Beauty lost and what lies beyond (part 1)

The multi-media artist Maysaloun Faraj tells ArtScoops about how the challenges she faces as an artist, a woman, a muslim and an Iraqi living outside the motherland have affected her life experience and shaped her output as a painter, sculptor and ceramist


You work with paint, clay, wood and bronze and also have an architectural background. How do you choose which medium to use when working or does the theme dictate the medium?

Colour, in all its spectrum, nuances, energy, meaning and significance, fascinates me and is crucial to my expression. In painting I bond with colour to sing the sublime and the sorrow of a ravaged homeland and of a world misguided. With colour, I am able to tap in to a range of sensations; from despondency brought on by conflict and war, to defiance in the face of adversity, to sheer hope, humanity and joy. Colour is the reason I paint. My colour compositions also invite broader discussions in conscious dialogue with Sonia Delaunay’s Orphism , Barnett Newman’s Colour Fields  and Josef Alber’s Colour Theory  to name but a few. In the face of colossal destructive forces, my need to counter shadow with light is urgent and my colour choices are designed to exude nurturing light and renewed energy.
Given my architectural background, an equally important component is form, which more often than not can be independent of colour, be it clay, paper, wood or bronze. In clay, which is my main medium for sculpting, I bond with cathartic earth, to heal and be healed, craving serenity and order through restiveness and chaos.
In my most recent work Revolution, I have for the first time been able to ‘equally’ combine painting and sculpture.  This is an exciting breakthrough for me and a mission long sought, which I am thrilled to explore and cultivate!  
Somewhere in between both mediums I am able to express and share my viewpoint with the world and weave my own strand of humanity in that immense tapestry of mankind.


You chose to study in Baghdad rather than the US. What was the reason for your decision and what impact do you think it has had on your work?

At the age of 13, in 1968 I returned to Baghdad from the US, where both my parents were studying. Instantly, I fell in love with the country; her two rivers Dijla and Furat, her fertile land and abundant palm groves, her moonlit star-studded nights, her people, her rooftops and her dreams.  Surrounded by so much love for and from everything and everyone generated in me an overwhelming sense of belonging - which I did not feel in the US - and a deep connection to roots, literally stretching back thousands of years.  For this and much more, I had every reason to want to continue my education in Baghdad, despite that both my parents furthered their higher education in the US and I had every opportunity to do so myself.
When I first arrived in Baghdad, I started school at the American School for Girls in Mansour.  The coup of 1968 brought the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party to power and with this, the American principal Miss Ingles and the foreign staff in our school were sadly all expelled and deported. The school was renamed Baghdad High School and the newly appointed head teacher, Mrs Ghania al-Qati, excelled in maintaining the school’s high academic standard.  A special school trip to the marshes of the south of Iraq at 18 years of age was to mark an important moment in my life which had a profound effect on my art in later years.  I made high grades that facilitated studying Architecture at Baghdad University, which at the time, was one of the most sought-after universities in the region.  This, for me, was a dream come true and only added to the beauty of life in the day. Informed by an architectural discipline, throughout its evolving stages and in all its sensibilities, my art is deeply rooted in Iraq.  Simply put, experiencing Iraq at that specific period in time, which was less than 12 years in total, and the important connections made, not least of which was with the art community, contributed to what I am today as an artist and as a person.


The amalgamation of your Iraqi heritage and time spent in the West is something you often talk about when referencing your work. Do you find these factors combine to inspire you or is it rather the difficulty you have in reconciling them that permeates your art?

Growing up between the US, Baghdad, Paris and London, where I have been living and working for the past 35 years, has deeply enriched my life experience and contributed to shaping my output as a painter, sculptor, ceramist and as a person.  This rich blend of historical, cultural and religious heritage and a life largely lived in the West has certainly combined to inform and inspire my achievement on every level.


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