“I identify as a Palestinian and also as a Canadian… I’m an artist…I like composition, and I like colour, and I like texture. I work mainly painting, drawing 2D, I’m a graphic designer ..But ultimately my dream is to get back into conceptual contemporary art and to basically represent my faith through art.
…World events, September 11th, people starting to think… “What is this Islam and why do you identify yourself with such a horrible religion?” and all these bad negative perspectives of religion. And I realized wow, my reaction is that I want to understand why do these people think so negatively? Why do I think I’m Muslim when I don’t practice? Why don’t I pray?
My greatest wish is to be a very powerful tool in making people understand the true version of Islam. Not the messed up wrongly misused misrepresented version. And just for Islam in general to be understood properly. By not just Americans or Jews or whatever – by Muslims. Because Muslims I feel aren’t even doing their part. So my greatest wish is obviously to start with myself and hopefully bring everyone around me to help out in that purpose.”
Laila Masri lives between multiple worlds. She identifies as Palestinian, Canadian, and Emirati. Her mixed identity combined with her talent has produced a gifted artist who is able to express the “search for belonging while existing in contradictory social and cultural settings.”
Laila’s spiritual journey truly began when she travelled from Dubai to Canada for her university years. 9/11 happened and she was confronted by the question of why she identified with this Muslim religion that so many were calling evil. Her search took her to many interfaith activities with Campus Crusade for Christ, to the Jewish student group Hillel, and to campus Muslim groups. She decided to begin wearing hijab. When she returned after university to Dubai her many friends were surprised to see their very progressive friend wearing hijab and having become an observant Muslim.
Laila has created many provocative works surrounding this transition back to the Muslim and Arab world including a very moving set of videos of her putting on and taking off the hijab. I was moved by Laila’s struggle to understand why she felt more respected back in Canada as an observant Muslim than by the much more materialistic society in Dubai. I have often contemplated whether my sisters and I would have grown up with such a strong Jewish identity had our family not moved to Atlanta, Georgia in the late sixties. As a Southern Jew, I felt much more discrimination than I would have felt growing up in our native Cleveland, Ohio. And, yet, being in the South put me in touch with Jewish kids who were also eager to express their identity and make meaning of it. In the end, I am grateful for growing up a minority and all the lessons of empathy and identity it taught me. I see in Laila Masri’s life and art the same lessons. A woman who has multiple identities, a deeply meaningful spiritual journey, and a gift for creating visual art that helps me make sense of being part of a complex world.
Check out Laila’s work on her website here.