Zina al-Shukri


Everything a person expresses is reactionary or responsive to the happenings surrounding them. Our exterior life lessons create our interior qualities and vice versa. The people in my work are a representation of this interior and exterior relationship. My figures are often exaggerated and abstracted to heighten their expressive and emotive qualities to subtly emphasize the myriad of feelings gained from personal experiences.

Deeply observing and acquainting myself with people is a practice I have continued since childhood. As an immigrant child, displaced from Iraq and immersed into a new culture at an early age, I was naturally curious about the people around me and often trying to find new ways to relate. This was not the easiest task considering we were an Arab Muslim family trying to fit into an all Black Catholic environment, then subsequently an all White, Mid Western/Southern Baptist environment. Adversity and resistance created a breeding ground for my creative expression. My love of people, regardless of how others may have treated me, allowed me to make friends and this is who I paint.

I combine materials to emphasize the topography of each person. My process takes into consideration the notions of transition, conflicts, and hybridity in relation to culture and religion, individuality and shared experience, psychology and social determination.

Most of my portrait paintings are done live with the work facing the person. This practice in presence is an exploration of authentic, intimate interactions happening in real life over extended periods in real time. The discourse that happens between us is a sacred space of vulnerability that I hold for each person. This allows me to really tap into their interiority. As the painting unfolds, each person begins to ‘see themselves’. This process generates a feed back loop between us where they respond with feelings, emotions and words, and I respond with feelings, emotions and paint.