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Leila Khoury

Leila Khoury
Imposing and sumptuous clay figures of two nude women emerge from piles of nonchalantly tossed party clothes littered at their feet; as though they had removed the shoes and clothing themselves. Their poses and expressions render them calm, unruffled by the surrounding glossy and equally large photo prints of a lavish, brightly colored mansion interior. Kamins Island is the work of Leila Khoury, up and coming visual artist, sculptor and owner-curator of ZAINA Gallery housed in 78th Street Studios.

Leila has recently found herself re-establishing her long-standing connection with Cleveland after completing her BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore this past May. “It has been overwhelmingly beneficial to have this place where I have constant incentive to produce work.”

While creating her own work, she is diligent in curating a fresh show every two months, featuring herself as well as other artists in the space. The thought of collaborating with and obtaining feedback from other working artists excites and drives her, stating “some of the most meaningful conversations and critique of the work have been through private studio visits.”

While her three-dimensional depictions of architectural structures endeavor more literally to recreate her emotional connection to place and her Syrian heritage, her figurative renderings have begun to establish a landscape she associates with memory and personal narrative. Kamins Island speaks to this idea and is an exploration in what she calls “a departure from grief; a radically positive narrative.”

1. Describe the work you do briefly
As of recently, most of my work has been made in response to the Syrian Civil War -- the ongoing conflict in the country of my family's origin. I explored this topic through the creation of large-scale steel and concrete sculptures that reflected my grief for Syria's destroyed cultural heritage. My upcoming work still deals with the partition of self and homeland, but is less about grief and more about nostalgia. I am currently working on a body of sculpture which reflects on my adolescent conceptions of Syria from my last trip there at age 15. The work is loaded with hormonal awkwardness, identity crises, and convoluted memories from a once-familiar place. Al-Jiran (The Neighbors) will have its opening reception at ZAINA Gallery on May 20th.

2. How did you get introduced to your craft?
Just a few years ago, I was taught to use the welders and metalworking equipment at my college. I became enamored by the nature of metal, and the ease at which welding enabled me to work large-scale. I developed a strong kinship with the metal shop community and experimented with all the opportunities the studio had to offer, which included mold making, bronze casting, and ample space to get down and dirty with concrete.

3. Do you have any long-standing influences?
I am most influenced by the art and literature that is produced by exiled communities in the Middle East. The poetry of Mahmoud Darwish has had the most significant impact on my work.

4. Describe your idea of artistic success:
I am still very much learning what that is.

5. What is your process for generating new ideas?
Reading poetry and writing in a journal is the basis for most of my ideas. I leave plenty of room for the ideas to develop during the process, but I have to begin with something clear enough to articulate to myself. Then I sketch -- I get into the studio and impulsively throw together small sculptures using whatever scrap materials I have lying around. It warms me up and gives me a sense of freedom and comfort before I get invested in a larger project.

6. How do you feel your work affects your audience? How do you want your work to affect your audience?
It is my hope that my work brings visibility to a common immigrant experience, that which is complex and defined by mixed, often conflicting cultural identities. I am still learning how to communicate this in a language that is universal.