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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Zeana Atarbashi: Women and History Inspire an Engineer-Turned-Artist

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Bold colors are the most important pillar in her works, says Atarbashi, who sometimes uses basic primary colors directly from the paint tubes without any mixing.

Owls have a special place in Atarbashi’s imagination.

While feared as omens of death by many in the Middle East, owls mean wisdom and good luck in the West. They are also connected with Lilith, the rebellious first wife of Adam in Jewish folklore, which has roots in ancient Babylonian demons. Thus, owls became a symbol of women’s rebellion against patriarchy.

“An owl is there in all my galleries, as a symbol of wisdom,” said Atarbashi. “Even in Walt Disney an owl is always a wise teacher. For me, it is connected to the goddess Ishtar; they are both a symbol of wisdom, love, and beauty. It makes my day to see one.”

From Souvenirs to Business 

As a gesture to thank visitors to her first exhibition, Atarbashi painted some of her most popular images on silk scarves and gave them out as souvenirs.

Her son Zaid, a graduate of Columbia University and owner of the Stavros boutique in Dubai’s Gigi Concept Store, helped her carry out the idea.

“My son supports me in planning my exhibitions and choosing themes,” she said. “He also found his passion in fashion design.”

As visitors welcomed that idea, Atarbashi turned it into a business and began creating paintings on silk scarves and pillows for sale in the Stavros store.

“It was a way to help those who cannot buy a painting they loved a lot, to buy the scarf,” she said. “Some framed the scarves as paintings.”

Covid-19’s Blow to Artists

Atarbashi’s career flourished with her participation in three collective art exhibitions: Beirut’s Arab Art Fair (2019), the Helsinki InternationalFestival (2019), and the exhibition “A Changing Landscape: The Female” at Van Der Plas Gallery in Manhattan (2020).

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However, the coronavirus pandemic forced her to cancel two solo exhibitions that were planned in Thessaloniki and at Columbia University’s library.

“The pandemic affected not only exhibitions, whole countries and museums were locked,” she said. “But we will recover.”

The lockdowns painfully hit artists who depend on sales of their work. But Atarbashi managed to find a way out.

“Online sales take over,” she said. “The budget saved for traveling was directed to investing in purchasing artworks in the U.A.E.”

Atarbashi is optimistic that Dubai’s rising art scene will recover.

“Art Dubai will be open late this month,” she said. “Both citizens and residents miss Dubai’s art events. I am excited to participate within the Canadian Pavilion at the Expo 2021, expected in Dubai in October, besides another solo exhibition in Miami.”

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