The Paintings of Ibrahim Nubani: Camouflage, Schizophrenia and Ambivalence - Eight Fragments

Ayelet Zohar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This text reads into the work of Ibrahim Nubani (1962—), a Palestinian-Israeli painter who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1988, during the first Intifada. Nubani's painting has undergone a tremendous change from the 1980s and the period of his hospitalization to his painting style today: from geometric, Modernist-type painting, gradually moving into his contemporary chaotic and saturated style of expression. I draw parallels between Nubani's personal and psychological condition and the political events that affected him. I refer to his state in relation to the discourse of mimicry and camouflage in nature, comparing his position to that of the invisible presences in the background in a perfect camouflage, referring to Roger Caillois’ interpretations. I look at his diagnosed psychiatric state of schizophrenia as the materialization of the meaning of being a Palestinian-Israeli in a life of fragmentation and rejection, by referring to Bhabha and Shammas. I relate to Deleuze and Guattari's notions of schizophrenia as a cultural rebellion against the moderating mechanisms of cultural/national identification. I demonstrate how Nubani's work and speech undermine the modalities of mainstream Israeli society, acting like a cultural insurgent, terrorizing Zionist axioms. While analysing Nubani's iconography I identify several tropes, images and icons that serve as signifiers of his personal crisis and artistic development. I link Nubani's eyes/ocelli images to Lacan's discussion of ‘symbolic castration’ as the core of his personal becoming part of Israeli society and his collapse, the in-between desire to assimilate in the early stages of his life, and his current desire to fully live his life as a Palestinian. The text moves between his images and images from other sources that open Nubani's world into the discourses of Western painting, schizophrenia, high Modernism, the postcolonial condition and so forth. The text is fragmented into eight pieces, following the schizophrenic break-up of Nubani's personal state and his painted work. I read his work as a destabilizing agent, and identify visual references drawn from the wider context of art history, and specifically referring to masterpieces of the Israeli art canon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-33
Number of pages31
JournalTheory, Culture and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Arab-Israeli/Palestinian-Israeli
  • Palestinian-Israeli conflict
  • castration
  • hybridity
  • mimicry


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