Washington, D.C. resident Helen Zughaib is one of three artists awarded a three-year Kennedy Center /REACH Residency.
“I was nominated to talk about women, migration and refugee crises and will have a big show in June that coincides with International Refugee Day,” she said.
This fits with the themes in many of Helen’s paintings. She says that she is inspired by the events in the world: “I feel I have a responsibility to record those in paintings.”
Helen was born in Beirut, Lebanon then moved to Paris with her parents and that’s where her journey into art began.
“Matisse influenced my work along with that of artists who painted Persian miniatures,” she said.
After moving to the United States, she earned a degree in art from Syracuse University. Helen now resides in her home/studio in D.C.
When asked what honors she most cherishes, she replied when, “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave my Washington Monument painting to the King of Morocco and President Obama gave my painting, “Midnight Prayers” to the prime minister of Iraq.”
Her most satisfying moments, she says, are ones she did for the book, “Stories My Father Told Me.”
“It has been published and should continue through generations,” she said.
She did a series of 24 paintings for this book that accompany her father’s narratives from his early childhood in Damascus, Syria and young adulthood in Lebanon, before eventually immigrating to America.
Helen’s paintings have been exhibited worldwide in embassies and galleries. She has several in the Library of Congress, including “Arab Spring.” Each of her paintings has a Middle Eastern flavor. She has had another one in the United Nations. The shapes and colors augment a distinctive style that can’t help but attract attention and study.
Her blending of East and West seems to express a global sense of unity. A good example of this is her painting, “Prayer Rug for America,” which she says, “is also in the Library of Congress and was in an exhibition that opened at Meridian International Center in February 2002 following the tragedy of 9/11.
“That painting was my attempt to bring together East and West in a portal of spirituality and reflection,” she said.
The exhibition garnered much publicity, including from both CBS and CNN; each network interviewed Helen as well as several other artists included in the exhibition, about their reactions to 9/11 as reflected in their work.
Helen has a feel for symbolism. One of her paintings consists of a dark-haired woman with an abaya on her head peering into a hand mirror that reflects a blonde-headed woman minus the shawl. Helen told me its meaning is how the woman regards herself in an entirely different image.
As a harbinger for good, Helen plans to continue her interest in women, migration and refugee crises. Her website: www.hzughaib.com.
by Joe Motheral