‘Middle Eastern American Artists in the Garden and Beyond’ Exhibit now at Brookside Gardens

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Reem Saleh

This spring 2021, Brookside Gardens, located in Wheaton, Maryland, has partnered with the Middle Eastern American Advisory Group (MEAAG) of the Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships (OCP), to co-sponsor the art exhibition titled “Middle Eastern American Artists in the Garden and Beyond.”

This art exhibition is the newest fixture of Brookside Gardens’ exhibition series called “Art in the Garden at Brookside Gardens.” It features seven Middle Eastern artists, Maysoon Zaidan AlGburi, Arwa Khadr ElBoraei, Mariam Hathor, Sughra Hussainy, Ahmed Alkarakhi, Karim Chaibi, and Khalid Alaani.

The Middle Eastern American Artists in the Garden and Beyond art exhibition was created by the hard work and collaboration of Debbie Trent, the chair of the Middle Eastern American Advisory Group, Ellen Hartranft, the visitor center supervisor at Brookside Gardens, Jason Gedeik of Montgomery Parks and Brookside Gardens, Leila Abuobeid, the Middle Eastern American Advisory Group’s intern, and many others.

This collaboration is the first between Brookside Gardens and the Middle Eastern American Advisory Group, aiming to create an art exhibition solely representing local Middle Eastern artists.

The Art in the Garden at Brookside Gardens is a series that is planned one year in advance, so visitors are able to see the art exhibition schedule in its entirety.

For Sahar Fahmy, the organizer of the art exhibition and resident of Maryland, Brookside Gardens serves as her getaway from reality, which, combined with her dream of attending an art exhibit in a garden, inspired her to plan an art exhibition at Brookside Gardens. Ms. Fahmy wants everyone to know that “this event is not only meant for the Middle Eastern community, but it is a way to bring the local community together and an opportunity for people to learn more about Middle Eastern culture.”

Ms. Fahmy believes that “when art meets nature, the result is the beauty of mother nature blending with people’s art skills.” She also added that she believes “food and art are universal languages; therefore community events are so important to bridge the gap between different cultures, help to bring people together, and decrease hate crimes.” With more understanding and less misinformation on different cultures, it can bring about positive change.

Ms. Fahmy felt that “hosting an event like the art exhibit might help to bring hope, peace, and inspiration to the local community.” She said that planning the art exhibit felt like “therapy for the soul and a distraction for the mind.” She hopes that visitors have a joyful experience seeing the artwork of immensely talented local community members.

I contacted two of the artists featured in the exhibit to discuss their thoughts and feelings regarding art, the exhibition, and culture.

When asked how he discovered his love of art, Khalid Alaani, an artist and resident of Virginia, said that he started painting as a child, and he recounted one of his earliest memories at the age of four when he drew a house and a palm tree, and how happy drawing it made him feel. His talent made him known at school as the best artist in his class.

Similarly, Arwa ElBoraei, an artist and resident of Virginia, also discovered her love of art at a young age. She said, “since I was a little girl, maybe 8 or 9, I was fascinated by the different shades of colors and shadows, particularly when observing the change of seasons.” When they noticed her love of art, Ms. ElBoraei’s parents encouraged it, buying her drawing papers, watercolors, and books about drawing and painting techniques.

In this exhibit, the artwork on display by Ms. ElBoraei’s are her realism-style paintings. Mr. Alaani’s style is contemporary art, which he considers modern expressionism.

Mr. Alaani discussed that immigration to the United States has affected his art because he had to plant himself in a different environment, and subsequently he grew and changed in a different way than how he used to be prior to immigrating. “One of the main or most important tools for me as an artist is color. The color for me is the strongest tool I use to convey my art, and colors are different with different landscapes, countries, and regions. That is why my paintings now are completely different from the ones I would paint before. But I think it is wise to consider that part of the difference, in my paintings, is related to the evolution in my personality and my understanding of art, myself, other people, and the world.”

When attending the art exhibit, you will notice the symbolism in Ms. ElBoraei’s paintings, which is made apparent by the title of each painting. As a fan of symbolism in art, I decided to ask her about this. Ms. ElBoraei answered, “I am a true believer in the law of attraction, which is an integral part of my culture. When you think positively, positive things come your way. It impacts your way of thinking and behavior. The past year, when COVID-19 hit, it was very stressful for everybody, including me. I was determined to mitigate my stress.”

Ms. ElBoraei mentioned the quarantines of 2020, “I decided to think of all the subjects that make me happy and why they make me happy. Because some of those subjects are unique, I was inspired to paint them, so whenever I look at the paintings, I remember their symbolism. That entire process of transitioning from a stressful period, then thinking about positive subjects, reading more to comprehend and understand the symbolism of each subject, visualizing the subject by painting it, then finally looking at the painting and recalling that positive symbolism is a unique, healing, liberating, and meditative process.”

When discussing what her inspiration is, Ms. ElBoraei mentioned, “my source of inspiration is the core meaning of every subject and what each subject conveys.”
For example, she said, “the Lemons and Limes painting conveys so many meanings and feelings, such as the life cycle of lemons and limes, how the seeds transition to buds, to flowers, to fruits, and then to your table. This, of course, goes beyond that and reminds you of the concept of “process.” Meaning everything has a process and life cycle, a start and an end. Between those two points, there is beauty, freshness, and utility, which is in itself is a positive feeling and a reminder of your own life and how you need to enjoy every stage fully.”

For Mr. Alaani, he said, “the main two sources of inspiration for me are humans and nature. People’s stories always inspire me, their feelings, their struggles, and what life is all about. Nature is also a great source of inspiration for me, when I walk in parks, or in the streets, or at waterfronts, I enjoy the nature, looking at the buildings, and looking at the people all around me. Those images become imprinted in my mind, and they will come out in a painting one day.”

Mr. Alaani expressed that the meaning of art for him is, “the pleasure, the enjoyment, the exploration, the journey, and the lessons that I learned from myself and from life. Art for me is like therapy that washes my soul and makes me a better person. Art is like a game that I enjoy playing, but it is a meaningful game.”

When discussing what art means to her, Ms. ElBoraei said that, “art means freedom, where I can express myself freely with no restrictions or boundaries. Art means healing because it destresses me and helps me to connect with the canvas and the colors, the brushes, and helps me to pour out onto the canvas and visualize my feelings. Art means energy, positivity, and beauty.”

Mr. Alaani hopes that when people see his art, they understand the feeling behind the paintings, which he understands is no easy task. He also went on to mention, “of course, I hope people enjoy seeing my paintings, and I hope the sincerity, purity, and spontaneity within the paintings touches their hearts.”

Ms. ElBoraei hopes that when people see her art, they see “the positive meaning behind each subject and feel inspired by the positive symbolism.”

The Middle Eastern American Artists in the Garden and Beyond art exhibition is located in the visitor center of Brookside Gardens until April 25. Visitor center hours are from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm Monday and Wednesday-Sunday. The visitor center is closed on Tuesdays.

The Middle Eastern American Advisory Group has committed to doing art exhibitions annually in different parts of Montgomery County to build connections with different communities. So, although the art exhibition at Brookside Gardens will be gone after April 25th, visitors can look forward to another art exhibition next year at another location in Montgomery County.

You can see Mr. Alaani’s and Ms. ElBoraei’s paintings as well as other local Middle Eastern artists as part of the exhibit. You can also find more information about the exhibit and links to resources below:

More information about the Middle Eastern American Artists in the Garden and Beyond exhibit as well as other art exhibits here:

https://www.montgomeryparks.org/parks-and-trails/brookside-gardens/art-in-the-garden/middle-eastern-american-advisor-exhibit/

Keep up with the Middle Eastern American Advisory Group:

https://www.facebook.com/MEAAG2017/

View Arwa’s artwork here:

https://www.instagram.com/arwakhadrelboraei/

https://www.facebook.com/art.arwakhadrelboraei

Keep up with Khalid and view his artwork here:

https://www.khalidalaani.com/

https://www.instagram.com/alaani.k/?hl=en

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This article is appearing on The Advocate news site because I am a volunteer for the Middle Eastern American Advisory Group, all opinions are my own.