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Pontiac Arts Center Celebrates Arab American Art

posted on: Apr 29, 2019


Pontiac Arts Center Celebrates Arab American Art

(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 29, 2019)

Pontiac, MI – Ilham Mahfouz left Damascus, Syria in 1972 when there was an opportunity to come to the United States for him to practice medicine due to a shortage of doctors during the Vietnam War. The insights she gained by experiencing both a nation in the midst of war, and her life in America over the past few decades come out in her art.  Some of this art is on display at the Pontiac Arts Center through May 3 as part of the Woven Together exhibit of Arab American Art.

The opening for the show was April 12.  It was there that Mahfouz told Oakland County Times about the endless war her native country faces.  “Damascus was in a turbulent situation, and still is,” she said. “People say there is a civil war, but that is not the case.  Russia is there. Iran is there. They come to Syria for the oil and the resources and the fight for control.”

Her family experienced turmoil here in the States as well after 9/11.  “We have experienced less freedoms. We have less freedom of expression, and equality has been declining since 2001,” she said.

Her painting, Conflict of Civility, expresses the challenge of seeing both the nations she loves impacted by hostility and fear. Yet is also expresses a burning desire to “start tearing away the barriers, and not be afraid to reach out to each other.  When there are no barriers between us, you can say we are free.”

Hadar Alyasiry wore an Iraqi pin on his jacket as he mingled with the attendees and talked about his art.  For the show he’d brought a pair of paintings showing the serene side of Middle Eastern life, but he frequently took out his phone to share pictures of famous people he’d drawn in caricature.  “This one of Rosa Parks was used in a documentary,” he said.  He’s mainly done historical figures, taking the time to read about their lives and what they did for the world.  After he takes it all in, the process unfolds.  “I start with the face, then the rest comes like a dream to me,” he said.

The paintings on display – Arab Knight II and Country Side – show Arabic men from different regions in the calm of traditional life. Countryside has an Egyptian man on a horse enjoying a stream.  Arab Knight II shows a Moroccan man on a horse with his arm outstretched towards a dove.  “These are all about peace,” Alyasiry said.  “That is the real meaning behind them, that Arabic men are peaceful.  We are portrayed differently, but people should see that we want to be happy, and in nature, and at peace.”

While much of the art on display represented a resistance to stereotypes, some was simply fun and enjoyable.  Lila Kadaj spent 27 years teaching art at Detroit Public Schools.  Her work has been on display at Cranbrook, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Arab American National Museum.  “Art is life,” she said.  “Remember when we used to make art in elementary school? How we’d draw and paint? That’s just what we should do.”

On the wall were two acrylics, with white and gray animals painted on black.  Plus there was a golden Buddha.  “I love the colors in this one,” she said.  When asked her advice for other artists, she said “Paint what moves you, not what others want,” and “Never develop a pattern.  Don’t get comfortable or you’ll just keep repeating yourself.”

The exhibit featured artists from throughout SE Michigan (and one from Ohio), including:

Rana Loutfi, Rochester, MI

Sarmad Almusawi, Sterling Heights, MI

Haydar Alyasiry, Detroit, MI

Jean-Paul Aboudib, Canton, MI

Reem Taki, Ann Arbor, MI

Adnan Charara, Detroit, MI

Dina Charara, CA

Michael Howard, Toledo, OH

Lila Kadaj, Dearborn, MI

Ghazi Al Asadi, Detroit, MI

Baha Alyakobi, Saline, MI

Ilham Mahfouz, West Bloomfield, MI