I first came across Leila’s work at Zamaan Gallery in Beirut. The first of Leila’s paintings that I saw at Zamaan was of Beirut’s street vendors. I really liked the paintings as they managed to colorfully capture the daily life of one of the city’s most iconic daily fixtures. I decided to get into contact with Leila after checking out her website, where I found some great paintings. Leila and I exchanged many emails when I was in Boston, and decided to meet in Beirut when I would be there next during my Spring Break.
After a couple of days in Beirut I was anxious to finally meet Leila and see some more of her work. I called Leila up, and she very kindly invited me to her new studio in the Bir Hassan neighborhood of Beirut, not far from where my family’s Beirut home is. We decided the best way for me to get to her studio would be if Leila picked me up, as getting to her studio in an area with no restaurants or shops, but just buildings, is quite difficult in Beirut. This is because Beirut doesn’t have a proper address system, so all directions are given by stating what shop or restaurant one is located next to.
Leila ended up picking me up from Beirut’s Grand Café and we headed to her studio. It was a very short drive, and when we finally arrived I was quite surprised at the size of Leila’s new studio. Located on the ground level of an apartment building, Leila’s studio took up the whole ground floor. I entered the large studio and saw Leila had done a great job in creating an ideal workspace, with many walls for her works to be hung, a lot of natural light, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a seating area for guests.
Leila makes us Turkish coffee and we sit down and discuss her work. Leila, who is Iraqi, has lived in many cities throughout her life including Baghdad, Athens, Washington DC, New York, and Beirut. Even though she moved out of Baghdad many years ago, her native country has been the inspiration for many of her paintings. Some of her paintings deal with the theme of refugees and displacement, something that many of her countrymen have had do deal with. Just like Leila, many Iraqis have had to flee their native land because of the persistent violence. Many of the paintings show women heading away from Iraq. There has been a lot of chaos and tragedy in Iraq, and Leila often reflects he suffering of her people in her paintings. Many of Leila’s paintings allude to the ancient Sumerian history of Iraq. Some of the architecture in Leila’s work contain traditional Sumerian elements.
Some of Leila’s more recent works have been inspired by her move to Beirut. Her paintings portray the daily life of many of Beirut’s inhabitants including the corn and ka’ak street sellers, the fishermen, and the tawli players.
Leila is a truly talented artist who takes a colorful and creative approach to her surroundings and her native country’s history. Although Leila has lived in different countries for a large part of her life, Iraq always manages to inspire much of her work.
Here is one of Leila’s excerpts taken from her website on her motivation for her “Vistions from Beirut” series:
“Living in Beirut has brought a new reality to my work. This complex and vibrant city intrigues and demands of me a response. The contradictions are everywhere, between the new and the old, the humble and the extravagant. Every extremity of life is alive in Beirut, from the creative to the destructive.A short walk in one of the streets of Beirut offers an endless source ofinspiration to draw from, challenging me to explore new ways of expressing this visual wealth.I have tried to convey these vibrations through layers of color glazes, differing textures and collage to reflect the complexities of these transient visions.”
Leila, Beirut 2010
Check out this New York Times article on Leila:
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