Maryam Ghanem: Capturing the Spirit of a City in Disarray
Maryam Ghanem studied architecture only to find her calling and voice in creating collage pieces that reflect the beauty and chaos inherent of a city that has more to offer than meets the eye. Arabad wanted to learn more about this young artist’s work and what follows is an exclusive behind the scenes process that eventually sees her works into fruition.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the design/illustration world?
I was born in Kuwait in 1991 to a Lebanese family from a southern village called Aynata, known for being the cultural “Lighthouse” of south Lebanon in previous centuries. Currently, I live in Beirut and started working as a freelance architect and artist after graduating from Beirut Arab University. Although I have been creative since I was a child, it took me many years to listen to my creative soul. In fact, I didn’t start calling myself an artist, or sharing my art with the world until 2011.
You enter Beirut through your soul, not your eyes… through her people, not her streets...
How would you describe your design style?
I focus on mixed media collage. My most elaborate paintings have multitude of layers of collage. When you first look at them, you won’t necessarily notice them because I tend to blend it all together with paint, pastels, Arabic patterns and words (song lyrics and poetry).
How did the idea of using song lyrics and poetry come to be?
Throughout history, there was a strong relationship between music and art. Personally I find these types of lyrics and poetry in harmony with my mixed media collage; in a sense I focus on the whole icon merging
the lyrics with the personal side of the icon. So, all the collage elements I use in a painting are relevant to the story I am trying to tell. They act as clues, like a sort of visual lexical field. Storytelling is a very important aspect of my art.
Could you tell us a little bit about your design process?
I don’t really have a process, not yet at least. Sometimes I will “see” or dream an image that I will quickly try to capture in a small sketch. Other times I just start collaging photos and lyrics and follow where it leads me. When I feel stressed, I turn on the music, which I find it so relaxing. I’ve always been a very messy girl and I have finally come to accept it and just embrace the messiness.
Besides illustration, what are you passionate about and how does it feed into your work?
Architecture is my passion. It taught me how to perceive the right artistic proportion and how to create the appropriate composition of shapes. It also developed my drawing skills. In addition, music has an essential role, as well as classical movies, love stories and myths; you can find a mix of all these in every painting I create.
Beirut is a notoriously cool hub in the creative community – how would you say life in the city has influenced your work?
Beirut is a city of contrasts and diversities. It was well known as a centre of arts and artists in the Middle East. Nowadays, Beirut still shines in its own way, in every street and on every sidewalk of the city you can find a new story that inspires every talented person. The thing with Beirut is that it is a city situated between freedom and chaos; you enter Beirut through your soul, not your eyes… through her people, not her streets.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The spirit of Beirut that I taste when collaging a painting is the most reinforcing power for me to keep going. It is just so much fun! I search for places where I find my objects “little treasures” like: old film posters, stamps, old postcards, rare photographs... etc. I love to give them a new life a new story and beginning, and I do that through art. What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Currently, what is happening in the streets and the revolutionary spirit in the Lebanese youth is keeping me motivated and gives me inspiration. In every shout, protest, debate or conversation I find an idea for a new painting.
What would you say is your strongest skill?
Creating a story through mixed media collage by following this strategy “what’s hidden is equally important as what is visible”. For example when I paint Naji Al-ali (Palestinian caricaturist), I paint Handala (his main character) behind him, or collage a map of Palestine with some orange and olive trees. These elements may be almost invisible to the viewer, but it’s there and it affects the rest of the painting. This is how I complete the idea and tell my story.
What’s the next exciting you’re working on?
I have been working on an online shop that goes beyond my paintings. A fresh coloured furniture line will be one of the surprises on my new website that interest the young generation. It will feature tens of handmade pieces that represent the civilization that me and hundreds of thousands of Arab artists, novelists and poets are striving to protect in this big chaos.