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Laila Kanafani

Laila Kanafani

Published: March 30, 2010
Laila Kanafani

Laila Kanafani

Artist and educator, who established the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Center in Lebanon to honor the memory of her father and to work with Palestinian refugee children.

Laila Kanafani is the daughter of the late Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani.  After earning an art degree, she traveled to Denmark to work with children.  There she read an article about holistic approaches to early childhood education that said a child has one hundred languages, but school and society deprive the child of 99 of these languages. Intrigued by this philosophy, Kanafani went to Italy and took a seminar in its teachings.  In 1993, she returned to Lebanon and introduced this theory to the children at the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Center, established in 1974 to honor her father. 

Close living conditions for the Palestinian refugees prompted Kanafani to find creative ways to establish spaces for the children’s art projects.  She transformed kitchens, hallways, and even bomb shelters into art spaces in six different refugee camps in Lebanon. These areas designated areas gave children an opportunity to thrive.

Kanafani does not impose limits on the tools with which the children can paint.  They use anything they can think of, including forks, toothbrushes, and tissues.  They are provided with a multitude of colors for their projects and can choose to paint in any way that is comfortable for them - sitting, standing, or lying down.

In 2000, Kanafani instituted a self-portrait project with her students.  The process involved mirrors and magnifying glasses that the children used to study every aspect of their faces.  The project lasted for about five years. It included a series of interviews, sketching, and miming so that the children would understand self-identity and perception.  Kanafani edited and published a book of these paintings titled Like Roses in the Wind: Self-Portraits and Thoughts.  The book documents the identity of fourth generation Palestinian Refugees. 

Other themes for the children’s paintings have included horses and the impact of the intifada on them and their families.  Each year the artwork is exhibited inside and outside of the refugee camps, and offered for sale, bringing between $50-$250 a painting.

Laila Kanafani, and her Danish mother Anni Kanafani, were awarded the Gerda prize by Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 2006.

To learn more about the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Center see