On Being a Woman Artist in a Crisis-Torn Landscape by Dr. Pamela Chrabieh

Navigating life as a woman artist in a country plagued by ongoing crises, like Lebanon, comes with challenges and opportunities. Women artists in such environments face a complex landscape where art becomes a form of resistance, healing, and self-expression amidst adversity. Creating art is an act of defiance to reclaim stories and ensure voices are not silenced. In a society deeply entrenched in patriarchal structures, corruption, and wounded memories, many women challenge the norm by utilizing their creative talents to bring forth untold narratives, perspectives, and emotions that are often overlooked.

Growing up in war-torn Lebanon during the tumultuous 1970s and 1980s has deeply influenced my perception of art and its role in conflict, coexistence, conviviality, displacement, and the socio-political fabric that shaped my upbringing. Witnessing the devastating impact of war on individuals, communities, and cultures left an indelible mark on my identity, worldview, and artistic expression. Art became my refuge, a sanctuary from the chaos. As a child, I found solace in sketching, using simple tools in makeshift shelters. Through art, I could momentarily escape the horrors of war. Together with other children, we would sing, offering respite from the deafening sounds of bombings. These early encounters with art fostered a deep yearning to bridge the gaps between cultures, religions, and various aspects of human existence.

Although the war’s official end in Lebanon came in the 1990s, the wounds remained. A series of unfortunate events unfolded, such as explosions, occupation, and socio-economic and political crises. The so-called “post-war era” painted a false picture of peace. The memories of war persisted, intertwining with new experiences. During this time, I embarked on a personal quest for healing and reconciliation through education, activism, arts, and culture. Traditional iconography and the restoration of icons marked the initial stages of my artistic journey. I also delved into Kufic calligraphy, exploring themes like women’s rights, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, war memory, peacebuilding, and migration. As my artistic style evolved, so did the mediums I employed. I transitioned from using egg tempera to experimenting with mixed media and digital arts. Through these explorations, I aimed to bridge the gap between Byzantine and Syriac iconographic traditions and contemporary visualizations of marginalized narratives. Stylized forms, specific light and shading effects, and inverse perspective became my tools for capturing human emotions and practices while examining the socio-political role of art.

My art embodies the intersectionality of my identities, visions, and practices, serving as a testament to the power of dialogue and connection. It draws inspiration from my painful experiences and the global influences of my time spent in Canada, Europe, and Southwestern Asia. Each artwork I create serves a distinct purpose: either bringing attention to the “invisible” gazes often marginalized, expressing fragments of wounded memories and intermingling cultural narratives, or serving as a channel for healing and reconciliation. Each piece depicts scattered elements of women caught in the cycle of physical and psychological wars and crises, giving shape to the unspoken grief, nostalgia, and the desire to live beyond mere survival. It is my humble contribution to the local and regional visual cultures, shedding light on the human cost of conflicts and violence, the personal sacrifices made by those involved, and nurturing hope for more inclusive societies.

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