Asim Abu Shakra was one of the few Palestinian artists who was accepted into the canon of the Israeli art world. In 1981, Shakra moved to Tel Aviv where he studied painting at the Kalisher Art Academy. At the time, it was not easy for a Palestinian artist to live and study in an Israeli city and Shakra ended up living almost two years in a sleeping bag in the turpentine-smelling paint studio of the school.
In his life and work, Shakra experienced the conflict between his Arab and Israeli identities. The figure of the cactus is central to his visual language and reflects one of the personal stories of his life in Tel Aviv when one day he saw a potted cactus on a windowsill. The plant had been separated and removed from the wilderness and placed in a pot on the windowsill just like him, a Palestinian living in the Israeli capital. The feelings of alienation and non-belonging expressed in Shakra’s work are familiar to many exiled or internally displaced Palestinians. The thorny plant became a popular symbol of Palestinian identity as it is known for its tenacity and deep roots.
The resilience of the cactus plant was especially crucial to Abu Shakra during the last years of his life. Diagnosed with cancer in 1987, he portrayed his determination to survive in the form of the spiky, steadfast plant. Asim Abu Shakra passed away at the young age of 29, yet he still had a prolific career as an artist.
After graduating in 1986, he had his first solo exhibition at the Rap Gallery in Tel Aviv. Shakra had three more solo exhibitions and participated in four group exhibitions before he passed away. Four years after his death, a comprehensive retrospective exhibition of his work was presented at the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion of the Tel Aviv Museum.