A new chapter

Timing, it is often said, is everything. Fortunately, Jennifer Haddad, the artist and award-winning casting director and producer for film and television, knew when the moment felt right to embrace a new medium in her passion for sharing untold stories.

Jennifer at work

Professional dilemmas come in all shapes and sizes, as the Beirut-based artist Jennifer Haddad knows all too well.

Having to decide whether to make a career switch at a time when she was flying high in the film industry was one. And then there were the insecurities that needed to be dealt with about becoming a painter when other family members of her family were already established talents in this field.

Refreshingly open and honest, Haddad explained that when 2021 arrived, the timing simply felt right to change paths, even though there was recognition that this was a major decision.

“I knew I could paint well, if I’m honest - it was something I discovered when I had to create storyboards as part of my Audio-Visual Studies degree at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts,” she admitted. “But there were a lot of other projects going on at the time. It was only once I’d built up enough confidence in myself and what I could do professionally that I felt ready to focus on painting.”

Some of those insecurities were rooted in the family’s legacy of artistic talent, as Haddad explained. “My aunt, Louna Maalouf, is a fantastic artist, and my late grandad, Alfred Maalouf, was too, even though he was an extremely humble, modest man who only painted family portraits as a hobby,” she said. “The weight of expectation was substantial and everything felt a little intimidating when I was younger. Looking back, I think I wanted to rebel and carve my own path.”

Sinister Undertones

After time spent working in advertising, Haddad found her niche in filmmaking, establishing herself as a highly successful and award-winning casting director and producer for film and television.

“It was fantastic; I fell in love with the industry and was lucky enough to work with leading filmmakers on several top productions,” she said. 

These included ‘Capernaum’ in 2016, the renowned feature film by Nadine Labaki, which won The Jury Prize at The Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and received an Oscar nomination the following year.

Haddad explained that she found the research field of her work especially rewarding. “I got to meet people from all walks of life and hear their stories, which really opened my eyes,” she said. “The more I heard, the deeper I wanted to dig.”

Sharing the stories of groups who found it difficult to make their voices heard was a key passion, from marginalised and minority segments of society to the most vulnerable, including homeless people. 

Fortunately, that desire to share unheard and untold stories is something that Haddad found translated easily from film to art when she embarked on the next chapter of her professional journey.

The Wink

“There are many crossovers; for example, you learn to build a story quickly in filmmaking and advertising. I think I’ve been able to translate that process into my paintings,” she said. “I also think in terms of creating a film scene when painting and I think this is evident in my frames.” 

However, Haddad is also quick to highlight the aspects of painting that she believes deliver greater satisfaction. “I think art is much deeper in some ways,” she reflected. “You - the artist - decide what you to show and what not to show, what to leave to people’s imagination and what to put directly in their face, whether to insinuate with colour, for example. There are so many stories that we as artists want to tell and so many different ways to tell them.”

Issues she has chosen to explore in her work range from racism, sexism and homophobia to poverty, immigration and child exploitation, told through characters she has met and others she simply caught sight of fleetingly. 

“My first painting ‘A Gasp For Life’, which I completed in 2021, was of Samira, who came to Lebanon from Syria as a boy before transitioning in the 1980s. She was a larger-than-life character, with an intriguing life-story, but also homeless and living in a ghetto when I knew her. I painted this work in memory of her,” she explained.

Another painting, titled ‘The Wink’ features a cheeky young boy making this enigmatic gesture, one that could be innocent, but also perhaps suggestive, in a reminder that childhood can easily be curtailed or threatened.

On a similar theme ‘Sinister Undertones’ features a couple of young girls, colourful and happy, seemingly oblivious to the sinister shadow of a perverted man lurking in the background.

A Gasp For Life

Haddad also highlights a painting of two homeless men sleeping by the rocks along the Raouche, which was inspired by a momentary glance she made in that direction when cycling home late at night. “They looked so peaceful and each had a hand under the other’s face,” she said. “The scene reminded me that although men here show affection towards each other on one level, hugging, for example, there is still a lot of homophobia in our mainstream society.”

Haddad acknowledged with a smile that the city of Beirut, with its relentless turbulence and turmoil, is a huge source of inspiration. “We artists want to show the beauty of the country and bring a carefree spirit into our work, but the trouble is that Beirut keeps interrupting us!” she said. Works depicting the cityscape include her ‘Eutierria’ series, in acrylic on canvas, which captures snapshots of Beirut’s unique architectural peculiarities, some aesthetically pleasing and others less so, from an intriguing range of angles.

Haddad herself describes her art as conceptual and contemporary, while attributing its hallmark hyper-realism and surrealism to the influence of her grandfather. 

Her aunt, also her mentor, she added, is very supportive of what she is doing. Haddad, meanwhile, is keenly aware of the positive effect that painting has had on her holistically. “I’m definitely calmer now I’m painting and I’m disciplined with my routine, going to the studio at specific times to paint and research,” she said. “I’m also motivated, looking at residencies and other projects, and only considering film work that really interests me. Painting has had a great effect on my life. It has given me a new purpose and brought me back to my family.”

Sign in to your account to get exclusive access to new works, receive personalised experiences and place bids.

Forgot your password?