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Artist Statement Essay
By Elizabeth Vasquez
As an artist, I feel the impulse to find new ways of connecting with the world and holding
on to those connections for as long as I can. As time goes by our mind lets go of certain
memories and makes room for new ones. I am particularly intrigued by film and photography,
both of which capture the world in different ways. In film, one can conjure up stories or
document stories that already exist. In photography, it is all about capturing one single moment
but at the same time, that moment tells its own story or leads to a series of stories. What I am
exploring is how I can make a connection with those stories and add my own narrative. I also
like to observe how others connect with my own work.
I have grown up and discovered that as humans we seek relationships. We seek to make
connections with other humans. Through my work, I am connecting on a personal level and, in
turn, I want my audiences to also seek a connection to each piece but through their own personal
experiences. In the end, we all become connected through one object or color or figure. I am
constantly being influenced by other filmmakers specifically those that document life. I have
always been quite enamored by documentary films because of the responsiveness it creates
within me. In a documentary, you are not merely viewing fictional events but you are
experiencing something that is real.
Recently I have come across a project titled Life on Hold that has greatly inspired me.
The project is a mix of interactive media, photography, film and artwork that tells the story of
various Syrian refugees. The project artist was Tammam Azzam, who is also a refugee. He is
influenced by other artists and western artwork. His involvement in this project and his other
artwork such as his acrylic pieces from his series called “Storeys” has influenced me greatly in
my own work. Since he is a refugee, most of what he knows about the war in Syria is from what
he sees on the news. So what he does is look at all the photographs and stills of the destruction of
buildings and he recreates them by painting them. He uses the paint to give an overpowering
sense of destruction by dripping the paint down the canvas. It also makes it seem that the
building is falling off of the canvas.
There is one specific refugee that caught my attention and that is seven year old Maya
Louay El Sheikh Issa. I decided to capture a few stills from her video and attempt to express the
connection I had made with her story. This young little girl reminded me so much of my
youngest sister who is also seven. The similarities were not only physical but also based on
personalities. It was in the way she laughed, in the way that she spoke and the way that she
carried herself. Their hair color was different but was braided in the same style. She was quite
outspoken, but there were a few moments where shyness showed through. These are all
characteristics that can be used to describe my youngest sister Madelaine.
Since Maya’s story was already captured through film and photography, I decided to
recreate the stills through digital paint. The colors that I used are based on the mood and color of
the stills. In my piece I Would Tell Them to Stop the War, I use a variation of cool and warm
earthy neutral tones. These colors are relatively similar to those found in the film still from
Maya’s video but have a higher amount of brightness. In the background and foreground
surrounding Maya’s lonely figure, there are jumbled up direct quotes from her. These phrases are
ones that really stood out to me in the film and are phrases I felt were very powerful. One of
these quotes is when Maya says “I would tell them to stop the war” and “I feel no one is happy
here…and I am the least happy of all”. I felt these were very powerful statements because
despite her seemingly bright personality, she appears to hide or attempt to hide negative feelings
about the Syrian war. In this particular piece I decided to jumble up the phrases, so that they are
still there but not so easily readable. I did this because, despite how powerful and meaningful
those words are, they do not have much significance to those involved in the war. Humans are
capable of sympathy, but they also form a disconnection and a detachment from things they see
on television or the internet. Therefore, her words become invisible and even if she screamed
them from the rooftops, no one would care enough to do something to help her.
I regularly use quick thin or thick lines. I mostly do this because neat lines wouldn’t
convey the emotions I have about each art work. There is nothing clean, simple or neat about
war. I portray this in my piece called Maya and Mother. This particular piece is from a film still
in which Maya and her mother share a very touching moment while visiting a loved one’s grave.
Despite the light and bright solid colors that are used on the two subjects, the background
contains various heavy and thin black lines. The background of each piece is more abstract than
the central figures because I would like the central figure to be more noticeable. I want the
viewer to know that the person on the piece is the main reason for the piece and the background
is just secondary insight. In Maya and Mother the background contains drawn images of guns
and bears with bullet holes. This is based off of the film when Maya states that before she
became a refugee, she had a large pink bear but then adds that it is, “probably riddled with
bullets now”. I do not necessarily want my audience to make the same connection to Maya as I
did, but I do want my audience to make a true connection. For me, I was able to relate so much
more to Maya because of her similarity to my sister, I began to see Maya as my sister.
Through this connection, I am not only connecting with Maya, but with the concept of
what it means to be misplaced, out-of-place, or lost. Growing up I always felt misplaced, like I
didn’t quite fit in with anyone or anything. I always felt that my parents favored my older sister
and my younger sister which is a normal feeling to get as a result of being the middle child. Now
that I am older, I do not feel so lost. However, that feeling of misplacement transformed into
isolation and this is also why I connected with Maya. I have a sense that Maya feels isolated
from the world around her, at one point in the film she says, “I am one girl surrounded by four
walls”. She feels this way despite the fact that there are hundreds of refugees living in the same
building as her and even though she spends the day with both her parents. I find myself all too
familiar with this feeling of isolation, despite having a family and numerous friends. I believe
that there are others who share this same feeling and this allows me to connect with other people
and for those people to share a connection with me and with Maya. My work depends entirely
on this belief and it is my sole purpose to create work that forces others to connect with Maya or
other subjects on a deeply personal level. I want others to stop unconsciously detaching
themselves from the realties that surround the world. I enjoy working both digitally and non-
digitally therefore in the future I would like to create more pieces about Maya that involve other
mediums. I would also like to research other people in situations different or similar to Syria and
explore the connections I make with them.
Untitled, digital media 2015
I would tell them to stop the war,
digital media 2015
Maya and Mother, digital media
From “Storeys” by Tammam Azzam, 180 x 235 cm, acrylic on canvas, 2015