Her brush strokes paint a story from time and culture some reflecting her Palestinian heritage, others expressing her identity. From photographs, digital art, calligraphy and fabric patterns on her face; her art work blends realism with abstract tantalizing the viewer’s imagination.
Arab Woman Mag had the pleasure to interview the renowned Artist Manal Deeb holder of a BA degree in Psychology of Arts from George Mason University in the USA.
Tell us about your early years, when did you realize you had an artistic talent? How did you family support this talent and help you develop it?
I personally believe that everyone is born with an interest in art, that being, nature, music, beauty, color, or any other form. I could say “There is no starting point for art!”
Since I was a kid studying in school in Ramallah, my artistic outcome has been revealed in many shapes and forms. I used to sketch and draw figures and characters on paper and walls. Not until I travelled to the US, after finishing my high school in Palestine, I started taking my art interest into the first steps of my lifetime journey. So, my passion for art has no starting point per say, but rather the passion has gone through different stages of transformation. Art has always been a tool for expression and self-healing. My personal eagerness to transform my feelings to art strongly started when I traveled away from home (Palestine) and my parents. So, one could say that my passion for art has been transformed into reality when I started living in the US. Art, at that time, provided me the feeling of belonging and a sense of home being away from home (living in diaspora).
Traditionally speaking, studying art is not a typical field of study, especially for Arab females. The Arabic culture does not support art as a mechanism of advancement and civilization. On the contrary, the culture views art as a negative form of living which could badly expose the artist to wrong expressions. Recognizing that, I had to go through few discouraging family art perception challenges. Nevertheless, none of my family members has put real obstacles in front of my advancement in art. Through educating my family about art and them seeing the success, they started recognizing the importance of such field in their living and to the cause of Palestine.
On the other side, my own family, that is my husband and three girls, have always supported me regardless of my transformation stages from the beginning until now. They have provided me with the emotional support needed by any artist to be free and able to be creative without any boundaries. They have been and will always be the main factor for my successful journey in art.
In some of our Arabic societies and culture they do not view Art as a career choice, believing it doesn’t “put bread on the table” what do you say to these claims or are they misconceptions?
Unfortunately, I agree with your statement, in its generality, that artists, throughout history, have always been challenged financially. I believe this doesn’t apply to Arabic societies only, but it is an overall sentiment. In my opinion, in order to be successful though, art need not to be viewed as a career, but rather as a persisting passion. Based on a true passion, artists will have a better chance in making a difference and in succeeding at their work and potentially make a living.
How do you compare the appreciation of Art work back in your homeland Palestine compared to the USA where you currently reside?
There were several attempts to exhibit in Palestine and the Arab world. Unfortunately, these attempts have not been successful so far, although many articles have been published in Arabic journals and magazines on my artwork. It appears that art appreciation in the Arab world, in general, is different than the Western world. During my experiences, the galleries in the Arab World emphasize the sale part of the artwork; while good part of the Western galleries emphasize originality and the message. From a social point of view, my artwork carries messages on freedom, feminism, and to some extent the pain, which may not resonate much in Palestine and the Arab countries since they experience these challenges in their lives. Nevertheless, in the USA for example, they view my artwork as a result of a healing process which they appreciate learning and understanding.
Generally speaking, my artwork is based on realism in an abstraction form. Therefore, my artwork provokes mental and emotional exploration journey for the viewers. I believe that many Arab people may not accept to go through this journey easily. They would rather look for the beauty presented by colors, nature, landscape or any other form that could provide them with ease.
What are some of the challenges that you faced as an artist? How did you overcome them?
My main challenge was and has always been presenting my artwork publicly since it reveals me from inside (shows my own emotional psychology). Believe it or not, it took many years to be able to convince myself to show my artwork to others. This is not easy to overcome and I continue to struggle throughout the process. Every artwork piece is so close to my heart and it is like my own “baby”. It was amazingly challenging even to consider letting go with my pieces to an interested person. You can say these seem emotional challenges, but I still suffer from them on a daily basis. So, these are on-going challenges which I have not yet overcome.
What are the messages you want to convey to the viewer through your artwork?
Pride, Belonging, Happiness, Resilience, Reviving, Re-connection, Homeland (Palestine), Healing, Passion: All
these feelings and “maybe” even more.
From my start, I thought of my artwork as poems in an art form. Interestingly, this has been proven right since I have collaborated with many Arab poets living in the Arab World or in the Western World in many of my exhibits or events. This marriage between my artwork and the words of poems has resulted in several melodies which strengthened the energy of my messages to the viewers.
My artwork has also provided me the chance to address feminism and healing therapy messages on other platforms such as speeches and/or global groups thriving for equality.
With all these messages in place, many art critiques and writers have published articles on the power of my artwork and the strength in communicating such messages to the different calibers of viewers. I believe this success is the ultimate goal I wanted to reach in my art journey and mission. Nevertheless, artists are very hard on themselves and never get satisfied, therefore, I still believe that I could reach other levels in my journey and I will let my artwork take me there.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Generally speaking, I have always been inspired by the Spanish artist Salvador Dali and his surreal work of art. He has frequently described his artwork as “hand painted dream photographs.” This description is very close to my artwork where also both of our works have been viewed as self-portraits seeking identities. Dali and I also share a sentimental background in being interested in Sigmund Freud’s writings on psychology and the power of the subconscious. The subconscious psych part that feels and thinks without the awareness of the person has an important effect on Dali’s and my artworks. The artwork for both of us is a result of self-induced hallucinations accessing our subconscious during art creation.
Specifically speaking, art therapy is a very widely used technique for healing psychological issues throughout the history. Palestinians, in general, suffer from various psychological depressions due to search of identity and belonging. Art forms have helped me, as a Palestinian, to overcome part of my misery during and after the loss of land. I am lucky for having art as a tool to create many positive impacts on me personally and on my art viewers. Palestinians living in diaspora have been touched by my artwork, which has revealed some of their own pains in abstract forms. Resisting occupation through art has also been a proven way for appealing general understanding of Palestinian sufferings and their cause.
Do you ever think of showcasing your artwork in the Arab region?
There were several attempts to exhibit in Palestine and the Arab world. Unfortunately, these attempts have not been successful so far, although many TV interviews and many articles have been presented and published in Arabic journals and magazines regarding my artwork. The reviews and appreciation have always been positive. Nevertheless, I am not giving up and I believe there will be a day for exhibiting in the Arab region.
What advice do you give girls or women with artistic talents?
I have three daughters and I have always advised them to explore, on their own, their artistic talents to the fullest without thinking of the others’ perceptions. The oldest one, Farah, is a successful interior designer in the Washington DC area, who creates beautiful artistic designs that are always appreciated by her peers. Her success in this is a result of freeing herself to innovate and work outside the boundaries. This is key for all girls or women with an artistic talent, “don’t be afraid and spread your wings”. You have to work outside your own and your cultural boundaries in order to experiment and explore.
In general, you need to have a mission in your heart and soul which you believe in in order for you to be able to practice art that carries your messages. For me one aspect that doing art has clearly revealed is that I could say everything I want to say without a word. This ability has provided me a way of expression which resulted in self-relief.
This experience has attracted me to explore the psychological impact of art from an academic side. Although the university does not offer a specific major of art therapy, my advisor in the independent studies, who was a psychologist himself, worked with me to create a tailored psychology of art curriculum. It is after graduation, my artwork has started to see light to the public. My studies of psychology of art have provided me the self confidence and trust to bring my art to be presented to the outside world.
For more on Manal Deeb click on the following links