Maria sits on a chair facing me, her eyes glittering, her voice subdued but charming, sipping her drink and talking about art – our favorite subject. She stops every once and a while, as if sharing a secret, posing for a shot, pausing for a question that would be uttered simultaneously.
The former Espace SD Dagher, now the Beirut Art Center, hosted Maria’s first collective exposition in 2006. The war theme, that which never gets old within the Lebanese context, was fresh and startling following the July 2006 War on Lebanon. In May 2011, Maria had her first solo for one month, a collage, her favorite technique, at the Joanna Saikaly Gallery in Gemmayzeh, East Beirut. A few months later, Maria participated in a collective of painting and illustration.
Maria is an advocate and a fan of the Dada movement, a lover of Soviet Designs, and has been obsessed lately with collages (photo-montages), in addition to the fine acts of deconstruction and construction of themes, ideals, and idols. Her art is an amalgam of the fantastic, the realist, the surreal, and the emotional to produce the finesse of the aesthetic. The motifs linger between the political, the social, the sensual, the personal, the public, the sexual, and the environmental. A mixture of beautiful eccentricity and humility complements the hidden or not- so-hidden message behind Maria’s expression.
Photo-montage collage is the technique most employed and cherished by Maria. She finds appealing the act of collecting the old and the new, the vintage and the contemporary of images and photographs and combining them in one unity to create a story or a message. Her collages are mostly a reworking of vintage photographs and pieces. She claims,” they are forgotten stories and when I rework them, I recreate them.” Not only does she recreate what has been dismissed or relegated to one corner of forgetfulness or the other, but she is also breathing into them a life of their own, in a new setting, context, and time-frame. Maria believes each piece to be an emotional outburst, always triggered by a certain happening or incident.
Music plays a very important role in Maria’s work; it is an ever-present source of inspiration, so is politics. Her collages vary between morbidity, escapism, imprisonment, dramaticism, and magic realism. She employs, sometimes combines, light, gold and space in her work, as if her pieces are in “search of the Divine, between brackets.” Richness is how she chooses to explain what she means by that phrase, when she toys with binaries, deconstructs them, then reconstructs them once more while subverting their initial social roles.
“I alleviate my characters” – where the poor, the oppressed, the silent are given voice – “there are some characters I use, who in reality are deconstructed” – such as idols, political figures, macho men… After four years of professional artistic experience, Maria discovered the joy of juxtaposing the unrelated, regardless of logic and reason. “I like the idea of dis-formation, disfiguration, of taking things further”, she says.
Another vibrant and exuberant theme employed by Maria is sexual elevation. She translates sexual curiosity, sometimes tainted by animalism, through sexual apocalyptica. The characters and themes she employs to serve this purpose are bold and shocking. Mystic figures, such as birds, as well as personified animals, such as a gorilla, signifying the violent male, are two such examples. To give ground to her motif, Maria parallels violence with sexuality by using the canon as a phallic symbol in one of her illustrations as she de-personifies and animalizes the figure by replacing his human head with that of a panda. Not only does she de-personify him, but she also ridicules his masculinity and chauvinism.
While un-reigning her imagination, Maria gives things their proper names. Nature is a leitmotif of much import in Maria’s work, specifically birds, leaves or trees. She believes to have a certain artistic and aesthetic connection with birds, in specific, and the animal in general. “It is not pessimistic,” she comments, “rather an understanding, a connection, a comfort.” She adds, “I love nature and I love to incorporate different elements that do not usually go together.” She titles one piece Under the Holy Tree because for Maria nature has the ability to give and destroy at the same time, which she believes to be of a divine and holy quality.
Just like an emotional outburst engulfs all our senses and sensations, burdens us with overlapping and simultaneous images, illustrations, feelings, and thoughts, Maria’s artwork translates them into images. Her latest Noir Mercure is a self-portrait, multi-layered, over-written, and tainted by figures, forms, and narratives. The well-known heavy texture of Mercury is black and dense. Maria describes it as employed “as if you poured oil on me to taint and cover me.” Her Noir Mercure, according to Maria, can signify an Arab woman oppressed by her veil, or a sexual game, or even a purely political oil spill.
Maria believes that there is a form of renaissance in contemporary Lebanese art. There are lots of young Lebanese artists, experimenting. She believes contemporary artists are itching to create, though most good art remains underground. Maria acknowledges a “fear” that is still an inherent quality in most good Lebanese artists and a bout of patriarchal limitations that are hindering a true profound artistic revolution. However, she believes that, there is a lot of underground art in Lebanon, beautiful but unheard of that is now coming to the surface.”