Juliana Seraphim Palestinian-Lebanese, 1934-2005

“The images in my paintings come from deep within me; they are surreal and unexplainable. Consciously I want to portray a woman’s world and how important love is to a woman. Few men understand the quality of love a woman seeks. I try to show them.” 


Juliana SERAPHIM (b.1934, Palestine - d. 2005, Lebanon) was pioneer of the Middle Eastern art scene of the 1960s-1990s, known for her unique Surrealist style and dreamlike iconography that engaged deeply with gender struggle, the liberation of female sexuality and agency, nature and spirituality.


Having been displaced in 1948 (mass exodus of Nakba) she moved to Beirut, Lebanon at the age of 14 with her family where she attended a Catholic boarding school. At 18, she began working as a secretary at UNRWA refugee relief while attending evening art classes with Lebanese painter Jean Khalifé who organised Seraphim’s first exhibition in his studio. She then enrolled at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts and in 1959, she spent a year in Florence before moving to Madrid in 1960 to study for a year at the Royal Academy of San Fernando on a scholarship.


Seraphim produced some of her most notable works between 1960s-1990s. Considered an outsider by more politically active artists, her artworks didn’t explicitly engage with the Palestinian national cause; instead, she developed a unique, sensually visual vocabulary rooted in the perception of a "woman’s world", characterised by layers of erotic, dreamlike imagery and characters that morph into plants and flowers. She also drew inspiration from the structure of the faded frescoes of angelic beings on the ceiling of her grandfather's monastery, and former convent, in Jerusalem. She was deeply inspired by her spirituality, sexuality and her own childhood memories and upbringing. 


During the Lebanese Civil War she shuttled between Paris and Beirut, and would represent Lebanon in three international biennials: Alexandria (1962), Paris (1963, 1969) and Sāo Paulo (1965). More recently, her work was included in Beirut and The Golden Sixties, Biennale de Lyon, 2022, together with contemporaries Etel Adnan and Hueguette Caland. 


Her work features in private and public collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of New York; Museum of the City of Viarregio; Musée du suréalisme, Paris; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman; Sursock Museum, Beirut; the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut; and the Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.