Nada Odeh describes herself as a traveler, artist, curator, and dreamer; but in reality, she is so much more. Odeh, who was born and raised in Damascus, studied art at Damascus University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. She currently belongs to the Board of Directors at New York Folklore, the Board of Trustees at Seward House Museum, the Board of Directors of the Westcott Area Cultural Coalition, and was a former curator of the-solo-project and the Museum of the Palestinian People as well as a former curatorial intern at the Near East Foundation. After moving to the US, almost ten years ago she also studied at VPA – Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Recently, Syriawise was able to catch up with Nada and ask her a few questions about her art and her memories of Syria.
Syriawise: You wrote last year that it took you three years to finish six paintings inspired by your memories of Damascus. Why did it take so long?
Nada Odeh: The art collection you mentioned was about things that I recall from my home town Damascus and stories my grandmother told me when I was a child. Bringing those memories into artwork took a lot of emotions and time, trying to remember the stories and the small details in Damascus and bringing back things that I love so much which is why it took me three years to finish it. I usually finish my artwork in a week or a month depending on the size.
Art was, and still is, my way of expressing myself and sending messages to the world. But many times, I do sketches and artwork that is for pure practice and to help me release negative feelings and energyNada Odeh
Syriawise: Do you find that immersing yourself in the arts is cathartic, or more a vehicle for transporting you back to the past that can be painful?
Nada Odeh: Art is something that I started doing when I was three years old, it’s a friend, a companion, and maybe a soul mate. It’s a universal language we speak that makes us strong together. Art was, and still is, my way of expressing myself and sending messages to the world. But many times, I do sketches and artwork that is for pure practice and to help me release negative feelings and energy. Art in general is therapeutic practice and many people use it as a healing tool. I also teach my students in my workshops how to heal through art.
Syriawise: We saw a beautiful photo of you and your sister with your parents when you were young. Are your parents still alive?
Nada Odeh: My parents have both passed away. My dad left this world in 1994 he was 61 years old. He was a vice principal at Al Thaqafi high school. He loved art, classical music, good times, and food. My mother passed away last year; she was 86 years old. She was a public relations manager in the national film organization for over 28 years and also a student of the famous Syrian artist Adham Ismail. She was not only an artist but also a law school graduate.
“My focus in my work, either as an artist, educator, or curator, is to introduce the American community to Syrian and Middle Eastern art and culture and reintroduce it to the Syrian American community who resettled in the US over 20 or 30 years ago”Nada Odeh
Syriawise: Unlike many people who come here seeking refuge from violence in their homelands, you appear to have found a niche in the US where you are surrounded by beautiful creative people like yourself. Are you still connected to people in Syria who are struggling just to survive under the current economic conditions?
Nada Odeh: When I came to the US almost ten years ago, I was volunteering in several organizations to help displaced families resettle smoothly. I worked a lot to create artwork and connect to the art community and the Syrian art community. My art experience started when I was in Syria and the Middle East, where I taught art and worked in art galleries and art institutions. In the US I interned for art fairs, like Art Expo NYC and Spectrum Miami, and worked in art museums and art organizations. I earned a scholarship through a Syrian organization called Jusoor to pursue my master’s in art. I studied Museum Studies. I exhibited my artwork in many cities in the US and curated art shows for different institutions. My focus in my work, either as an artist, educator, or curator, is to introduce the American community to Syrian and Middle Eastern art and culture and reintroduce it to the Syrian American community who resettled in the US over 20 or 30 years ago. So, to answer your question, yes, I am still connected to many people I know in Syria and work on supporting them in different ways.
Syria has been going through tyranny for a very long time and it needs some time to be free, breathe and start rebuilding the countryNada Odeh
Syriawise: Last but not least, is there a message you wish to convey to the world about Syria?
Nada Odeh: Syria has been going through tyranny for a very long time and it needs some time to be free, breathe and start rebuilding the country. Our art, culture, and historical sites are treasures that the world should celebrate because they are proof of our humanity and of the diverse civilizations and diverse religions that have coexisted there.