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Laila Masri Redefining the spectrum of art
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 21 - 10 - 2012

Mariam Nihal
Saudi Gazette

“Art pertains to the inner spirit, that encourages cultural dialogue, self reflection, references to historical context, story telling, and most of all, art embodies freedom of identity expression,” said Laila Masri.
Masri, a Palestinian artist born and raised in the UAE, has established herself across the world by exhibiting her illustrious artworks through New York, London, France, Canada, Jordan, and the UAE. A painter and a video/installation artist, Masri is currently working with acrylic colors on polyester chiffon squares, drawing women around strong themes of cultural displacement and the politics of identity.
Masri has obtained her BFA from the University of Western Ontario and has completed two residency programs at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
In an exclusive interview with Saudi Gazette Masri explores an artist's role in society and what she dreams to contribute to the beauty of it all.
Saudi Gazette: What's integral to the work of an artist?
Masri: Their hand should show in the work, their mind constantly in a state of awareness of what's going on in the world, and that there is complete honesty in the process of making the work.
Saudi Gazette: Tell us about Taqseem and how your art helped create a bridge with the theme at Ara Gallery.
Masri: My work at Taqseem provided an outlook into my life as a Palestinian in the UAE and all the cities that have influenced me. The common theme across my work is that there is a representation of a hybrid identity that continues indefinitely across large-scale panoramic canvases, without a specific beginning or end to the figurative narratives. This is in a way to say that this identity is yet to be reconciled. Happy as I am with my identity , my art and my work in taqseem was a window into the long journey I went on to begin discovering it.
Saudi Gazette: What role does the artist have in society?
Masri: Artists have a responsibility and an opportunity to study and observe occurrences in culture and human behavior, more importantly, to question them. Artists have a hand in making people look at the world differently from a skeptical lens (not necessarily a negative one) but to just be very honest and socially relevant, as well as unbiased about what goes on in the world. I see an artist's job as visual story telling or pictorial journalism. Maybe I define their role this way because of my cultural experience and hybridity, and my obsession with composing narratives in my artwork
Saudi Gazette: What has been a seminal experience?
Masri: My participation in Marseille, France with the instants video festival, my life in NYC, and my residency in painting and mixed media at the school of visual arts.
Saudi Gazette: Give us a brief summary of your work.
Masri: I am now focused on interactive pieces that combine all the mediums that I've worked with in the past. My latest revelation is that my subject matter jumps out successfully when I work with acrylic drawings on polyester chiffon squares and then hang them in a particular architectural space.
Pairing those chiffon hangings and then playing with light and video simultaneously has added layers of emotion and depth. In my new work, the cultural commentary is strongly present in the drawings of women, so I realized that it could make the work stronger to include the process of making the finished work by presenting them alongside the acetate sheet drawing transfers that I had used to translate on the fabric. It gives a sense of the before and after affect. When I work systematically in this way it really does justice to that sense of identity construction. The reason I like to focus on identity is because it speaks to my experiences and therefore has a beauty of embodying an ephemeral transcendence both in concept and technique.
Saudi Gazette: How has your practice changed over time?
Masri: Well, I started out drawing and doodling geometric cartoon looking women, always smoking a cigarette, with perfectly coiffed hair and manicured lips and nails. I always enjoyed exploring commonly accepted notions of beauty and fashion. After wearing the veil my work matured into exploring that subject in more depth, which took place during my BFA and then more thoroughly later in New York City at my summer residency with the school of visual arts.
Now that I managed to venture out of the cartoony lines I am now able to get more specific and focus more on details rather than on experimental organic line work.
Although there is a consistent common thread in my work whether I choose to approach it as abstract or representational, which is that the work always involves some sort of depiction of women and their wide range of lifestyles/sensibilities inspired by my Middle Eastern and international social experience.
Saudi Gazette: What are your aspirations?
Masri: I aspire toward gaining gallery representation and establishing an exhibition portfolio to include active biennale participation. I really want to give Muslims and Arabs the positive representation they need now more than ever. Most of all I aspire toward enriching the Arab culture with a more supportive attitude towards pursuing the arts and humanities by offering mentorship to upcoming artists.

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