Art Is Magic! An Interview with Manal Deeb
Connection Point Director Yasmina Mrabet interviewed Palestinian American Visual Artist Manal Deeb about the inspiration behind her art and the influence of identity.
Can you share a little about your personal background? What inspired you to pursue a career in art?
Career is not the word – I pursued art as a healing tool – it was to translate inner conflict. To me art is therapy and something I do naturally every day. I used to think that my artistic talent is personal and that I should keep it to myself – the way I am protective with my own children and personal issues. It was like keeping a secret. Being away from home and being in exile for a long time, and gone from my homeland and parents and brother and sisters, the emotions I formulated came out through my art – I found that art is a great way to vent.
I am from Dair Tarif originally, but was born in Ramallah. I left home in 1986 and came to the United States to study Fine Arts. When I got married, I stopped my education for a while, and then went back to school and got a degree in the Psychology of Art. This connects to how I look at art as therapy and as a healing tool. That’s why now I look at art pieces that I did a long time ago, and through the psychology I can see or remember what was going on, and I can see how my art work has changed me. I can see how it helped me to heal and transform – I’m really happy of where I reached in my life time. To me making art is magical – recognizing this magic – it’s like a sudden opening of the mind to the wonder of existence. It is a sense that there is much more to life than we usually see, and that we don’t need to be confined by the limited views of our family or society or even our own habitual thoughts. It helped me understand that life contains many dimensions, depths, textures, and meanings that go far beyond our familiar beliefs and concepts.
That’s a beautiful way to explain the process of creating art. Can you share how your Palestinian identity influences your work?
Palestine is everything beautiful – it is the magic that opens up in my mind. When I’m away, I feel that I can paint Palestine and create a homeland out of my paintings, and that’s what actually happened. Thirty pieces of my artwork went to the United Nations, and it was a message saying that this is Palestine and these are my memories. My art work reflects so much of me as self-portrait, yet it also speaks for my homeland, for Palestine. So it’s something that at this time – and again, I call it magic – creates a homeland even far from home.
Do you have messages that you want to send through your art? What do you want people to see?
I put whatever I feel on the canvas – this is how I feel, but others will look at it and see totally different things. For example the UN exhibit, where I had viewers from all over the world, and for many Palestinians it is close to home or they recognize places or words from the Quran. But to others it’s harsh and in some terms it is too political, which was not my intention. I find it interesting how people perceive my artwork – most reactions were very surprising to me. Yet, I think if you don’t create all of that anxiety and statements through art, then it is not successful. So I thought my artwork in creating all of that is successful. I feel it’s also a great tool for communication that can last generation after generation. So that’s why making art is useful.
Looking at where I came from – I’m a Palestinian woman – there are so many portraits I created of Palestinian women, and even with all of the trouble back home, we are still established and exist as artists, and we’re passing on the message of a homeland. We have found ways including art to communicate ourselves and our identities to the world. Art is a great tool of communication.
Do you see art as a form of activism?
As a Palestinian artist, I like to incorporate the tradition and heritage of Palestinian symbols in my art world. Documenting these things is so important to me and that’s why we can say we exist and we are here even if there’s trouble or no peace in our land. We can say we exist, even when others try to erase the identity. With art, we can make it much harder for people to succeed in doing that.
In art you can take risks – you can fly, you can go up a mountain, you can do things where in reality you can’t do. In art, there is no question of right and wrong – you can make statements and go beyond the limits and views of a society. You can go into so many dimensions and make meaningful statements in the art to the contrary of real life, where there are so many limits and rules. So yes, that’s why I agree it is a form of activism. Even though it is therapy, at the same time you can make strong statements through art.
What would you say to others about the experience of creating art – especially to those who have thought about it, but might be hesitant to try and express themselves in that way?
When it comes to making art, wings and height were always my visual metaphors. I usually imagine what I want to see on my canvas before I actually start and I call this state flying. Our use of imagination in our everyday life is uniquely human. Our capacity to create tangible visual images sets us apart from all other creatures. We are always tempted to fly and be creative with our expressions to celebrate life’s events and make things that are special, just for the pleasure of it. To practice flying, both the imagination and the will must be there; we need both to make things work.
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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.