Over the weekend, I attended a dynamic, thought-provoking symposium on teaching art from the Middle East and Islamic world. It was incredibly inspiring and I got a chance to chat with some exciting thought leaders, artists, curators, and professors during the process.
One such person was seated behind me; a curator whose work I admire. She’s also a very nice person and I was surprised that she not only remembered meeting me, she also remembered our brief conversation about how I *used* to write about contemporary art with a focus on the Middle East and that I was trying to push myself through whatever has been blocking me.
When she asked me “Are you writing?” I automatically said “NO … I’m not a writer…” Then I course-corrected and quickly told her about one project I have been working on around comparing my “journey to the middle east” (it’s own western trope!) to that of British aristocrat Gertrude Bell.
Still, somehow I forgot that I wrote and published alot of work this year. I volunteered for the project 168:01 which allowed me to do alot of writing and publishing about art this year. You can read about my experience here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/307933775/168-01-the-next-chapter/posts/1937924
The situation shows me that I need to ACTIVELY break OUT of this story that manifests as a myriad of excuses for not extending myself and my work into the world. I’m breaking out of the story that I’m not a writer by republishing my work online. Over the last couple years, I pulled down all my old writing from 2011 – 2016, but kept MOST of the work saved as drafts.
I’m going to be linking to these posts in a separate tab on Evolving Creatively if you’re interested in reading some of my old work. Many of the posts no longer have images and outdated links, but the text is there. This is part of my transformation…claiming myself as a writer by sharing my writing.
To finish up, going back to Symposium I mentioned in the beginning of this post. The key take away for me was that we all have a role in creating what we want to see in the world. The keynote speaker, Dr. Shiva Balaghi shared a list of ways that scholars, academics, teachers, curators, and thought leaders can contribute to overturning the Orientalist and Colonialist narratives that were very simple: write, publish, teach, talk, share, make work, put it out there.
We each have a contribution to make.
My first re-published piece, written last year. Even this is a really pared down version of the original that had more story about Hathor and Feminine Power.
Art as Inner Revolution – Written March 2016
It was just a few years ago that I experienced the deepest depression of my adult life. I remember daily walking home from dropping my son off at school, tears streaming down my face. I was distraught over the use of chemical weapons in Syria. I was struggling with my work and some of my relationships. I felt hopeless and heartbroken.
I tried many things to get through this rough time. I read self-help books, I took long walks in nature, I continued to work and tried to stay busy. I gave myself pep talks, sometimes I chastised myself for not feeling better. I had good days and bad, but I couldn’t fully escape
What I needed was a complete shift, a total breakthrough. Where I found it was in a work of art.
The painting, created by artist Khaled Hafez, broke the spell of my depression. Looking back, I can see that it cracked open my imagination and created an energy shift that allowed me to see new possibilities that I couldn’t before.
“Let me tell you a story of revolution, an inner revolution…” Hafez’s inner revolution began with the January 25th Revolution in Egypt. He was out in the streets, he voted on a new constitution..for the first time in his life, he played a role in changing his country. Hafez’s inner revolution inspired my own. The image of the woman with the headpiece was the most powerful and intriguing image. She is a composite of the modern supermodel and the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor; for Hafez, she represents the power the divine feminine. I studied this painting for a year, the symbolism, the stories looking at it triggered in my imagination and I marveled at how the visual orientation of the image mirrors how I see the world in my mind’s eye. All these different bodies and dynamics existing simultaneously, feeling separate but really part of a larger whole, existing as a spiritual being under layers of history and culture.
“The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you do not see.” -James Baldwin
French theorist Alain de Botton explains in his book Art as Therapy that art can be a means to invite in the unknown, instead of resisting it. And because art isn’t beholden to the same rules as the media, it can shift how we perceive current events and world history through showing was is often hidden from our view.
Finally, art and artists can be agents of change, building much-needed structures that will support and hold the world are trying to build.
In January, I discovered another artwork that deeply inspired me. It is a story of destruction and rebuilding.
During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad lost its entire library collection—around 70,000 books—when it was burned by looters. Today, 13 years later, faculty and students are still affected by this loss.
Artist Wafaa Bilal has created a work of art that will allow anyone to be part of the work of art AND rebuild the library for the College of Fine Arts.
His project, 168:01, is an exhibition, a rebuilding, and creating new structures that can be modeled for future projects.
A 40-foot-long bookcase containing 1,000 blank, white books fill the gallery space at Art Gallery of Winsor. Over the course of the exhibition, blank books will be replaced with ones from a wish list compiled by the arts faculty at the University of Baghdad.
You can order a book from the Amazon wish list, a book that will be sent to the College of Fine Art at the University of Baghdad at the end of the exhibition in August.
I shared my personal story about how a work of art because it’s my reason for being personally invested in making a contribution to educating the next generation of contemporary artists. One of these students could be the next Picasso in the making, they could create the sculpture or installation that changes your life, or at least, creates a perspective change. More importantly, it connects you to these young artists, and a positive and profound connection is what the people of this world really need.
When you buy or donate a book, when you donate money, you are building a library, you are supporting this generation and future generations of artists, you a part of a movement, you are making a connection, you are building a structure, and a future.
Art can inspire an inner revolution that opens the space for new forms of life to emerge.