Interview with Kinda Hibrawi

One Woman, One Brush, One World


Kinda Hibrawi is a Syrian-American artist based in Irvine, California. She is a talented creator, director, and humanitarian. Her art is where the East meets the West and where language meets imagery. Not only does she use her art as a means of self expression but she paints to make a difference in the world. Hibrawi is heavily involved with education and community development inside and outside of the U.S. From 2013 to 2015, she lead Karam Foundation’s Zeitouna Mission, which emphasized the importance of creative expression in the lives of the displaced children of Syria. Her work has been featured on the cover of educational textbooks and in the center of local and international newspaper spreads.

Her most recent collection, “Syrian Twitter Portraits,” illuminates her aspiration of bettering humanity through art. I wanted to know how she balanced all the dualities in her life and her work without splitting them into binaries and if you’re curious as to what she had to say, continue reading!

LN: Here at Demitasse, we are all about the short works of art that step outside of the bounds. If you had to describe your art in three words or less, what would they be?

KH: Introspective, reflective, surprising.

LN: I agree, your work is definitely introspective. For me, the most compelling aspect of your work is the way you combine seemingly different aspects of the world to create an aesthetic blend that successfully represents how the differences actually converge. What inspired you to combine commonly isolated facets such as language and art, and the culture of the East and the West, to create such individualistic visuals?

KH: I think it’s a combination of things. It’s sort of what you’re experiencing as an artist in whatever space of your life. I think the politics and cultural aspects of your life affect the artwork too. I think for me, since I am a combination of East and West, that’s what reflects in my art.

There’s a phrase called “third culture kid,” which is something I am, obviously. I think having more than one culture, for a lot of people growing up including me, it could be confusing. Until I finally became comfortable and secure in my own skin and realized that instead of feeling like I don’t belong in either world, I just decided that I actually belong to both worlds and it’s a matter of perspective.

LN: I am a third culture kid myself, so I understand on some levels. And I bring up this conversion because people tend to define the world through binaries, but you have managed to break down those divisions through art. How have your ideas about art and language developed as you’ve integrated the two together in collections such as “Fusion” and “Spirit of the Written Word” ?

KH: Well those are older collections, so it certainly has developed. Just as you as a person develop, I think year after year, your art does too. I’m always in the search to be reinspired and outdo myself. I am trying to challenge what I did last year and finding new ideas and new ways to express what I’m feeling or what I’m going through. For me, that’s the most challenging part of being an artist: trying to find new direction to express where I am in my life.

LN: I love that you have images of your studio on your website. Could you tell us a bit about your process of creating? Do you usually plan before you paint or do you find yourself responding to random bouts of inspiration?

KH: I definitely plan it. I think you have to start with a plan or a guiding point but then when you’re actually painting, a lot of times it does take a life of it’s own. And that’s the cool part because that’s the part that you really need to give in to and go with the flow and not resist. But you always have to start with some type of direction or plan and then just allow it to take a life of it’s own as you follow along.

LN: In October, when you spoke at the Activism through Art event at SDSU you mentioned that some of your humanitarian work, specifically the creation of the Zeitouna mission, stemmed from overwhelming feelings of inspiration. Why do you think it’s important for everyone to have an outlet where they can express their own artistic inspiration?

KH: I think expressing what’s going on inside you is a very important aspect of emotional health and well-being. It’s really important to express or vent anything that’s inside of you and let it out. Not necessarily because you’re going through trauma, just anything in general. And that can be expressed through art, music, or theatre. I think any of these creative outlets are really healthy for attaining a well-balanced sense of being.

LN: I know we discussed this a bit earlier but being a bright-haired blue-eyed Syrian-American, you are a bit of a fusion yourself. How do you think your personal identity and background have shaped the way you perceive and portray art?

KH: Certainly, because of the way I look, growing up in the Middle East was something that I maybe rebelled a little bit against because I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I wanted to prove that I was Arab enough, because I never felt it. And then when I came to America, I still wanted to prove how Arab I was. It was a very confusing time until I just became comfortable with what is and embraced having access to both cultures and being proud of that. I think it just took some time for me to accept and embrace everything I’ve experienced. I feel blessed to have access to both of these worlds.

LN: Your latest and ongoing collection, “Syrian Twitter Portraits,” combines the intimacy of a portrait and the remoteness of a tweet to unveil the accumulating deaths in Syria. The ubiquity of social media has allowed people to access unfiltered news instantly. Trending hashtags emerge within minutes of an incident, and we are able to witness harsh realities at the touch of a finger. I know that this collection was inspired by your experience in Syria but also the reactions concerning Syria that you’ve seen on Twitter. How did you decide which tweets to use for your portraits? And what inclined you to use Twitter and not another social media site?

KH: There was just a gut instinct. Something would just resonate with me about the tweets that were powerful and worded properly. Also, I would look at who tweeted it, that was important to me. Because if it was a tweet by a well-known activist or journalist, it added to the significance of the tweet. I think Twitter is one of the most powerful social medias out there because I can really appreciate the 140 character limit to express a thought. It really captures a powerful way of using language. For me, to be able to collect tweets that were all comprised of 140 characters and put them all on the canvas, it felt like it was a very powerful thing for people to see up close and personal.

LN: Do you think social media will influence any of your future works?

KH: I’ve never been asked that before. It’s funny, I’ve actually taken a break just from social media lately. I think it can be draining. When I researched the tweets for my collection, it was very emotionally draining. To be honest, I think it’s hard to find a balance with social media. We are so in tuned and it has become such a huge part of all of our lives and it’s so easily accessible. In some ways, you have to take a timeout from it. I don’t know if there is another social media platform that I feel is as strong as Twitter. It’s stronger than the others because you use such a small amount of words to express a thought. I think Youtube is another extremely powerful platform but I don’t know. I can’t add any more social media elements into my life. We have Linkedin, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter, and I’m sure there are some that I’m forgetting but I just don’t know. I think you have to be selective to maintain again, emotional well-being. That’s my key thing, it’s very important to me. Emotional well-being is a very important factor in my life so everything I do really centers around that. And I think social media can sometimes add unnecessary drama into our lives.

LN: Social media can definitely be draining. But I think it’s very beautiful how you incorporated it into your art in such a meaningful way. Your collections are all so wonderful, I find myself just browsing through your work every so often because I am captivated by the softness of colors but the boldness of meanings. Are you currently working on any new projects? If so, could you give us a teaser or a preview of what’s to come?

KH: I wish I had a really cool answer for you, I really do. I have been doing some commission painting, which is really great because you work one-on-one with clients and put together personalized pieces. So I really enjoy that in a separate way. As far as creating a new collection, I still work on things that resonate with my life. Like the latest one I did was another Syrian Twitter portrait about Aleppo, which has been in the news a lot lately, specifically that picture of those boys who tried to stop the airstrikes. And that is what really stood out to me. I was inspired in that moment to do something with regards to Aleppo, because that’s where I’m from and with regards to those boys. It’s just a matter of being open to things that speak to me but I’m not actively searching, it’s just about being open to whatever comes your way. So you never know.

Connect with Kinda on Facebook and Twitter, and stay updated with her projects on her site.

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