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ORIENTALISM: NOTES TO AN ONGOING PROJECT
"Orientalism" is an ongoing series of paintings that draw on images of the Middle East found in the Western media, including online news sources or declassified documents collected from government websites. This project is fueled by a sense of my own hybridity as a half Egyptian, half Jewish American. While my work has developed around conceptual rather than autobiographical concerns, it nevertheless has a personal dimension.
My mother, Hoda Abushady, was raised a Muslim in Alexandria, Egypt in the 1930s and 40s, and as a teenager was displaced to New York after WWII. She is the youngest of three children of the Egyptian Romantic poet A.Z. Abushady, and Anna Abushady (née Bamford, a British national) both of whom died before I was born. Abushady was a dynamic public figure who established the literary society known as The Apollo Group and an eponymous experimental literary journal, which were mainstays of the fledgling movement to modernize Arabic poetry and literature. I grew up listening to stories of my mother's childhood in Egypt: King Farouk and his flotilla of red convertibles, bee hives in the back yard (Abushady was a famously innovative bee keeper in both Egypt and England), how my grandmother died in 1946 and was buried hurriedly in a borrowed grave as the family prepared to emigrate to the U.S. on the first boat out of Egypt after WWII.
As an undergraduate I studied Islamic history and classical Arabic at the Islamic Institute of McGill University, and spoken Arabic at the American University in Cairo. One day, an Islamic History professor at McGill invited me into his office to show me a number of books he had bought at a used book sale in Princeton. They were originally from my deceased grandfather's dispersed library. They were mostly literary criticism and poetry, all signed "A.Z. Abushady" with a fountain pen in English or Arabic. My esteemed professor did not offer to sell them back to me.
Soon after college, I returned to Egypt with my mother to visit with family, and to help her sift through memories of her childhood like so many nostalgic exiles before her: her former family house (no longer standing) and her mother's grave (lost in one of the many cemeteries of Alexandria...).
-- New York City, Summer 2008