Posted by on March 01, 2013 in Blog

By Jade Zoghbi

2013 Spring Intern

Doris Bittar, a lecturer at the University of California, San Diego, is a Lebanese artist who was born in Baghdad, Iraq and immigrated at a young age to the United States from Beirut, Lebanon. She studied Fine Arts after immigrating to New York with her family. As you may imagine from her journey of relocating, like most people and immigrants, she has experienced the weight of finding meaning for herself in the multiple cultures which have defined her over the years. The East and West could never be clearly separated nor should they, and their connection becomes evident in her work.

As a woman and an artist of Arab heritage, she has had to make an extraordinary effort to defy stereotypes associated with the Arab world and her gender, and ultimately herself. Like many other Arab American artists, particularly women, she has struggled to exhibit her work due to the persistent stigma around those of Arab heritage. After the 9/11 events, a planned exhibit fell through, ostensibly due to Bittar’s heritage and the timely shock of the attacks. She says that museums have only recently shown a change in their attitude, especially as European-Arab artists have gained popularity. Yet, according to the artist, American culture allows her to pursue anything with “unfettered abandon”. The rejections of Arab art in American museums did not discourage her persistence to continue the fight against bigotry, which she primarily sees as a collective struggle and a necessity for all people in America.

As an activist and community organizer, she continued to express herself while drawing passion from her sense of political and social activism, her cultural heritage, and its multiple dimensions. Through the arts, she has achieved a bridging of the political and the artistic impulses through a carefully crafted metaphorical portrayal in her patterns and collages.

She exhibited her work in various public collections where she collaborated with Arab American, Palestinian, Israeli, and Jewish artists. Her sense for resolving conflicts by uniting artists of different nationalities serves to foster dialogue between artists originating from different Middle Eastern countries, and where conflicts among its people remain a reality.

Her pieces carry and combine historical themes of colonial rule, such as that of the French colonial influence on Lebanese culture. Bittar understands that the Arab and American cultures, as everywhere around the world, represent a fusion of different ethnicities, nationalities and other associations among its populations within one region, area or city.

She appreciates patterns as a technique to protect and portray multiple identities, none of which stand alone in the image, but mirror the diversity and mystery of an intricate reflection of what is seen and remains unknown in the heritage and building of nations. Her work includes themes such as colonialism, experiences as an immigrant, the diaspora, and Jewish-Arab relations.

Interestingly, Bittar learned that the Arab’s perspective of Western colonizers and the history of colonialism is often reconsidered as Arabs immigrate to Western countries. It suggests that each of us, who travels from East to West or vice versa, understands his/her own community and history from a new angle. This perspective is subject to constant development.

To channel her memories and revisit her history in Lebanon, Bittar drew meaningful inspiration from family photos, childhood memories of her mother, of Dabke dancers and red roses in bloom in Mount Lebanon.

While Bittar has gained popularity mostly for her large-scale paintings, she has also shared photographs and installations. Here is a brief summary of only a few of her works which have been featured nationally and internationally:

The Art Projects and Series (1989-2006) featured Orientalism, People of the Book and The Wandering Ishmael which combined retrace the history of gaps between the East and West. Her approach was supported by using biblical stories and Arabic poetry. The biblical story of Ishmael, first son of Abraham, and Hagar. Another exhibit Lebanese Linen (1999) is a personal reflection on the family’s immigration in the 1960’s from Beirut to New York, inspired by the bright promises of the new land. The Semites (1999-2004) portrays the narratives of Palestinians and Jews. Certainly created with Stripes and Stars (2001- Present) is attributed to the 9/11 attacks.

The artist merged the American flag and Middle Eastern patterns. "After the tragedies of 9-11, I wanted to explore what happens when the most profusely patterned flag in the world encounters the most profusely patterned culture in the world. The American flag is conveyed in varied states and layered with Middle Eastern patterns. Stripes and Stars marries seemingly oppositional motifs to probe intertwined concepts of loyalty, identity, nationalism, and power."

Bittar's work can be viewed at the David Zapf Gallery in San Diego, 619 232-5004.

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