In October 2018, as I was preparing to move from Beirut to Larnaca, I was on a Skype call with a kind and wise man. I was not looking back at my eight years in Beirut with the fondness I would now. By the time I left the city, some bitterness had crept in. The revolutions lost and the friendships strained by distance and displacement had taken their toll and I was in mourning, and moaning.
I showed him the 2x2m canvas that hung on my dining room wall. I had painted it red six years and three apartment moves prior. I knew exactly what I wanted to paint on it, but hadn’t had the time, or the energy. “Reem, you’re an artist!” he said. Not with a question mark, but an exclamation mark.
I used to paint at school and took a course at college and had made some sketches over the years, and wrote the occasional poem, but I never considered myself an artist because I wasn’t producing much art. I decided then and there that I was going to see myself as an artist and that that was going to spur me to produce.
Since then, following both a mental and physical shift away from the things that no longer added value to my life, I have written and painted more creative works in one year than in the forty previous years combined. I have embraced experiences of all sorts without expectation and have been enlivened. A night philosophising with a friend turns into a script for a play, a delightful dalliance into a collection of poems, a conversation with a stranger into an installation by the sea.
All my works are cultivated through collaboration and community. I may write the words of my poems myself, but the ideas are ignited by exchanges with others, and the exercise of writing is repeatedly motivated by recitals where I receive advice that helps me grow, as an artist and a person. This journal is both a celebration of my initiation as an artist and a homage to all those who helped me get here.
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This photograph was taken in the beautiful city of Fez, Morocco, in the summer of 2019. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy and be inspired by the wonders of many cities and spaces. I suspect, indeed hope, that we as a species will prioritise the health of our planet over extensive travel in the coming years. As such, cross-cultural understanding and exchanges will need to take on new forms. The isolation of 2020 has proven that creative innovation and innovating creative approaches is possible through collaboration.