Fadwa Al Qasem
I Am what i art
Confessions. Art Journaling. Art. Writing. Poetry. Play. And everything life in between.
I have no time to waste on immortality, as an author, as an artist, as a mother. What a sad state to say that everything I create, I create for the immortality of my thoughts, ideas, my genes. Truth is, I create to emulate a creator.
Because if I do not create, then who am I?
But I do not want to create in my own image - I'm still learning what my image is. And I do not want to control my creations - how dull that would be. I do not care if these creations speak my name, remember me, thank me, kissing my hand is not something I desire from them. They are free, to outlive me, to perish. I do not stand as an idol nor as a role model.
I create selfishly. To fulfill a need in me, a need to push beyond the confines of my mind.
To see how courageous and how skillful I can be. I can't claim to really know myself. And I'm not sure I should spend my life trying to know me. There is no point, as I seem to be contradictory in many things, despite a handful of core values. I am a complex composite of many things over which I have no control, and a few things over which I do.
I am something but I am nothing. In me there is everything, but without me the world loses nothing. I may change the world of a few but the world is hardly affected by the few things I do. This does not detract from my personal experience, it just humbles it. And it is liberating.
Within the tight folds of this liberation, I may actually end up doing something worthwhile.
Artwork: Pages from my art journal.
Fadwa Al Qasem
I Am What I Art
Just a quick note to let you know I've created a pack of 12, limited editions prints on high-quality paper. And they come beautifully wrapped. Perfect gift for Christmas or anyone who loves art and words. Each face has a story on the back. Here's one story:
On Making A Dent
There's this seemingly desperate trend of wanting to make a dent. Of wanting to be remembered.
But here's the thing, seems to me people who are remembered are remembered for making a valuable contribution of some kind.
Their starting point was their passion for something rather than a passion to be remembered.
Plus, once you're gone, no one can confirm yet if you actually know or feel that you are remembered.
Seems to me we're better off doing things out of love, passion, compassion, and enjoying the fruits of what we create with those we love while we are here.
Being remembered is not really your choice.
It's the choice of others who may see, enjoy, or benefit from your work.
Ultimately they decide.
And this, perhaps, is the ultimate democracy.
Email me for details and to order.
When I was about six or seven years old, my mom got me my first pair of bright red roller skates. They were the kind you strapped over your shoes. Metal base that expands to your size, red leather flaps that you fasten like a belt – one over the toe area and the other holding your heel and ankle. I was in heaven! What an amazing feeling to fly fearlessly without cape or wings. And then, of course, it had to happen. I fell hard on the stone asphalt; skinning my knee so bad I could see the white ooze come out. I still have the scar.
It hurt like hell, and my eyes burned with tears. But, without anyone telling me to, I got up and skated back home. I didn’t take off my skates and walk back home. I kept them on, blood and puss and tears dripping, and I skated back home.
I have been falling ever since. Falling as I skated (I got inline skates much later as an adult). Falling off my bike. The balcony. A few trees. Tripping over mistakes I did in love, marriage, parenting, friendships and at work. In short, everything life. Collecting scars on top of scars. Most of the time I was scared, things hurt, and I cried a little too easily.
When I had the cataract operation last week, the nurse put a bright yellow plastic bracelet on my left wrist. It said FALL RISK.
Although I was not dying, my whole life flashed before me.
My whole life, everyone’s whole life, is just that. FALL RISK. The nurse said this was just to let others know I may need their support going to the bathroom, for example. I was thinking I have needed the support of others for a lot more than that. I was thinking without the support of so many people who love, like, and care for me - or those with compassion – I would have fallen a thousand times more, and hurt a thousand times longer.
There’s a FALL RISK in every step, every thought, every breath. We pride ourselves on doing things alone; but do we really do everything alone? It’s true, our lives are journeys we go through ourselves, and no one is ever exactly in your shoes. But it’s not about others being ‘exactly’ in your shoes. It’s about people walking next to you. Sitting with you. Listening to you. Crying and smiling and laughing with you. Caressing your forehead – like my anesthesiologist did as I drifted into sleep (you can see her in the sketch above).
We are not mountains. Even mountains crumble. The worst is we mistake care and love for pity. Our pride so overpowering we are willing to stay bleeding on the floor than accept a hand reaching out to us.
We are unnecessary too hard on ourselves, believing this hardness to be our inner strength.
In end, after my life finished flashing before me, and just before I fell asleep (pun intended), I thought: wow, I’m going to create a line of very cool, unisex, bright bracelets that say FALL RISK.
I Am What I Art
While the paint is wet, if you are using acrylics, make patterns with your fingers, opposite end of your brush, a tooth brush, mascara brush, nail, feather, card, coin, husband, dog paw, anything else you close at hand. :-)
Your art journal is your personal, private wall of freedom. Your place to say whatever you want, to make the mess you feel like making, to lose control, to take control. Don't over think it. Glue something down, you can always cover it if you change your mind. Or fill the pages with a rant or vent or bitch about something, and then cover it all with collage and paint.
You can show it to others or not.
Play! Always play.
Sometime in the mid nineties, when I was living in Toronto, Canada, I walked into a supermarket and found a packet on the shelf that said “Instant Middle Eastern Tabouleh.” Feeling a little homesick and short on time, I picked it up and went home. When I opened it, all I found inside was the dried cracked wheat. I took the packet out of the bin thinking I should read the instructions: “Just add water. For a more authentic taste, add chopped parsley, chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.”
And there you have it, I thought, the ultimate analogy for life! I wish I’d kept the packet.
Why didn’t I read the instructions before I bought it? I knew better! I’ve made tabouleh loads of times before moving to Toronto. The only explanation I had was I had succumbed to the lure of instant gratification. Feeling I was always short on time, and shortcuts were the only solution. And water, after all, was the driving force behind all forms of life.
But, for all the beauty and power of water, it’s not enough. Even if that water were sweat, you’d be getting closer, but it’s still not enough. What you needed to make my life feel like a life (of course, assuming basic needs are met) was time. And spices.
Life doesn't unfold like WhatsApp and email. Just add water is a euphemism for our impatience, unwillingness to put in the time, do the work, and seek out just the right ingredients.
Yesterday I was watching a B-movie about a woman who was miraculously transported from 1946 to 2016 through the power of a comet that only appears every 70 years - I know, but bear with me a little longer. The reason this happened? So she can see the impact of the things she did and said all those years ago.
Cheesy, but it got me thinking. We say we want to help others, but blah blah blah. Because if we are looking for likes, shares, comments, compliments.. then what we are really looking for is instant gratification. For ourselves. And it does feel gratifying. For an instant.
But life? And all things truly meaningful? They need to be soaked in painstakingly selected spices, and marinated in persistence and care. And we need to wait. And we need to not wait as we wait. And we need to go out, do it all again, and marinate, so that everyone who takes a bite - including ourselves - has their life taste buds explode in delight.
I Am What I Art
For a while now, I subscribed to several newsletters about monetizing blogs and writing. I thought I was missing out on something important or that I was doing everything wrong – or at least something wrong.
I watched my inbox suffocate, and me with it. After a while I stopped checking my emails. I would delete before I read. Reading blogs and watching webinars on writing was distracting me from actually writing and blogging and creating art. I wanted to actually be creating stuff. I wanted to be lost in the flow. I was helping those saying they were helping me. I was helping them monetize their blogs and their writing.
It’s always the same formula. Give away free content – hopefully good content –to lure people in and “force” them to signup for your newsletter. This is then considered “permission” to bombard them with your products and courses using lines like: Only two spaces left (for online courses?). Time is running out. Hurry or you’ll be left behind. John was living in the slums, he joined this course and now he’s a millionaire.
All of this reminded me of a marketing workshop I attended in Toronto back in 1994. It was about selling beauty products at house parties. What you were supposed to do is ask your friends to host parties for you. In return, they would get lots of free products themselves. You were supposed to let them know which products they’d get by placing them in their lap, one item at a time. Leave everything in their lap for a while, and then you were supposed to take back the items in one big swoop. And if that wasn’t enough, you were supposed to do follow-up calls: “If you’re not sure, I’ll just pencil you in on Tuesday at 5pm.” “I’m calling you to remind you that you agreed to host the party on Tuesday at 5pm.”
I never liked it. I never did it. I want to do things differently. The advice I will take from everything I now unsubscribed from is the advice that is common sense. Blog more often. Share your word. Let people know how to find you and your work. Add value.
I’m already giving a lot of content for free - tips, inspiration, and time at my monthly art journaling gatherings. In this blog, I’ll tell you what I’m doing, the books I’m writing, the art I’m making, and the journey I’m on. If you don’t subscribe, buy my work, or like my page, that’s perfectly fine, of course.
Here’s my own compass and truth: I will keep on writing, creating art, hosting my art journaling gatherings, and sharing my work anyway. Simply because it’s who I am.
If you’re enjoying what I’m sharing, if you subscribe, like my work, or buy my art, I thank you very much and I am very grateful.
I am not going to lure you in for the “kill”. I am not going to use psychology. You’re too smart. And so am I.
In the end, a freely made decision will mean much more to both of us.
My lens, Dubai.
Hello creative beings,
You love doing many things? You can't decide what to focus on? You are not alone. We've been called scanners (Barbara Sher - she's amazing. Look her up), multipotentialites (I never liked that word but look up Emilie Wapnick), Renaissance person or a polymath.
I hate that pigeonholing. Hate the rules. Hate conformity (unless, for some strange reason, I'm the one choosing it).
Why can't you focus on one thing? Devote your life to this one focus? You don't have a purpose. I'm often told. My answer is "but I am focused. I'm focused on unfocusedness". I have many fishing rods in the ocean (I took this shot in Dubai) and the ocean is brimming with interesting things to do and learn. And most importantly, to play!
Bringing things together. Crossing over from one interest to another. Dipping our hands and hearts into this ocean and that, at the same time.
Fearlessness (despite feeling you are afraid).
That's what you're offering, that's your strength. That's what's going to make you happy, and valuable in your community.
Being focused is good, too. As with everything in life, it's not an either or. This way or the highway (although the highway sounds like great fun!). There's enough room on this planet for us all.
The hard part of unfocusedness is how you feel about yourself. Because of peer pressure, demands of society and family, the need to make money now and the idea that only making money validates you and your work. All of these can affect how you define success in your own mind, and how you go about living your days. So what do you do? Honestly, I don't have a magic answer. My best advice is to stick to it because it's part of your DNA. You can't be anything else, despite the agony you may feel at constantly "having a perpetual identity crisis" - as my friend and amazing personal development coach Kathy Shalhoub once said. And when you're feeling down, just feel down. Accept that this is part of the process. Don't make yourself more miserable. Curl up with a book or put on some music. Take a warm bath and light a few candles. Go to the beach or the mountains or your nearest park. Meditate. Play with your kids. Just don't feel guilty. Don't feel miserable. You'll be okay again tomorrow, I promise. But you won't be okay if you stop being you.
I Am What I Art
P.S. To subscribe to my newsletter, sign-up in the box to the right!
Hello creative beings,
What kind of paper should I use? What kind of journal is best for art journaling? Can I use a 'normal' notebook? My honest answer: It doesn't matter!
I know this answer seems unhelpful, but if you think about it, it's liberating. It frees you from having to buy an expensive notebook, or searching for something special (unless you want to). It also frees you from the 'fear' of 'ruining' a 'lovely' notebook with your art and words. It means you can just go for it.
Play. Try. Experiment. Have fun. Learn.
Choose a journal that you are happy to art journal in, or write in. Choose one that fits your bag if you like to create art on the go. Choose something big if you like vast, open spaces to play in. Choose something tiny if you like the challenge of tight spaces and creating delicate art. Or refuse to choose - like me - and have many different sizes and styles so can have the option to do what you feel like doing at any given moment.
Like being a gypsy, a global citizen. You can go anywhere and wherever you go, all is good. You can create art, draw, paint and write because it's all about you, your mind, and not your tools of where you are.
Why limit your experience? Different paper and different journals have take you down different paths. New journeys to venture into - how wonderful is that?
I Am What I Art is about exactly that. A life journey through art. Discovering and rediscovering yourself, your surroundings, people, life. Finding the smallest ways to give value and quality and joy to the moments of your day.
P.S just in case you are still wondering about journals and paper. Below are a few tips and ideas.
I Am What I Art
I'm lying in my bed. He is already naked. He pours his body over me slowly. It's not just a body, I'm thinking.
As he gets closer, I smell his hair. A different smell on his neck. Something new in his chest, his underarms, his stomach, his groin, his feet.
Why do I nuzzle my nose in all these places and more? To read him. To rediscover. This body, all its smells and all it can be - so base, so divine - contains all the elements of decay since birth. Yet it learns how to be eternal as it gets more wrinkled.
The flesh disintegrates, making the skin like crystal water flowing over essence and soul.
Now I can see all the shiny pebbles below.
All that soft silkiness of him.
Reflections of sun.
Slivers of moon.
Bits of wonder.
Bits of darkness still; I kiss them away.
I Am What I Art
Oil pastel faces (with something to say) in my art journal
And why do we still even ask this question?
Hello creative beings,
Some time ago I started a series of artwork called Chaos of the Body. In this part of the world (Dubai) with a metropolitan audience, some feel these images are too sexy. Others tell me I am courageous to create and post them. And others think they are offensive - or, my favourite Arabic word to hate "Ayeb" which means shameful.
This collection started off as a tribute to my maternal grandmother who died of breast cancer. The meaning behind the work changed and evolved to include all women who passed on, and those who survived and thrived beyond the cancer.
As I created more and more of these women, and they began to populate my studio, I realized they are a tribute to all women. They are a vision; a statement about women's bodies and how they are viewed by others and even more by ourselves.
Every morning I look at my body in the mirror. Some might already find this statement shocking, sensationalist, egotistical, provocative. In truth, it is none of that.
I’m not looking for flaws.
I’m not searching for ten affirmations to repeat to myself ten times a day. (I'm sick of the word affirmations, anyway).
I’m not looking to condone or abuse. I’m look at my body and I can’t think it’s embarrassing, ugly, or even beautiful - by whose standards, anyway?
I look at my body to see all of me. To be grateful. To remember that this body is also my mind and my spirit. The whole connected package. Rather, the one. Not a package, but the single form that is everything.
I look at it and I realize I would be nothing without it. I could do nothing without it. How can I listen to those who say I should be ashamed of it?
This artwork is not about perfection. Or beauty. Or sex. They are about everything it is to be woman. My pieces are about taking charge of your own body. About freeing your mind from all the taboos connected to a body you did not choose but in which you will live for the next few decades. About this tangible form which will give you so much strength, joy, movement, pleasure, and pain. About how you connect with your own body, and how you choose to treat it and think of it.
This body will teach you much if you let it.
It will take you places, if you stop thinking about it as a monument or a temple or a place where taboo terrorists hide. If you stop using it as a tool to manipulate yourself and others, or to damn, hate, belittle yourself and others. Once you simply let go of all negatives and positives about your body. It’s a tool for living a life that will fulfill you, if you stop thinking of it as something separate.
Once you realize it is what it is. This is not your body. This is you.
I Am What I Art
P.S. To see more Chaos of the Body artwork, click here
Materials & Art Tips
It took me a while to go for painting on large canvases.
You know, the usual culprits: Am I wasting material? Can I fill the space?
Well, I have one tip for you; go for it anyway.
There's no way you will ever know what you can do or learn how to do what you want to do,
if you don't do!
You can try going bigger on flip chart paper, canvas paper, large painting pads. By the way,
when you buy pre-stretched canvas, get good quality. It makes a difference to the final results.
The cotton, the priming.
Also make sure there's a gap between the canvas and the frame so that when you draw and paint, the borders of the frame don't end up leaving obvious lines in your work.
Practice Tips Play!
Try out different materials - inks, water colours, pastels, pens, chalk, charcoal, lipstick, eyeliner .. I don't care. Just try. Work them together. Alone. Turn your painting around and look at it - really look.
Make time to create art - like you make time for the gym. This is a workout for your soul, people! Plus, creating art as a Deliberate Practice allows you to:
Thank you 34th Parallel for publishing my artwork.
One of my Faces Collection and the story behind the work.
"I don't know," I said. "Is she black? Is she white? Minority; majority? What is she feeling? What is she thinking? Does it matter to me? Should it? Does she want to hear my story, too?"
There's a lot of beating hearts out there.
You know how when your whole face cries? You know why you're crying but you don't always like to admit it, even to yourself. It's just that life can be so beautiful and it can be so painful.
Sometimes you are blessed and lucky and you cry for others. In the midst of the pain of one atrocity, you can forget there are so many more atrocities happening around the world. And you can forget there is still beauty.
Every day we begin again. But, For some reason we insist on carrying yesterday's luggage. And the luggage of all the days before. Our back hurts. We cry. Yet we decide it's more heroic to keep the weight on our shoulders. We dream about flying as our feet sink deeper into the earth and our wings turn to stone.
I love painting these faces with my fingers because it's like caressing their cheeks. Telling them I understand, even if I haven't been through what they've been through. I touch them. I don't wipe away their tears; I let them fall because they need to fall. Their pain needs to be acknowledged.
I love the asymmetry and irregularity of the lines and shapes. The unpredictability. The unevenness. The texture. The imperfection. The unpredictable way in which the ink falls. The controlled lack of control.
Kind of like sadness.
Painted on flip chart paper.
Fadwa Al Qasem
Email me if you are interested in purchasing my art.
(c) Copyright Fadwa Al Qasem 2015