drawing the line

Five illustrators from the Middle East talk us through their inner thoughts and experiences on pushing the creative envelope in their respective countries.

Cynthia Merhej
Cynthia Merhej

CYNTHIA MERHEJ

“My earliest memories of art are not what would typically be described as art in the conventional sense. The period of Beirut that I grew up in was a time of reconstruction, it was literally a blank slate from what I could see. Access to art was limited. It was more the things that I would find interesting and incite a visceral reaction where this be illustrations in books, the little animations that were on MTV, the way my mother would get dressed or buildings I thought were cool. The Middle East is made of up many different countries, and women in each country have to face very different realities. In Beirut I am exposed to a very unique reality that can get extremely absurd which makes me aware of certain situations and realities of life that someone might never experience elsewhere. As a result it tends to permeate everything with humour – I guess it's my way of dealing with the absurdity. Being from such a small place with a more or less homogeneous population, it gives you a greater motivation to get out there and see more of the world, and to create your own platforms to express yourself because it can get quite isolating. I grew up in an atelier, watching women get dressed and undressed constantly so I always naturally start with clothing in my illustrations and if it doesn't manifest itself literally, then it's about utilising patterns and folds. Ultimately my illustrations explore the human condition and form, the line between social and intimate situations. Escapism, the feeling of not belonging anywhere. Being uncomfortable, making myself feel uncomfortable.” 

Sena
Sena

SENA

“My illustrations are very feminine and figurative but also graphic and provocative. Istanbul is my treasure and my fuel. However, it’s a pain in the ass to be part of this geography and it’s even harder if you are a woman. And even more harder if you are a woman artist working with nudity and political issues! But my work means something because I was born here, and I believe everything happens for a reason so I am very thankful to be here. Living in the Middle East gives you a different perspective of understanding politics and religion. Turkey is a mosaic of cultures with roots coming from different cultural and economic backgrounds that make the area even richer. There is so much to look at and learn from. Anatolia / Mesopotamia has always been a very busy trade route between Asia and Europe and still is. This area has empires on top of empires, cities on top of cities. It is so condensed and complicated but at the same time very beautiful and rich. Living in a Sharia system in Saudi Arabia as a very young girl and then growing up in a secular country (Turkey) made me conscious of women’s rights. My work focuses on issues such as abuse, child brides, rape, honour killings, forced marriages, woman’s body, nudity, political deformations healed by positive frequencies, shamanism, science, nature, love, geometry and everyday life. The most important topic for me is energy - what I cannot see but feel. I always dig and try to understand the unseen system, life, the river… whatever you want to call it, those things that are not visible to our eyes yet we can all feel.”

Nour L. Flayhan
Nour L. Flayhan

NOUR L. FLAYHAN

“I was born in the USA, but my parents moved to Kuwait where I was raised with the most incredible childhood. I am of Lebanese blood and Lebanon holds a very dear place in my heart, there is so much magic and life that I encounter there. Culture here in Kuwait is truly rich and vibrant, it makes me fall in love over and over again. I’m inspired by the creatives I meet from different backgrounds, the old city, the magnificent Indian Community. I have the biggest obsession with Indian Culture, from the movies, to the food, to the art, architecture, history, textiles and religion. I lived in London for eight years which only made me appreciate where I come from even more, because I realised it was what made me, me. My heritage and traditions made me stand out, people were so fascinated and I was so eager to share with them. Coming back home to the Middle East, I was excited to give back to my community to share a different perspective. I was deeply shook by the different struggles women face that I never saw or experienced after a visit to Jordan. I felt I had to talk about it with other women across the world and I did that through a little animation. I’m privileged to be able to use my voice through illustration to reach out to women across the world whether Middle Eastern or not, we are all one, we may experience different difficulties or have different privileges but together we are one voice."

Idil Keysan
Idil Keysan

IDIL KEYSAN

“I admire Renaissance artworks and mythological characters and I mostly draw female figures based on both of these subjects. While the original artworks look super serious, on the other hand my works are ridiculously childish. My first drawing was at 9 years old of my mother lying down - it looked very much like Egon Schiele's female figures. I've always loved to draw the female body since femininity and what it means to be a woman are subjects of conflict in Turkey. I simply choose to draw women and their nude bodies mostly in a protest against the patriarchal and conservative mentality that is often found in my country. My mother and father are also artists and they raised me as an open-minded individual, but my grandparents and 50% of society have a very conservative approach towards life. This means that I can only show my real personality and reveal my inner thoughts to a select few people in my daily life. Another reason I focus on the beauty of female figures is because I believe sexuality in women should be celebrated. Celebrating the sensitive qualities found in femininity in response to every issue, every subject. Celebrating the fact that sensitivity is not about weakness, it's about power.” 

Marga Patterson
Marga Patterson

MARGA PATTERSON

“Generally, my female characters are full bodied and sometimes elderly. My aesthetic is expressive, using fluid lines that communicate movement, feeling and possess a narrative quality. The emotive energy of my lines informs my style the most. I’m Turkish at heart even though I was born and raised in America. In New York City, I studied life drawing at the Art Students League with Costa Vavagiakis who encouraged me to develop my own style rather than conform to his. Living in a small village surrounded by nature constantly fuels my inspiration since I am outside everyday exploring the forest or the ancient ruins nearby. People's knowledge and appreciation of nature here teaches me new ways of seeing and experiencing life. Being a female artist living in the Middle East or Near East influences my practice by encouraging me to further develop my voice, create opportunities to share my work and engage with other female creatives by exchanging ideas and supporting one another. I also feel compelled to make work that reflects my love of Turkey and to generate a positive interest in this country. Themes I usually touch on are Turkish culture, dance, nature and make believe. I often depict female characters in my work which is important to me because I want to share my support of women everywhere, to express the beauty of all body types and age. Femininity to me is embracing who you are, not being afraid to take risks or express yourself, being aware that everybody is somebody and empowering each other to build strength and compassion."

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