BEACONS OF HOPE & RESILIENCE: DATE PALMS & DREAMS . Ulrike al-Khamis
It started with a chance encounter, a chance encounter with an exhibition entitled Once Upon a Culture displayed at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London during the dark winter of 1994. Intrigued by the richly and passionately rendered Iraqi marshland scenes, I inquired about the artist, as - being married to an Iraqi - everything from that country immediately draws my attention. Shortly afterwards I was on the telephone to that very artist - Maysaloun Faraj. Finding her accessible, welcoming, warm and enthusiastic, the conversation flowed easily and by the time I put the receiver down, a partnership (and friendship) was in the making. A few months later, Maysaloun invited me to join the Strokes of Genius project which she had just begun and which we have been collaborating on together ever since. The art of Maysaloun Faraj is a direct and - to those who know her well - carefully codified visualization of her Self and all that she stands for. At first sight, her paintings - like the artist herself, exude an attractive accessibility; they attract by merit of their warm, passionate colours, their generous and harmonious compositions. Beyond that however, lie clues to a more complex reality - visual pointers that hint at the challenges posed not only by her personal experiences but by the shattered realities of her people and the country she loves above all else.
The Weeping Palms: Stolen Childhood series, which she initiated in 2004 in response to the war on Iraq, illustrates this approach most eloquently. Drawing on the poet Ghassan Mattar’s anthology Buka Fawqa Dem al-Nakheel (Weeping over the Blood of Palms) as a direct inspirational catalyst, Maysaloun set about visualizing both, the suffering and the passion, courage and endurance of a battered Iraqi nation. Throughout, however, the overriding tone remains one of hope and perseverance, driven by both, profound personal faith and a belief in humanity’s determination to carry on regardless. These sentiments she has subsequently continued to express fervently in her Boats and Burdens: Kites and Shattered Dreams. When paintings do not suffice in venting her emotions, Maysaloun turns to ceramics - clay being the medium which gives her the most comprehensive opportunity to explore her sense of Self and the way in which it aches to react to the complex realities around her. A physically demanding activity, the transformation of raw clay into an enduring ceramic form not only provides an opportunity to physically unleash despair and frustration at the injustice, uncertainty and devastation that mars an Iraqi’s life today, but offers a conduit for the hopeful expression of eventual harmony and closure.
Faraj’s ceramic sculptures encapsulate both - the gnawing pain and despair at witnessing her peoples’ suffering and the determination to use her art to exorcise those troubled emotions, to speak out, to make a difference and to express her solidarity with Iraq and the Iraqi people. Above all however, the art of Maysaloun Faraj - her paintings and ceramics alike - emanates a profound belief in the resilience of the human spirit and the conviction that ultimately there is hope that adversity can be overcome and life will prevail.
Ulrike al-Khamis is Islamic and Middle Eastern Arts Collections Advisor for Sharjah Museums Department and co-director of the newly opened Sharjah Museum for Islamic Civilization; also Senior Advisor to INCIA.
 Founded by Maysaloun Faraj in 1995, Strokes of Genius: Contemporary Iraqi Art is a three-part project which included a traveling exhibition (UK/USA 2000-3), a website www.incia.co.uk (International Network for Contemporary Iraqi Artists) and the publication Strokes of Genius: Contemporary Iraqi Art (Saqi Books 2001) of which she is the editor.