The BSGE Art Department often hosts visiting artists who can share their ideas and work with students of all grades, and on Thursday, October 29, Maymanah Farhat and Athir Shayota visited our school. Maymanah is a writer and art historian as well as a curator, while Athir is a painter. Both are long-time friends of Ms. Gretchen Schwarz, who met them while working as a security guard at the Met several years ago.
Athir spoke first, discussing several celebrated paintings/artworks from over the years. A few artists he mentioned were Cezanne, Picasso, and Van Gogh. At the tender age of 19, Athir created a portrait of his father in homage to Van Gogh, imitating the flowers and cut-up body that he was known for. He also showed us a family tree he created using Eastern and Western motifs. Athir is Iraqi, and he visited his home country after the war. He painted a butcher shop with a butcher inside, the sadness on his face clearly visible. He mentioned that Iraq has such a negative image in the media, but that’s not to be believed. Other paintings he showed us were a self-portrait, a still life of “flowers of hope,” a painting of Maymanah (his wife), and a portrait with a shadow, similar to a painting by another artist who covered the subject of the painting with a veil.
Maymanah took the stage next, so to speak. She told us about an exhibit she’s currently curating called Silsila (the arabic word for chain, or link), which is being shown in Dubai. As an art historian, she focuses most on Arab/Middle Eastern Art. When asked what sparked her to look into Arab art specifically, she explained that she spent her summers in Lebanon, thanks to her father, so she was constantly surrounded by it growing up. Over the years, it occurred to her that there isn’t much representation of Middle Eastern art in the West, and she decided to study it. As someone who grew up in California, Maymanah was very knowledgeable about the West Coast art scene, but was happy to experience a change of pace after coming to New York. Her biggest piece of advice for us was to take full advantage of having access to the NYC art scene, without having to worry about paying rent!
Another strong message conveyed by both Athir and Maymanah was “combating pre-conceived notions.” Question everything. Question everything that’s accepted to be true. That’s what Duchamp did when he produced a work of a urinal, thus disregarding everything we thought we knew about how we define art. Question the art that you’re shown in museums; who collected the art, who created it, what groups are left out? And lastly, do not take anything for granted.