ArtWorks for Freedom Artists Alliance — Helen Zughaib

“The Places They Will Go” © Helen Zughaib

“My work is ultimately about creating empathy. Creating a shared space for introspection and dialogue. I ask the viewer to see through someone else’s eyes, to walk in another’s shoes. To accept the ‘other.’ To reject divisiveness. To promote acceptance and understanding and to reject violence and subjugation of anyone anywhere. To give voice to the voiceless, to heal, to reflect in our shared humanity.”

ArtWorks for Freedom is delighted to spotlight the life and splendid work of artist Helen Zughaib, whose paintings, drawings and prints have such a powerful message to convey to the public. It was our pleasure to feature her work in our 2017 ACTION DC! campaign, in an exhibit entitled Human Trafficking: Reclaiming Freedom, A Call and Responseat the Watergate Gallery. The exhibit was curated by artist and Board member Helen Frederick. 

Zughaib’s work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums in the United States, Europe and Lebanon. Her paintings are included in many private and public collections, including the White House; World Bank; Library of Congress; US Consulate General, Vancouver, Canada; American Embassy in Baghdad; the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan; and the DC Art Bank collection. She recently was awarded a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and is currently included in the new Washingtonia Collection. Zughaib was also invited to be an artist in residence at George Mason University, Virginia, and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Her paintings have been included in several Art in Embassy exhibitions abroad, including Brunei, Nicaragua, Mauritius, Iraq, Belgium and Lebanon. 

Zughaib was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and spent her childhood mostly in the Middle East and Europe before coming to the United States to study art at Syracuse University. There she earned her BFA from the College of Visual and Performing Arts. She lives and works in Washington, DC as a fulltime artist.

As an Arab American, Zughaib’s hope is for her art to encourage dialogue and bring understanding and acceptance between the people of the Arab world and the West. She calls out for this enhanced mutual understanding so desperately needed in the post 9/11 world we are living in. The two decades following that terrible event include the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recent revolutions and crises in the Arab world resulting from the Arab Spring. One of those crises is the Syrian civil war which has inspired her artistic focus on the massive displacement of people seeking refuge in Europe, the Middle East and America, and the ways in which these vulnerable people are victimized.

“Syrian Migration #16” © Helen Zughaib

While Zughaib’s pieces traditionally consist of painting primarily in gouache and ink on board and canvas, she is also drawn to work with wood, shoes, and cloth in mixed media installations. An example of her poignant work recently on exhibit with ArtWorks is “The Places They Will Go.”

“This piece,” Zughaib explains, “focuses on children who are the most vulnerable of victims in any global crisis involving war and causing people’s displacement. My piece refers to the thousands of young children fleeing for their safety. It was inspired by the Dr. Seuss book Oh the Places You’ll Go.

“The painted shoes serve as symbols of both running away from danger, as well as running towards one’s dreams.

“By using these small children’s shoes painted in bright colors and patterns, I hope to bring the viewer closer to these issues of immigration, victimization, forced evacuation and trauma. Issues that seem so impossibly large and overwhelming for us to grasp. I try to raise awareness of Syrian children being especially vulnerable to forced marriages, commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. 

“Through this piece, I am asking the viewer to place themselves in another’s shoes, almost literally, in hopes of creating empathy and compassion and possibly change.”

Regarding her work with ArtWorks, Zughaib says, “I have been involved with ArtWorks for a few years now with my paintings and installations. It has been an honor to work with them to raise awareness not only for the victims of trafficking in the United States, but also globally. And to focus on the plight of the young children facing the horrific situation of war and displacement which compound their already vulnerable states, making them increasingly vulnerable to trafficking, both sexual and labor.”

The honor is ours, Helen. And in the words of Iranian-American writer Azar Nafisi, “Art is here to make you look through the eyes of another and to discover the other in yourself.” 

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