Updated: Mar 10
As a child and later in adulthood, Art has helped me understand the connection between Art and Humanity throughout my life. Becoming a fine artist has transformed me from escaping life in a bunker, relearning to see the positive impact of creativity in education, and finally extending my experiences and education to support underserved students.
My background: Art as a Tool for Survival
In 1982, Israeli tanks raged our town and roamed the narrow streets facing our newly built home. Naive and not teens yet, my friends and I ran after the monstrous gray machines as the soldiers threw candy at us to show friendliness as the foreign soldiers assured us that we would be safe. That evening, rumors in the town spread that the candy may be poisonous, and that night, I waited to die from toxic candy. Was that their way to sweetly eliminate us? I was terrified.
Pitch dark at night, later that week, my family and I rushed to hide under the narrow dark tile staircase, wrapped in blankets, a dim lantern, and bombs shelling on our town. Every time we dozed off, another bomb whizzed over our heads; we caught our breath, squeezed our eyes tight, shut our ears with our hands, and prayed that it would, again, miss our home.
Dawn brought us a new reality; getting ready for school. My older sister, two younger brothers, and I attended a private school called Charlie Saad (K-12). On the first Monday of the school year, the administrators gathered the whole student body to sit in the auditorium facing the stage as if we were to watch an inspirational speaker before the week commenced.
After much anticipation, the teachers, wearing gloves, robotically approached the last row of seats where the students sat and began peeling through their hair. They trickled down each row as my siblings, and I twisted and turned in our seats, attempting to understand the behavior, when we saw the teachers remove a few students to the side. By the time it was our turn, we were appalled to learn that they were inspecting our heads for lice in front of the whole student body. The students with lice were called out in front of everyone and cast aside. That was how the hour started, but it was not over yet.
The stage did have a purpose; the relentless principal would call out students whose uniforms were ironed to the ultimate best, shoes polished like a mirror, and hair brushed immaculately. Her crackling voice called across the massive hall as she pointed at the students standing on stage with her bamboo stick. She wanted us all to resemble a specific look-- the "ideal look." If we did not compare, the punishment would be grave.
The anxiety of not looking a particular way tormented me at night for years. I recall my nightmares of mismatched socks, creased collars, and even showing up to school without shoes.
We would sleep in our beds if the shelling stopped instead of underneath the hard, cold stairs. Then, in preparation for school, I would spend hours in the evening ironing my skirt and blouse, and inserting soap bars (Lifebuoy brand) into my shoes or boots, not because I had smelly feet, but because I had developed a phobia of not being tidy.
The school bus stopped arriving at our home because of the imminent danger; my parents drove us to town to catch the shielded bus waiting against a mountain. Our home rested on a lower hill with the perfect view for a sniper perched above. Many times, when my parents drove back home, they would race, seeking cover from randomly fired bullets. We were in grave danger, and the time came for us to abandon our newly built home.
Once my grandfather's cowshed, the bunker we moved into was musky with deep stone walls to keep us safe from explosions. Long, cream candles kept it warm and welcoming. After we all shared a meal with the thirty or more family members, I sat upright, cross-legged, with a sketchpad and pencil on my lap. Complete darkness around me; my family members propped against each other—extensive stone walls and rugged grounds. The hopeful waiting has now turned into the sober reality--we won't be leaving this shelter for a while.
Days and nights pass. Our underground bunker became our security as battles raged over our heads. On one of those many nondescript nights of waiting, I sat up in the darkness, and I began sketching--blindly pressing pencil to paper. I visualized images, and then I drew them. Only when the light of day allowed a glimpse did I discover what I had created by creeping on the deep, uneven steps where sunlight silently shone. These sketches, my morning discoveries, became my peaceful escape.
The tiny bunker became cramped with relatives that we moved to another spacious underground garage. With our safety still threatened, we were forced to emigrate to Las Palmas de Gran Canaries.
Six years later and upon returning to Lebanon, we faced another battle, a civil war in 1990. I was attending Lebanese American University, and at that time, the challenges were even more threatening; we feared the radicals' rage, abduction, and terrorist attacks wherever we tried to scram.
The living conditions were volatile and unpredictable; hence, I spent my weekends with the neighbors' children creating Art in the garden in our rebuilt home. These creative and uninhibited weekend sessions gave me ground to face the week of unknown perils in the city, Beirut. The children's giggles, free spirits, and curiosity kept me inspired, motivated, and living in the moment.
In 2000, when I moved to Texas, my new life came with significant adjustments: marriage, step-children, and a new culture. At first, I took it lightly and oversimplified the adjustment until I truly needed an outlet. With painting being my muse and therapy, I could transcend my thoughts to painting and indulge my mind and eyes with colors and shapes in everything I could see. I dealt with external conflicts by daydreaming of painting, and it worked again--I would find myself escaping.
Officially since 2017, I have become determined to paint that feeling forward for under-represented children so they, too, can change their story. As an artist, I feel compelled to raise awareness in free societies about the complexities of children victimized because of war and inequality.
Through art and creative education, I believe in helping elevate children out of the cycle of poverty into a world of exploration so that they, too, can write their story, complete with joy and boundless opportunities. My art is dedicated to that child whose future is still being shattered.