Mounira El Solh: Self-reflectivity through feminist drafting of histories

One-to-one conversations she had with exiles inspired her paintings.
by Christy-Belle Geha

29 August 2019 | 17:34

Source: by Annahar

  • by Christy-Belle Geha
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 29 August 2019 | 17:34

This handout shows Mounira El Solh.

BEIRUT: Driven by her will to draft today's displaced people's history, multidisciplinary artist Mounira Al-Solh sees her past in migrating children's present. Her aim is to raise exiled people's voices, especially women refugees.

"As an artist, you should portray what's around you because you're part of it. Love and fiction are nice, but the world's busy with bigger issues like wars and immigrations,” she told Annahar.

Her latest solo exhibition "The Mother of David and Goliath" at Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Beirut earlier this month contained more than 500 refugee portraits in the same collection, titled "I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous,” on yellow legal-sized papers.

She noted that one-to-one conversations she had with exiles inspired her paintings.

"My main goal is to empower shy women and shed the light on the many deliberately forgotten Arab rebellious women,” the artist highlighted, adding: "Photographs are not intimate. They're like spying. I prefer painted portraits.”

The artist and the people she drew both bonded during the portraying process, and some of them attended the reading organized on August 7.

After she met painter Hussein Madi and took private classes with him, she enrolled in the Lebanese University's Fine Arts Institute in 2001. Instructors/artists like Fatima el-Hajj, Mohammad Rawas, Ali Chams and Jamil Malaeb marked her academic artistic path, and taught her that "in arts, talent is important, but discipline is crucial to be more open."

Having made some pocket money after working for a year with artist Aida Cherfan who sold some of her works, Al-Solh decided to study abroad, so she applied to Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in 2006 for conceptual art.

"As a female artist, you have to fight more, especially in a conservative society,” she said.

She started wondering about the importance of languages and mother tongues, to find her way through the world. She tackles these topics in her unpublicized irregular magazine "Not Only Arabic" NOA, yet she uses her mother tongue – Arabic – in most of her works, by dismantling letters and symbols and adopting wordplay.

She later became a research resident for two years at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, where artists have their own studio and many facilities and experts. For that, she had to learn Dutch. She spent a week with schizophrenic people to learn Dutch/Flemish language in Antwerp-Belgium, inspired by Louis Wolfson, a schizophrenic American author who despises his mother tongue and writes in French instead.

As for her identity, El Solh believes she doesn't belong to any particular place.

"Everyone is made of bits of the places and the people they know. I can't say that I am fully Lebanese or Syrian or Dutch," she told Annahar.

She was born in Beirut in 1978 to a Lebanese father and a Syrian mother. She spent her childhood in West Beirut during the war and took theater classes at her school, the Collège Protestant Français. Her all-time-supportive family didn't leave the country until 1989 and fled to Damascus to her mother's hometown, where she remembers having the best days of her life.

She’s now living between Holland and Lebanon and teaching at the St Joost Masters program in the Netherlands as a visiting tutor.

Mounira Al Solh's artwork was also featured in Documenta 14 (Germany), Mathaf (Qatar) and the Art Institute in Chicago. She’s currently working on a documentary with four refugee girls, as well as an audiobook.

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