Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Blog

By Dalal Hillou

2012 Spring Intern

A year ago at the Atlanta Arab Festival, I came across an art display that took my breath away. It was there that I met Palestinian artist Nancy Alhabashi, whose art and poetry is a seamless blend of East meets West. Her art is a combination of the two cultures that she loves – Arab and American – and it appeals to a wide range of feelings and thoughts.

Nancy Alhabashi is originally from a small town called Iksal near Nazareth; in the 1948 “Nakba,” her father left Iksal for Jordan, where he met her mother, who is half-Syrian and half-Jordanian. Nancy was born in Jordan, where her father owned fabric stores, and she was raised there with her seven siblings until they moved to the United States during her high school years. She finished high school in Missouri and was very motivated to accomplish her dreams of being a journalist by pursuing a college education. Unfortunately, many obstacles came in the way, and after attending school on and off, Nancy was unable to finish her education. “During this time, I always wrote and painted, so I think looking back, I was filling the hole.” After marrying her husband and moving to Georgia, she tried to go back to school and finish her journalism degree; she never considered studying art, which was just a hobby to her.

“I knew inside that I loved to paint,” Nancy says. “I loved to write even when I was a child in Jordan.” As the years passed, she gave birth to twin girls, and all the while she was painting in her basement. It was when she was diagnosed with cancer that her views on the world changed. “When you get to that point in your life, you know what really matters... I really thought I was going to die because it reached my lungs. I was painting a lot in that period in my life; as hard as cancer can be and as hard as being away from your kids can be, things were really difficult during that time in my life, but I wasn’t lost anymore.”

After she felt physically stronger and was reunited with her children, she contacted the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, GA, and sent them a copy of her work, which had never been displayed before. Two weeks later she signed a two week contract, and seven pieces were sold during that time, which had never happened in the history of the theatre. There was great feedback from people, so the contract was extended to three and a half months, also a first for the theatre. To Nancy, the fact that the work that had been in her basement for years was such a success was a push and a sign that she was indeed an artist.

At that point, Nancy decided to take her art career seriously, and she began participating in festivals and competitions. At the 2011 Art Blossom International Competition, she won an honorable mention recognition; her work was exhibited at the University of Georgia’s Gwinnett campus; and during July 2011 during her trip to the West Bank, after meeting artist Yousef Katalo, a cultural organization volunteered to reproduce and display her work, which is now going to be a traveling exhibit and will go to cities like Nazareth and Jerusalem. Her art lead her to poetry, and she published her book “Soul Whispers”, which was nominated by the Georgia Writers Association for Georgia Author of the Year.

“I discover each day there’s something artistic in me; I love art and I think it helped cure me. Art helped cure my cancer. I’m so blessed to paint,” Nancy says. “I like impressionism, but I like to mix it with abstract, and there’s not a form of this, but I do that... I always end up mixing them together.” The pieces that Nancy is currently working on feature ballerinas and flower ladies – ladies with flowers for heads, which symbolizes that women should be treated like flowers – and her artwork is inspired by her two young daughters. She is also working on English and Arabic poetry collections.

On the mixture of her Arab origins with her experiences as an American, Nancy says, “Although I have been in the states for twenty-three years, the little Arab girl in me still lives in my little home in Jordan. And you see that in the childish colors and innocent gestures of my work. On the other hand, by being exposed to the American culture, I learned to be a free spirit with dealing with all kinds of people; to be a true artist, you need to love people for the human inside them.”

To other Arabs who may be hesitant about pursuing careers in art, she says, “Follow your passion, regardless, and never seek the acceptance of any person that criticizes your art because it’s damaging; from personal experience, you really have to believe in yourself. Because in art especially, some will like and some will hate your work, and it will discourage you. Follow your passion, do what you really love, paint and write what you feel is you; let yourself be on the canvas or the paper, and I really believe you'll succeed, if it comes from your heart it will be natural and people will love it.  Artists should be open to all cultures; art is a common journey to all cultures and for all people - no matter how different we are - art will always be a common thing, all cultures have their own art, so we should be more open to other cultures and their art, and that’s a true artist. [The Middle Eastern community] should be very open, so many middle easterners are not taught or are not open to abstract... Art is not anything to explain, you have to feel it like you feel music or poetry.”

For more information on Nancy’s work, visit her website.


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