But when I least expect it, here and there I see my savior’s face. He’s still my favorite loser, falling for the entire human race. Over the Rhine

Sliman Mansour: Picking Olives

ArtWay Visual Meditation September 18, 2022

Sliman Mansour: Picking Olives

The Taste of Palestine

by Meryl Doney

It is 2016 and I am balancing in an olive tree, wielding a long stick, beating the branches to bringing the rich harvest of olives bouncing down onto a large, circular ground sheet. At lunchtime I sit on the ground with a Palestinian family round a hastily lit fire. We eat a delicious meal brought from home by grandma. I am helping with the olive harvest in a family-owned grove as part of A Taste of Palestine, a project organised by the human rights group Amos Trust. Their aim is to involve supporters from the UK in the troubles of the Palestinian people, on the principle that cooking food and eating together is the best way to get to know folk, to understand their culture and hear about their problems and concerns. When I look at this painting I am transported back to that life-changing visit, and the experience of sitting and eating with the family and hearing their stories.

Picking Olives is painted by Sliman Mansour, who is an important figure among contemporary Palestinian artists. Born in 1947, he spent his childhood in the countryside around Birzeit, a Palestinian Christian town north of Ramallah. His paternal grandfather was the Arabic scholar Jeries Mansour who taught him to value traditional folk tales and culture. Grandfather on his mother’s side was a Christian Orthodox priest, Boulos Khoury. Mansour was sent to the Evangelical Lutheran School in Bethlehem where his artistic talents were recognised and encouraged. However, the Six Day War of 1967 put an end to his hopes of studying at the Chicago Art Institute. Instead, he was accepted by the Israeli-founded Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem.

These experiences left a significant mark on Mansour’s work, heightening a sense of gradual loss in Palestine, especially after the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. His early experiences also presented him with the symbols and images he would later use to preserve and highlight Palestinian identity. He uses symbols derived from Palestinian life as a form of resistance. For him, orange trees represent land lost in the 1948 mass exodus of at least 750,000 Arabs from Palestine known as Al Nakba or the catastrophe. His women, who wear traditional embroidered dress, stand for Palestine itself. Images of Jerusalem and the glistening Dome of the Rock represent the Palestinian homeland and the dream of return. And olive trees like these represent the occupied land.

There is something of Soviet-style Realism here, but also something gentler, more human – a dignified resistance. In Palestine the word for this is sumud or ‘staying put despite continuous assault’. It is not merely about passive endurance, but an attitude of unyielding resistance and defiance. Those who are steadfast – that is, those who exhibit sumud – are referred to as samidin. The ultimate symbol associated with the concept of sumud and the Palestinian sense of rootedness in the land is the olive tree.

Another icon of sumud that has often been prominent in Palestinian artwork is that of the mother, and more specifically, a pregnant peasant woman. Mansour notably brings together this imagery with that of western sacred art in his Christian-themed works, such as The Flight to Egypt.

After 1989 Mansour’s practice took a radical new direction. As part of the Intifada, or uprising, Palestinians declared a boycott of all Israeli spheres of influence: political, economic and cultural. Artists responded by refusing to buy raw materials for painting, drawing and other works. Harking back to helping his grandmother mix straw with mud to make beehives as a child, Mansour began using clay and henna in bas-relief. This portrait of Hagar, who appears in both the Bible and the Quran, and who was driven from her home and abandoned, stands poignantly for the Palestinian people.


Mansour is still at work today, living and working for peace and justice in his homeland. Here is The Holy Family in an Olive Grove, painted in 2020. For him, the abiding symbol of the olive tree continues to represent the hope of restoration, justice and peace.


Picking Olives, oil on canvas, 1988

The Flight to Egypt, oil on Canvas, 1984

Hagar, mud on wood, 1996

The Holy Family in an Olive Grove, 2020

Sliman Mansour (سليمان منصور), born in 1947, Birzeit, Palestine, studied fine art at the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem. Mansour is known for his 1973 work Camel of Hardship depicting an old porter carrying Jerusalem on his back. Mansour has tailored his comprehensive portfolio around the Palestinian struggle, portraying peasants and women in traditional dress in his early work. During the first Intifada against Israeli occupation (1987 – 1993) Mansour and other artists in the ‘New Vision’ art movement started in 1987, boycotted Israeli supplies. Instead, Mansour used local materials like mud and henna in his work. He is a co-author of Both Sides of Peace: Israeli and Palestinian Political Poster Art, published in 1998 by the Contemporary Art Museum with University of Washington Press.

Meryl Doney is an independent art curator, specialising in presenting exhibitions in cathedrals, churches, festivals and other challenging spaces. She has curated over 70 exhibitions and performance pieces, including Moon Mirror by Rebecca Horne in St Paul’s Cathedral and Presence: Images of Christ for the Third Millennium, a series of thirteen different exhibitions involving 50 contemporary artists. Between 2006 and 2011 she was Director of Wallspace, a 'spiritual home for visual art' in All-Hallows-on-the-Wall church, in the City of London. In 2015 she was guest curator for CLEY 15, the North Norfolk open-submission exhibition at Cley-next-the-Sea. She was a trustee of the Methodist Collection of Modern Art until 2018 and chaired the Art Advisory Group for St Paul’s Cathedral, London until 2020. She is currently Art in Focus editor for Reform, the magazine of the United Reformed Church in the UK.

Also see



ARTWAY BLOG – ‘On the Street: The work of JR by Betty Spackman. “I am a big fan of getting both the Arts and Christianity back ‘on the street’, meaning out of the strongholds of institutions that tend to work at bringing people in (often requiring strict criteria for membership) instead of reaching out, going out, and giving. I want to point particularly to a recent project the French artist JR did that moved me deeply, perhaps because I have had a small experience working with inmates in a prison in Canada. The TED TALK where he describes what happened should be an encouragement to anyone who has any doubt that art can not only bring hope to the world but can change lives.” Watch and read

ESSAY VENICE UNDONE –  Art historian Matthew Milliner reflects on the Anish Kapoor and Anselm Kiefer exhibitions at the 59th Venice Biennale. Victoria Jones comments: “Prompted in part by their use of darkness, Kapoor and Kiefer have been read by some scholars through a lens of despair, but Milliner looks with eyes of hope and sees plenitude and light.” Read here

ON ARTLYST – ‘Spiritual Joseph Beuys Plus More: September Diary’ – Revd Jonathan Evens. Read here

ART SEEKING UNDERSTANDING – Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture: Art Seeking Understanding, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, October 26–28, 2022: Every fall the Institute of Faith and Learning at Baylor University organizes a symposium around a given topic, and this year’s topic is the arts. Registration is still open! The standard cost is $250, or $125 for students. “The notion of art seeking understanding (ars quaerens intellectum) invites association with the notion of faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). Just as faith is a gift of grace that grows toward deeper knowledge, so it seems that art is a gift whose practice leads to a deeper order of understanding. This seems true not only for the person who experiences art, but also the artist—whether musician, painter, sculptor, or poet. The 2022 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture invites contributions from across the disciplines (including scholars, artists, and other practitioners) as we explore together how art seeks understanding and thus contributes to human flourishing.” Their line-up of presenters includes several from within Baylor’s own distinguished ranks, such as composer and liturgist Carlos Colón, theologian Natalie Carnes, art historian Heidi J. Hornik, and literature scholar David Lyle Jeffrey, in addition to famous outside guests like theologian-pianist Jeremy Begbie, contemporary nihonga painter Makoto Fujimura, and Early Christian art historian Robin M. Jensen. See a full list by clicking on Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture: Art Seeking Understanding.

LECTURE SERIES BRITISH VISIONARY ARTISTS – 27 October, 9 November, 16 November,  6:15 for 6:45 pm, The Royal Asiatic Society, 14 Stephenson Way, London: Temenos lecture series on British Visionary Artists. 27 October: David Jones's Magic Casements, Professor Paul Hills; 9 November: Christopher Wood: Talent and Conflict, Frances Spalding; 16 November: The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Stanley Spencer as a Religious Painter, Dr Susanna Avery-Quash. 

STILL LIFE WITH STRAWBERRIES BY ADRIAEN COORTE – Acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. “I would like to suggest that Coorte’s highly unusual still lifes—which diverge from the Netherlandish still-life tradition with regard to their technique, size, subject matter, color palette, and general lack of theme—visualize the indefinable and the inexpressible so characteristic of sublimity more accurately than words have ever been able to articulate.” Read more

BOOK – Timothy Verdon, Fra Angelico: Painter, Friar, Mystic. Brepols: Turnhout, 2021. A unique encounter with the celebrated painter seen through the eyes of Monsignor Timothy Verdon. As an art historian and (like Angelico) a Catholic priest, Monsignor Verdon approaches the work of the only artist ever beatified through the theological lens it deserves, bringing together Fra Angelico’s art and his faith. Brepols - Fra Angelico

SWITZERLAND SAKRALE ZEITEN? - 8 September – 11 December, Diverse Orte in Basel und Region: Sakrale Zeiten? – Zeitgenössische Kunst in sakralen Räumen und im städtischen Raum. In dieser Zeit werden wir alle mit Sinnfragen konfrontiert. Wir alle sind aufgerufen, uns intensiver mit der Vielfalt von Meinungen und Ansichten, aber auch mit der Bedeutung und der Endlichkeit des Lebens auseinanderzusetzen. Es ist nötig, sowohl über Toleranz als auch Ausgrenzung nachzudenken. Gedanken über Vergänglichkeit und Spiritualität erhalten gerade jetzt mehr Raum und Bedeutung. Vieles wird hinterfragt, was uns bis anhin klar und eindeutig erschien. Diese Sinnfragen beschäftigen auch viele Künstlerinnen und Künstler in ihrer Arbeit. In diesem Kontext plante die Basler Künstler:innengesellschaft ein Kunstprojekt, das zu einem Dialog über Philosophie, Glaube, Rationalität zum einen, aber auch zu universellen Fragen einlädt. 50 Veranstaltungen mit Tanz, Musik, Performance, Literatur, Film, Atelier, Workshop, Diskussionsrunden, Führungen, Predigtreihen / 22 Veranstaltungs- und Ausstellungsorte in den Kantonen Basel Stadt und Basel Land / Eröffnungsanlass: Do, 8. September, 18 Uhr, Peterskirche Basel / Eine Veranstaltung der Basler Künstler:innengesellschaft.

SWITZERLAND TRIALOGUE WEEKEND - 22 October – 23 October, Diverse Orte: Trialog-Wochenende mit der Schweizerischen St. Lukasgesellschaft für Kunst und Kirche/SSL im Rahmen des Projekts Sakrale Zeiten? der Basler Künstlergesellschaft. Am Wochenende 22./23. Oktober 2022 werden ausgewählte Projekte aus drei Perspektiven besprochen. Die Aussensicht auf das Werk in Bezug auf seinen Gastort bringen Fachleute der Schweizerischen Lukasgesellschaft für Kunst und Kirche ein. Eine Innensicht wird von einer/einem Vertreter:in der jeweiligen Religionsgemeinschaft vermittelt. Die dritte Perspektive ist die des/der Kunstschaffenden selbst. So wird für das Publikum eine vertiefte Erfahrung der Kunstprojekte möglich. Die Kunstwerke in Beziehung zu ihren Gastorten ergründen. Die Gedanken der Kunstschaffenden kennenlernen. An den Erfahrungen der gastgebenden Religionsgemeinschaften teilhaben. Die TRIALOGE beginnen jeweils zur vollen Stunde und dauern ca. 40 Minuten. Sie sind öffentlich. Eintritt frei/ Kollekte. Weitere Informationen

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc., click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.


Other recent meditations:
- September 2022: Leslie Iwai: Sounding Stones
- August 2022: Carel Willink: Simeon the Stylite
- August 2022: Emmanuel Garibay: Prison Cell
- July 2022: Alan Stewart: The Blind Jesus

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists