Hungry for Home – interview to the artist and writer

Tabari artspace, based in Dubai, presents Hungry for Home, an exhibition of drawings by Samah Shihadi accompanied by Ranya Tabari Idliby’s words.

Samah Shihadi

Tabari Artspace, based in DIFC Dubai, is an art gallery specialized in Middle Eastern art. On the 27th November they are proudly opening the doors to the Hungry for Home exhibition by Samah Shihadi.

The hyperrealist artist will present 35 pieces of art, all focused on the importance of food which is deeply connected to tradtions and roots. The drawings are made with pencil and charcoal, looking so realistic that they can be mistaken for photographs. But behind the use of food as a connection to the Palestinian land, the drawings are a symbol of displacement, of lost home and a need to return to it. To accompany the drawings are the words of Ranya Tabari Idliby, a Palestinian writer based in New York.

We asked these to women some questions about their work and the connection between them.

Many new artists choose modern, different ways of creating art. Samah, you decided to use pencil and charcoal for hyperrealist drawings. How did you arrive at this medium? What has your artistic journey been?

Samah: During the study period, I experimented with all the materials in art. The pencil and charcoal materials are among the most important materials I have felt. These are the materials that express me. The pencil also accompanied me all my life. I was drawing all the time with pencil as a hobby, I remember when i was a little girl 5 year old until high school. So I grew up and the pencil accompanied me and grew up with me.

The situation between Israel and Palestine is tense and delicate. How has this influenced your life, besides geographical issues?

S: There is a clear and public distinction between the Arab and Jewish sectors, and therefore directly affects our daily life. Where the Jewish community enjoys many privileges by the authorities, the Arab sector suffers a racial bias. Therefore budgets, investment in infrastructure and the standards of living in the arab society are deficiency. In addition, as an Arab citizen, we cannot hold high positions in the public sector.

You use food as a metaphor for this political and human situation. What does food mean to you? If you could choose a dish that represents yourself and your life, what would that be?

S: Sometimes fruits or vegetables are used as symbols in my artworks, in which I discuss different situations, social, personal, or even political.
In one of my artistic works I used the pear, as a symbol of women. This pear is below a group of knives, as a symbol of pressure from society. In another artwork apples are on a scale , symbolizing that there is no justice, between man and woman, woman for woman, man for man. The apples are similar but one is with a bite; this apple is supposed to weigh less and become lighter than the other, which is supposed to be the lightest but on the opposite the whole is the least and the least is the heavy and this applies to the human transactions of the other unfortunately. This work is possible to be speaking as social or personal or even political.
A dish that represents me and my life, I do like ‘Manakesh’. Basically, it’s a round flat bread covered above with olive oil and thyme sauce; a common agricultural food in Palestine and the Levant. Since I was a child until now I remember my mom sitting in front of the oven while my older sisters helped her prepare the dough and covered the surface some with oil and thyme sauce and some with red hot peppers sauce. I remember the smell of the bread rising all over the house and the whole family gathering around the table eating Manakesh and fresh vegetables as our laughter rose to fill the space with joy. This memory wanders my imagination every time I walk by bakeries in Haifa city taking me way back to my childhood and home.

Living in Israel and Palestine is difficult, but how is it as a woman and as an artist?

S: In general, we live in a conservative society, living on customs and traditions. It is difficult to live in a “free” way. This applies to everyone, but those who live and suffer more are women in our Arab society. There is always gender discrimination. There are no human rights for women in our society. To live in a free and independent manner. I grew up in a wonderful house. My family always encourages me and supports me. In short, they always accompany me with my career. But in the end I am still a woman; in other words, I am constantly challenged, I fight for progress in my life. As an artist there are many people telling me that I am lucky because I am a woman artist, and this helps me more than men to succeed in art.
Yes it is possible that this really helps me to succeed because I am a women artist but I believe in myself, I want to become a well-known artist all over the world, so to achieve my dream, I work hard, go to the studio every day work from 9-10 am until 7-8 pm.

How did you and Samah meet? How did you feel about writing the excerpts to the drawings?

Ranya: I have only met Samah through her art. I was drawn to it when I first saw her work exhibited this past March at the Dubai Art Fair. When I received a call from Maliha asking me to consider working with Samah I jumped at the
opportunity. I was already working on a cooking memoir titled “ Hungry for Home”. This work became the springboard for Samah’s artwork. Maliha and I thought it would be great to see a body of work that visually explores the themes I had been exploring in my written work.
The table is where I became Palestinian. It’s where Palestinian pride was deliciously served on a plate. My parents are Palestinian exiles. In 1948 with the establishment of the Sate of Israel, they were never allowed to return home. The table I helped set for my family, three generations of Palestinian refugees was so much more that just about food. In the absence of country, it became the anchor to our uprooted lives and it fed our yearning hunger for home. Palestine became a land of fables, “ tell me about Palestine, “ I would ask. Other children had fairy tales, I preferred the Palestine I imagined and tasted around the table. Around the table, I fell in love with a homeland absent yet alive in the aromas and the recipes of our lives. I listened to stories of homes lost in villages razed. I met neighbors I could no longer meet, and walked paths I could no longer walk. The table is where I learned to be a proud Palestinian no matter how insecure or diminished I may have felt as the daughter of displaced refugees.

You have an Economics background and have studied in the USA and UK, but your roots are from either places. When did you move away from Kuwait? How has this influenced your life?

R: I left Kuwait when I was eight years old. I have since become and American citizen and a mother to two first generation American born children. After 9/11 and the political upheaval of identity politics, bringing up two children as Americans who are also proud Palestinians and Muslims is not without its challenges. As a young and overwhelmed mother I never cooked, I ordered in. When my children started asking tough questions and bringing
back the challenges and suspicions of the outside world, I found myself gravitating to the kitchen. The table became
where we gathered to heal, to reflect and learn. It’s where I in turn taught my children many of the lessons I had learned around the table. To be proud of our heritage, to love a just God and believe in a better world. To expand our community by building bridges with diverse friends as we welcome them around our table.

Same question for you too. What does food mean to you and what dish would represent yourself and your life?

R: There is no single dish that can represent my life. I feel that my mood and my temperament influence what I eat and make in that moment. Food and its preparation are meditative. There is therapy in the rhythmic focus of chopping. There is a sense of purpose and immediate success and gratification when a recipe is well executed or a meal is prepared. There is satisfaction in the love you serve and the love you receive in turn. Who does not love a cook? The flavors and aromas evoke memories and conjure those whom you have loved but who may no longer be with you. A food that means so much to me is “hummus”. My mother was the cook in the family. The only time that my father ventured into the kitchen was to make his famous hummus. His version delivered a generous garlic punch. He is a man of few words. I can’t remember him saying “I love you.” He did not need to. He would fold some pita into a cone; scoop the hummus into what he insisted was the perfect bite. No matter how full I was, I wouldn’t turn him down. It was his way of saying “I love you.”

In the current political situation in the USA, how is life as a woman, “an immigrant” and writer?

R: The world has become an increasingly challenging place. America is no exception. As an American woman of Palestinian and Muslim heritage, I can tick so many boxes that are deemed suspect and troublesome for some. I became a writer because of the pain and challenges that were triggered after 9/11. I was so frustrated with how the media and so many talking heads wanted to save me from my culture. Writing became a way of working through the pain and answering the challenges. It has been cathartic, spiritually and emotionally healing. That along with my kitchen efforts have made me feel empowered and loved.

Follow @positive_mag on twitter for the last updates

You may also like

0 comments

Leave a Reply