artist’s statement

Afaf Zurayk Statement

I dedicated myself to painting professionally when I was 28 years old, during the civil war in Lebanon. Concentrating on my art helped me come to terms with all that was happening around me and enabled me to translate my feelings into images. I painted in oil and refined my skills at ink drawings. Focusing on the human form, I sometimes portrayed it as active, comparing the nude to landscape, and sometimes as passive, in drawings that expressed my helplessness in facing the world.

After I moved from Beirut to Washington, DC in 1983, I came to rely on mixed media as a technique. I continued to paint portraits and the human form, as well as some paintings of nature, evoking its power to celebrate both solitude and majesty.

Working with mixed media allowed me to explore my vision of the interdependence of elements in creating a whole. While each element (medium) is treated as an independent entity, it is realized as such only through contrast with the other elements (media). The painting is thus a dance choreographed to balance a variety of ‘movements’ within a single sphere.

As a binding agent I used black ink, since it set the tone and described the fundamental concept I was trying to understand and portray: the experience of loss. To me black represents pain; it has a depth, the nuances of which reflect the fluctuating gradations of emotional experience. Acting as both a shield and a bridge, black protects the inner world while simultaneously connecting it to the external one. In that sense black does not cover, but instead exposes.

Rather than trying to portray through motion the turmoil that accompanies loss, I turned to stillness. I slowly began to understand that I best express turbulent emotions through very fine fluctuations of brushstroke, color and line. To me an agitated composition does not necessarily express raw emotion. Instead emotion evolves into reflection, and stillness serves as the vehicle through which layers of emotion become transparent. Throughout, I used modulation rather than description to express the moment when one is on the verge between reality and its transcendence, between physicality and the evanescent.

Lately I have come to realize the pressing need for a spiritual awakening to balance all the tragedies of war. Through the contemplation of beauty and serenity, I feel, fulfillment and peace can be achieved. I continue to explore the underlying, ambiguous flow and rhythm that contain an understanding of ‘darkness’ and its impact on peace.

I began incorporating words to help convey my longing for love and peace and to conquer the helplessness I experienced as a young adult. Pairing my poetry with ink and watercolor drawings in book form, the resulting dialogue between the image and the poem, as well as their sequence, told of a longing for light, in the person of the loved one. I later superimposed sections of the poems onto darkly painted portraits. Eventually the words became embedded in the paintings and the loss was transformed into ‘mahaba’ (Love, in Arabic, is the title of the series).

I now have turned to the concept of touch to express a quiet energy that permeates our experience. I try to express this in large oil paintings through light as it emanates from an enveloping dark void. In these works I hope to evoke the energy, flow and contradictions of the process of love—on the personal, individual, and also public levels—that aims to achieve an understanding of darkness within a vision of light. I feel the work to be intimate and personal, and hope that through this intimacy a more comprehensive and universal message will be discerned: a message of integration and celebration of light, movement and hope.