I started training in Jerusalem at the Bezalel Academy in 2008/2009. Got my bachelor’s degree there (cum laude), went to the Dutch Art Institute, ArtEz in Arnhem for my master’s degree and to Jan van Eyck in Maastricht for a post-master’s degree.” He currently has a fellowship at the Rietveld Academy.

“I started to understand what art is, and the relationship between art and life. In 2010 I showed my photos and videos in my first exhibition. So I am an artist for 12 / 13 years. But every day I doubt my role as an artist.”

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What is his experience of art life?

“It is a very bumpy terrain, full of obstacles and challenges and hardships. But it is also a place where you can express yourself, go against the grain, criticize, search for the truth. It helps you understand the place where you live, the world and your role in the world. This applies to everyone to a greater or lesser extent. Other artists will experience it differently.”

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Folders, books and booklets

We look through the folders, books and booklets. I see photos that are printed on different types of paper, including riso prints. Many black and white photos. A picture of his father, his mother, his aunt, plants and trees, an oak tree, the bearded Iris, wild tulips, the separation wall in Palestine, two domes of the British / now of the Israelis, Tall Asur. In the distance you can see the outskirts of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea.

A dictionary of Arabic – Turkish, which he made together with Ulufer Çelik. “These are words from everyday life. There is official Arabic and various dialects. I grew up with the dialect of the Levantine area. Many words appear to be similar and often have the same meaning.”

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A booklet about Japanese knotweed, containing all the words that go with it, including ‘bizarre’. In a box, three leaves of the knotweed, a Japanese knotweed, a Russian knotweed and a hybrid knotweed. In the Netherlands you will only find the small and medium-sized ones; the Russian knotweed with its large leaf comes from Ghent.

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Finally, what is his philosophy?

“Art is political. Then the question is: what is political? Is that voting rights? Is it about relationships between people? All of that. A work of art can bring about a change. That doesn’t have to be gigantic, it can also be a grain of rice that makes the rice mountain move. This is how the world keeps moving.”


1) Common poppies in Scheurich vase 209–18 W. Germany, 2) Wild rocket (diplotaxis tenuifolia), aka arugula or rucola, in Scheurich vase 209–18 W. Germany, 3) Bluegrass in Scheurich vase 523–18 W. Germany, 4) Alaa Abu Asad, Wild flower of Rotterdam, Wild Summer of Art, Brutus, 2022, Inkjet print on Hahnemüle Museum Etching, 350 gsm, 100% cotton, natural white, 80 x 120cm each, 5) Handmade riso-printed photoessay ‘Wild Plants of Palestine’, 2018, 6) Handmade riso-printed photoessay ‘Wild Plants of Palestine’, 2018, 7) Video still, Wild Plants of Palestine, video-essay, 2018, 8) Video still, Wild Plants of Palestine, video-essay, 2018, 9) Incomplete apartheid wall in Jerusalem, 2010, 10) Self-portrait with Japanese knotweed crown, Ghent, 2022

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