Known for his political posters, artist and activist Burhan Karkutli has explained the inspiration for his work is his city: “Damascus gave me the beauty of art and the beauty of politics in one package. I carried it with me to the diaspora and these memories are part of my body.”
Born in Damascus, Burhan Karkutli (1932–2003) graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1952 and worked for a short period as a professor in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Damascus University. For stretches of time, he travelled to Spain, Morocco, Mexico and Venezuela, and in each of those places, was involved in the artistic scene and in activist movements. He eventually settled in Germany, where he lived until the end of his life.
Inspired by folk-art movements, Karkutli depicted activist causes. He was best known for his works illustrating the Palestinian struggle and was one of the founding members of the Palestinian Artist Federation in Beirut. His black and white drawings contain both human and animal characters drawn with his signature style of simplified forms and shapes. He embellished these characters with motifs and patterns which filled the spaces between the thick black outlines. His oeuvre spans across various media including posters, book covers and editorial illustrations. Not only a visual storyteller, in his later years, he was also known as a “hakawati,” narrating stories to an audience.
Karkutli’s work is part of international collections, from the Lebanese Embassy in Mexico, Dalloul Art Foundation in Beirut and the Birzeit Museum in Palestine to the Palestinian Poster Project.