A “fusion of east and west”, Maysaloun Faraj sees art as an important means for self-exploration

The London-based artist’s latest series has helped her rediscover her drawing skills and reflect on the many places she has had the privilege of calling ‘home’.

Date
5 May 2022

The Covid-19 lockdowns threw most artist’s practice into complete disarray. With no entry into studios, places of study or access to materials, many were left in a creative limbo. It was this very situation that London-based artist Maysaloun Faraj found herself in. But, before long, Maysaloun was compelled to make the most of a difficult situation, and began to explore what she was facing “day in and day out”: her home. Beginning to make small form drawings of her immediate surroundings, Maysaloun began to re-hone her drawing skills. The last time she had “depicted the world subjectively”, she explains, was in the mid-70s when she was studying for an Architecture degree at Baghdad University. The drawings resulted in a series of colourful, expressive and brilliantly detailed paintings, and it also led Maysaloun to “reflect on the notion of ‘home’ and its broader implications”. She adds: “In the past two years, this body of work has become a visual memoir, making a pivotal moment in world history from a personal point of view."

“I knew that I was destined to become an artist," Maysaloun tells It’s Nice That, “and the universe conspired to make this happen." Born in Los Angeles, the artist has lived in America and then studied in Iraq before moving to London in 1982. With her interest in art beginning from as young as she can remember, Maysaloun says that she would “make things from almost anything I could lay my hands on; paper, wire, fabrics left over from my mother’s sewing kit, paint, clay, discarded shiny candy wrappers, bottle tops... anything!”.

For Maysaloun, art has also provided an important means for self-exploration. Describing her as a “fusion of east and west”, she sees it as a way of sharing her “challenge as an artist, a woman, a Muslim and an Iraqi living outside the motherland”. Understanding creativity to have helped her navigate her identity both “consciously and subconsciously”, Maysaloun explains that, “Art is a powerful tool that has certainly helped me to make sense of the world around me, from the varied perspectives, not least of which is my personal space, but also the wider far-reaching context.”

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Maysaloun Faraj: Teatime and Dates with Matisse (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2022)

Being confined to her home, for practical reasons Maysaloun began the Home series using acrylic pens on paper. But, in-between lockdowns when allowed back into the studio, Maysaloun tells us that “the urge to work big was pressing”. The process of re-interpreting her drawings and moving from acrylic pens on paper to oil on (very large) canvas – which included many “trials and tribulations” – was no mean feat, but one that Maysaloun found to be particularly meditative. Through the project, she attests to finding “immense pleasure, peace and solace at a time of great uncertainty”. She says, “I feel more connected, not only with the present, but also with the past, reliving treasured memories of what was once my home in the golden city in the heart of the cradle of civilisation, Baghdad”.

It feels impossible to discuss Maysaloun’s work without paying attention to her brilliant use of colour. Bright oranges, dusty blues and hot pinks, Maysaloun has no interest in restricting her palette. And, as the vibrant series depicts her most personal spaces, we’re also not surprised to hear that “intrinsically” colour is Maysaloun’s “language of love”. Being a crucial facet to the artist's expression, colour is less of an aesthetic choice for the artist, and more a way of living and existing. “Colour is the reason I paint, though it is not just colour with which I paint, it is with my humanity, my soul,” the artist says. “My art is hope, a wager against despair, a way of affirming my defiant humanity.”

Maysaloun has a lively few months ahead: she's planning a solo summer exhibition at Galerie Mark Hachem in Paris, which will display a corresponding number-limited publication featuring the entire Home series and a limited-edition print. But, currently, she is revelling in still being in the process of “learning” and exploring unknown challenges. “My father used to tell us that ‘one goes down in the grave, and one is still learning a new experience!’," the artist concludes. “In this path I tread and I am excited to see what the future holds!”

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Maysaloun Faraj: Home 04 (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2020)

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Maysaloun Faraj: Home 04 (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2020)

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Maysaloun Faraj: Home 40 (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2020)

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Maysaloun Faraj: Home 16 (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2020)

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Maysaloun Faraj: Home, Abraham and Manal Karabajakian (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2021)

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Maysaloun Faraj: Home, Abraham and Manal Karabajakian (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2021)

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Maysaloun Faraj: Istikan al-Houb (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2022)

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Maysaloun Faraj: Home 67 (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2020)

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Maysaloun Faraj: Home 53 (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2020)

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Maysaloun Faraj: Home, Hamza Serafi (Copyright © Maysaloun Faraj, 2021)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.

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