An interview with graphic designer and visual artist from Beirut Maria Kassab.
Can you tell us a few words about your background, your studies, your influences etc.? I studied Graphic Design at the Lebanese American University with a minor in fine Arts. I left Beirut at an early age to settle in Montreal and basically the intercultural mixture present in these parts of the world had a definite influence, the layering of people from different backgrounds was a kind of a “réveil” or wake-up call.However one particular influence comes from music such as Jazz, Ambient, Post rock, Electronica and Minimal Classical genres etc.Music for me is a source of creation, it all started with a sound an explosion, and it is a need for the Self just like the Sun is for life. And no I don’t play any instrument unfortunately. There are many other inspirations such as artistic movements, stating Dadaism, Constructivism, Bauhaus and artists pioneers such as Hannah Hoch who’s a German artist and does photomontages, Hausman, many others as well like Marcel Duchamp, Dora Maar, the Stenberg Brothers, Gustav Klustis, Otto Dix, El Lissitzky, Saul Bass, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Christian Marclay, Vik Muniz, many more. There are influences from film directors such as Kubrick, Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Truffault, The Quay Brothers and, animators such as Bill Plympton, Jan Lenica, who was a polish graphic designer and cartoonist, Walerian Borowcysk etc… Architecture is very essential as well, inspiring works such as Tadao Ando, Rem Koolhaas, Oscar Niemeyer, etc.
You lived in Montreal during the civil war in Lebanon, and then you came back to Beirut. Why did you leave? I left for Montreal because of the war, it was a critical and dangerous time; we had to overstep landmines to find a safer ground and leave. When we thought things got better we decided to come back but unfortunately things aren’t better, even today, events are repeating themselves. However, we try we the little people to make big changes. Whether through infiltrating ourselves into peaceful movements with messages we want to convey about peace, or through artistic mediums translating contents and substances about a scream wanting to be heard. A sound and an image are seen and heard somewhere, sometimes and this we won’t stop till we infiltrate our implication in the peaceful cause.There you have it, now I can tell you why I came back. And so is the mission of many others who escaped and came back.
What was your relationship with your city during the war? And now, to what extent and how are you linked with this city?
Long ago I didn’t know much about relationships, whether with the city or its people. One thing I knew during the war and it was the question why?
After growing up in the city’s disproportionate buildings and getting to know the Self in relation to it and outside of it (the experience), layers and lines started to take shape and relationships started to form and mutate, I could even expand and stretch those indefinite and definite lines into vast fields since I do not like to limit the Self to the drawing of the city alone but into the sphere itself (cities, countries.etc…) there, grew a thread, a link to everything interlacing all shapes and forms.
To what extent do you think that the Lebanese history and context has influenced your work?
I think it influences a lot in terms of my work, specifically the political chaos and how people are blinded and influenced by leaders while I personally think so much can be achieved if we all become one, fight with our hearts all oppressions and built instead of destroying by un-cluttering our mental frontiers.
We need to stop thinking about power as in destructive but power should be based on love and acceptance.
Politicians resemble to this city, they look like electrical wires on electrical poles, they are the chaos, the mess of this country and they batch there messy speeches into minds of people, and this I try to visualize through the work.
You have participated to a collective exhibition “Nafas Beirut” can you tell us more about this contribution? During the 2006 war many were displaced, it was a dark period and I couldn’t stop myself from drawing and writing about the atrocities happening. I drew only in black and white illustrations about my feelings and thoughts, and the series of events that occurred at that time. It was written in some newspaper “drawings reflected a downward spiral into darkness”. This contribution had many artists exposing their work about this demoralizing experience.
What was amazing about this collective was how each and everyone translated their emotions into canvases, installations etc. that was really powerful and the message could make an impact on the Self hoping to move people’s hearts.
Can you show us and comment on one piece that is representative for you?
It is the name of the album of one of my favourite bands (The Evpatoria Report). And more specifically when I created that piece I was listening to the (Depole Experiment) track. So it all happened while diving into that music. Indeed the collage is very personal, I don’t think I will be able to describe it; it would be losing its essence.
Interview by Barbara Coffy