By Yousef Ahmad

This month, Hayat Washington had the pleasure of speaking with Meriem Elatra. Meriem, born in Houston, Texas and raised in Algiers, Algeria, is a profound artist who works with multiple types of media, such as oil, ink and watercolor. Traditionally, she has focused on figurative portraits; however, recently she has begun working with abstractionism. In the following interview, we asked Meriem about her background and her inspiration for her work.

What inspired you to become an artist?

I am a self-taught artist. I actually grew up in Algiers and studied and worked as an engineer there. After a few years, I decided to quit and go back to painting, something which I had been doing as a child. It was and is my passion.

I’m inspired by many things. I’ll be reading a book at times and then there will be a sentence, even just a word, that will make me think of a series I could make. Other times it could be a film, and there’s an image or scene from the film that plants a seed in my mind and is my starting point.

I also use models as a basis for my work and create a background around them. Much of the time it’s automatic. I don’t really plan out a piece, or make sketches of my work beforehand.

Is there an overarching theme or message in your work?

The subject is usually about emotions and sentiment, specifically how to convey them. Sometimes it’s difficult to express your emotions with words, so for me this is really how I express myself.

Do you have a specific style in your work?

I have evolved throughout the years. I began with copying old masters and moved on by extorting surrealism. From there, I switched to figurative portraits and focused on that quite a lot. I enjoy having parts of a piece remain figurative and developing them. I’ve started moving towards more abstract painting, but I always go back to figurative portraits.

Why are you so drawn to figurative portraits?

I think it’s because I’m very curious about people and I’m always trying to relate and read what’s behind those eyes. I want to know what’s hidden in people’s expressions. It’s almost like telepathy through painting. It’s also a work of introspection through people.

How is it a work of introspection for you?

We cannot completely disconnect ourselves from the interaction with people. A person’s background and upbringing has an influence on how we see things, how we see people, and how we perceive people through our experiences. It’s truly an interaction between people that I’m painting. How I perceive them and what they want to convey.

I noticed that much of your art work revolved around women, the female figure, and feminine aspects. Why is that?

When you take a look at art history, it’s usually the female body depicted. It’s rare to see male models painted. The female body has historically been used in art because it’s more sensual.

I’m not attempting to push feminism through my artwork, I’m not at all political. My focus is interaction between people.

A piece which really stood out to me was “Transparent Ambiguity”; what’s the story behind it?

At the time I painted it, I was very angry and I channeled that anger into the painting. I used a lot of colors in it, so you wouldn’t think it was painted out of anger. It’s meant to display the multiple personalities that people have. We have multiple faces and phases of emotions that we all experience at one point or another.

What do you hope people who view your work take away from it?

I enjoy when I make people wonder and ask questions about what they see. I like to know and have discussions about what they perceive from my work. Sometimes people tell you things that you yourself would never have thought of. It really comes back to everyone’s unique experiences and background which causes this wider range of interpretation of the work.

Hayat Washington would like to once again thank Meriem Elatra for allowing us to interview her about her wonderful work and experiences.

  ‬بقلم‭ ‬يوسف‭ ‬احمد

كان‭ ‬هذا‭ ‬الشهر‭ ‬من‭ ‬دواعي‭ ‬سروري‭ ‬التحدث‭ ‬مع‭ ‬مريم‭ ‬الأترة‭. ‬ولدت‭ ‬مريم‭ ‬في‭ ‬هيوستن،‭ ‬تكساس‭ ‬وترعرعت‭ ‬في‭ ‬الجزائر‭ ‬العاصمة‭. ‬وهي‭ ‬فنانة‭ ‬عميقة‭ ‬وتعمل‭ ‬مع‭ ‬أنواع‭ ‬متعددة‭ ‬من‭ ‬وسائل‭ ‬الرسم،‭ ‬مثل‭ ‬الزيت‭ ‬والحبر‭ ‬والألوان‭ ‬المائية‭. ‬التقليدية،‭ ‬وقد‭ ‬ركزت‭ ‬على‭ ‬اللوحات‭ ‬التصويرية؛‭ ‬إلا‭ ‬أنها‭ ‬بدأت‭ ‬مؤخرا‭ ‬بالعمل‭ ‬مع‭ ‬التجريد‭. ‬في‭ ‬المقابلة‭ ‬التالية‭ ‬سألنا‭ ‬مريم‭ ‬عن‭ ‬خلفيتها‭ ‬وإلهامها‭ ‬لعملها‭.‬

ما‭ ‬الذي‭ ‬ألهمك‭ ‬لتصبحي‭ ‬فنانة؟

أنا‭ ‬تعلمت‭ ‬الفن‭ ‬ذاتيا‭. ‬وأنا‭ ‬في‭ ‬الواقع‭ ‬نشأت‭ ‬في‭ ‬الجزائر‭ ‬ودرست‭ ‬وعملي‭ ‬كمهندسة‭ ‬هناك‭. ‬وبعد‭ ‬بضع‭ ‬سنوات‭ ‬قررت‭ ‬الإستقالة‭ ‬والعودة‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬الرسم،‭ ‬وهو‭ ‬ما‭ ‬كنت‭ ‬قد‭ ‬فعلته‭ ‬كطفله‭. ‬وكان‭ ‬هو‭ ‬شغفي‭.‬

أنا‭ ‬الهم‭ ‬من‭ ‬أشياء‭ ‬كثيرة‭. ‬فأحيانا‭ ‬أكون‭ ‬أقرأ‭ ‬جملة‭ ‬في‭ ‬كتاب‭ ‬وبعض‭ ‬الأحيان‭ ‬حتى‭ ‬مجرد‭ ‬كلمة‭ ‬من‭ ‬شأنها‭ ‬أن‭ ‬تجعلني‭ ‬أفكر‭ ‬في‭ ‬سلسلة‭ ‬يمكن‭ ‬أن‭ ‬ارسمها‭. ‬وفي‭ ‬أحيان‭ ‬أخرى‭ ‬يمكن‭ ‬أن‭ ‬يكون‭ ‬مشهد‭ ‬من‭ ‬فيلم‭ ‬الذي‭ ‬ينبت‭ ‬البذور‭ ‬في‭ ‬ذهني‭ ‬ونقطة‭ ‬البداية‭.‬

أنا‭ ‬أيضا‭ ‬استخدام‭ ‬نماذج‭ ‬كأساس‭ ‬لعملي‭ ‬وخلق‭ ‬خلفية‭ ‬من‭ ‬حولهم‭. ‬عملي‭ ‬في‭ ‬معظم‭ ‬الوقت‭ ‬تلقائي‭ ‬أنا‭ ‬لا‭ ‬أخطط‭ ‬حقا‭ ‬لقطعة‭ ‬أو‭ ‬اقوم‭ ‬بسكتشات‭ ‬لعملي‭ ‬مسبقا‭.‬

هل‭ ‬هناك‭ ‬موضوع‭ ‬أو‭ ‬رسالة‭ ‬شاملة‭ ‬في‭ ‬عملك؟

المواضيع‭ ‬عادة‭ ‬حول‭ ‬العواطف‭ ‬والمشاعر‭ ‬وتحديدا‭ ‬كيفية‭ ‬نقلها‭. ‬أحيانا‭ ‬يصعب‭ ‬التعبير‭ ‬عن‭ ‬مشاعرك‭ ‬بالكلمات‭ ‬لذلك‭ ‬بالنسبة‭ ‬لي‭ ‬هذا‭ ‬هو‭ ‬حقا‭ ‬كيف‭ ‬أعبر‭ ‬عن‭ ‬نفسي‭.‬

هل‭ ‬لديك‭ ‬أسلوب‭ ‬معين‭ ‬في‭ ‬عملك؟

لقد‭ ‬تطورت‭ ‬على‭ ‬مر‭ ‬السنين‭. ‬بدأت‭ ‬مع‭ ‬نسخ‭ ‬الرسومات‭ ‬القديمة‭ ‬وانتقلت‭ ‬عن‭ ‬طريق‭ ‬انتزاع‭ ‬السريالية‭. ‬من‭ ‬هناك،‭ ‬تحولت‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬الرسوم‭ ‬التصويرية‭ ‬وركزت‭ ‬على‭ ‬ذلك‭ ‬بشكل‭ ‬خاص‭. ‬أنا‭ ‬أستمتع‭ ‬بوجود‭ ‬أجزاء‭ ‬من‭ ‬قطعة‭ ‬تبقى‭ ‬التصويرية‭ ‬وتطويرها‭. ‬حتى‭ ‬تبدأ‭ ‬تتجه‭ ‬نحو‭ ‬المزيد‭ ‬من‭ ‬التجريد‭ ‬ولكني‭ ‬دائما‭ ‬أعود‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬الرسوم‭ ‬التصويرية‭.‬

لماذا‭ ‬تتجهي‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬الرسوم‭ ‬التصويرية؟

أعتقد‭ ‬أنه‭ ‬لأنني‭ ‬غريبة‭ ‬جدا‭ ‬عن‭ ‬الناس‭ ‬وأنا‭ ‬دائما‭ ‬أحاول‭ ‬قراءة‭ ‬ما‭ ‬وراء‭ ‬تلك‭ ‬العيون‭. ‬أريد‭ ‬أن‭ ‬أعرف‭ ‬ما‭ ‬هو‭ ‬مخفي‭ ‬في‭ ‬تعبيرات‭ ‬الناس‭. ‬انها‭ ‬تقريبا‭ ‬مثل‭ ‬التخاطر‭ ‬من‭ ‬خلال‭ ‬الرسم‭. ‬انها‭ ‬أيضا‭ ‬التأمل‭ ‬من‭ ‬خلال‭ ‬الناس‭. ‬

كيف‭ ‬هي‭ ‬عملية‭ ‬التأمل‭ ‬بالنسبة‭ ‬لك؟

لا‭ ‬يمكننا‭ ‬أن‭ ‬نفصل‭ ‬أنفسنا‭ ‬تماما‭ ‬عن‭ ‬التفاعل‭ ‬مع‭ ‬الناس‭. ‬وتؤثر‭ ‬خلفية‭ ‬الشخص‭ ‬وتنشئته‭ ‬على‭ ‬الطريقة‭ ‬التي‭ ‬يرى‭ ‬بها‭ ‬الأشياء‭ ‬وكيف‭ ‬يرى‭ ‬الناس‭ ‬وكيف‭ ‬يتصور‭ ‬الناس‭ ‬من‭ ‬خلال‭ ‬تجاربه‭. ‬إنها‭ ‬حقا‭ ‬التفاعل‭ ‬بين‭ ‬الناس‭ ‬هو‭ ‬ما‭ ‬أرسم‭. ‬كيف‭ ‬أدركهم‭ ‬وما‭ ‬يريدون‭ ‬نقله‭.‬

لقد‭ ‬لاحظت‭ ‬أن‭ ‬جزءا‭ ‬كبيرا‭ ‬من‭ ‬عملك‭ ‬الفني‭ ‬يدور‭ ‬حول‭ ‬المرأة‭ ‬والشخصية‭ ‬النسائية‭ ‬والجوانب‭ ‬الأنثوية‭ ‬لماذا‭ ‬هذا؟

عند‭ ‬إلقاء‭ ‬نظرة‭ ‬على‭ ‬تاريخ‭ ‬الفن‭ ‬عادة‭ ‬ما‭ ‬يكون‭ ‬الشكل‭ ‬الأنثوي‭ ‬يصور‭. ‬فمن‭ ‬النادر‭ ‬أن‭ ‬نرى‭ ‬نماذج‭ ‬لذكور‭. ‬وقد‭ ‬استخدم‭ ‬الشكل‭ ‬الأنثوي‭ ‬تاريخيا‭ ‬في‭ ‬الفن‭ ‬لأنه‭ ‬أكثر‭ ‬حسية‭.‬

أنا‭ ‬لا‭ ‬احاول‭ ‬دفع‭ ‬النسوية‭ ‬من‭ ‬خلال‭ ‬عملي‭ ‬الفني‭ ‬وأنا‭ ‬لست‭ ‬على‭ ‬الإطلاق‭ ‬سياسية‭. ‬ولكن‭ ‬تركيزي‭ ‬هو‭ ‬التفاعل‭ ‬بين‭ ‬الناس‭.‬

القطعة‭ ‬التي‭ ‬وقفت‭ ‬عندها‭ ‬هي‭ ‬‮«‬الغموض‭ ‬الشفاف‮»‬‭. ‬ما‭ ‬هي‭ ‬القصة‭ ‬ورائها؟

في‭ ‬الوقت‭ ‬الذي‭ ‬رسمت‭ ‬كنت‭ ‬غاضبا‭ ‬جدا‭ ‬ووجهت‭ ‬ذلك‭ ‬الغضب‭ ‬في‭ ‬اللوحة‭. ‬لقد‭ ‬استخدمت‭ ‬الكثير‭ ‬من‭ ‬الألوان‭ ‬حتى‭ ‬لا‭ ‬تبدوا‭ ‬أنها‭ ‬تم‭ ‬رسمها‭ ‬من‭ ‬الغضب‭. ‬ومن‭ ‬المفترض‭ ‬أن‭ ‬تعرض‭ ‬الشخصيات‭ ‬المتعددة‭ ‬التي‭ ‬يمتلكها‭ ‬الناس‭. ‬لدينا‭ ‬وجوه‭ ‬ومراحل‭ ‬متعددة‭ ‬من‭ ‬العواطف‭ ‬التي‭ ‬نختبرها‭ ‬جميعا‭ ‬في‭ ‬مرحلة‭ ‬أو‭ ‬أخرى‭.‬

ما‭ ‬الذي‭ ‬تأملي‭ ‬أن‭ ‬يرى‭ ‬الناس‭ ‬من‭ ‬خلال‭ ‬أعمالك؟

أنا‭ ‬أستمتع‭ ‬عندما‭ ‬أجعل‭ ‬الناس‭ ‬يتساءلون‭ ‬ويطروحن‭ ‬الأسئلة‭ ‬حول‭ ‬ما‭ ‬يرونه‭. ‬أحب‭ ‬ان‭ ‬اعرف‭ ‬و‭ ‬اجرى‭ ‬مناقشات‭ ‬حول‭ ‬ما‭ ‬يدركونه‭ ‬من‭ ‬عملي‭. ‬في‭ ‬بعض‭ ‬الأحيان‭ ‬يقول‭ ‬الناس‭ ‬لي‭ ‬الأشياء‭ ‬التي‭ ‬كنت‭ ‬نفسي‭ ‬لم‭ ‬أفكر‭ ‬بها‭. ‬إنها‭ ‬حقا‭ ‬تعود‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬تجارب‭ ‬فريدة‭ ‬من‭ ‬نوعها‭ ‬للجميع‭ ‬والخلفية‭ ‬التي‭ ‬تسبب‭ ‬نطاق‭ ‬أوسع‭ ‬من‭ ‬تفسير‭ ‬العمل‭.‬

حياة‭ ‬واشنطن‭ ‬تود‭ ‬أن‭ ‬تشكر‭ ‬مريم‭ ‬الأترة‭ ‬للسماح‭ ‬لنا‭ ‬لمقابلتها‭ ‬والحديث‭ ‬معها‭ ‬عن‭ ‬أعمالها‭ ‬الرائعة‭ ‬والمتنوعة‭.‬