Kelly Haddad’s first solo show ‘Finding Calm in Chaos’ opens in Beirut, Lebanon, at a newly refurbished space named L’Atelier by Maher Attar. The author interviews Kelly to find out more about her journey from New York to Lebanon, her Motherland.
I met Kelly Haddad last year at an opening for an exhibition at Art District House of Photography in Gemmayze, Beirut. It was refreshing to see her open her first solo show, one year later, at a newly refurbished space and venue L’Atelier by Maher Attar. Kelly is an Arab American artist, born and raised in New York City by Lebanese parents, and, more recently, always between NYC and Beirut. “Both of these cities are very chaotic,” she shares with me candidly. In our interview, we discuss the title of the show ‘Finding Calm in Chaos’, her art pieces, her background as a counselor and how that feeds into her art, and why it was so important for her to make the journey to actually stay in Lebanon on a more long-term basis.
“About seven years ago, I started creating a character; this character is me but she is also you. What I mean by that is, she’s a representation of the internal struggles we go through as human beings, whether its anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. I started to explore this character in New York, because that’s where I’m based and that’s where I’m from. But then I felt like I wanted to bring this character to the Motherland [Lebanon],” Kelly Haddad shares.
The main concept behind the show is the glass being half-full or half-empty. The perspective of different individuals of the multiple crises in Lebanon was part of Kelly’s research and inspiration. “Water, in its purest form is nourishing and in its most destructive form can be drowning,” Kelly states. She observed in her research that the Lebanese people struggle to stay afloat in the midst of crises; they have to, in order not to drown. Thus, everyone must find his/her way to deal with daily struggles that would otherwise overcome us. “YOU define what is your peace amongst all of this,” Kelly shares. Thus, the message of Kelly’s art is well-being, mindfulness and lifting the taboo around mental health struggles.
The art collection exhibited in the show was created in Lebanon. Kelly moved into her late grandparents’ home in Roumieh, Lebanon, taking a bold leap of faith in rooting herself in her country. In the midst of her art-creating process, she worked on her Arabic language skills and tried to ‘blend’ the two parts of her; Lebanese and American. She succeeded, and she says proudly, “The transition of feeling like I’m just visiting Lebanon to feeling like Lebanon is now a second home was an amazing experience for me throughout the process of creating for this show.”
I noticed in Kelly’s work the juxtaposition of bold, black, gestural strokes with a calming blue representing water. I ask her about her choice of style, colors and technique. After trying different techniques, Kelly decided to ‘literally draw [her] paintings’ with these bold, black strokes of acrylic paint, “because it gave me the definition and the sort of line-work I needed to be consistent with and inspired by my illustrations.” As for color-choice, Kelly believes that colors evoke emotions. In fact, in art therapy you can use colors to heal certain areas of your life, she shares with me. The neutral, cream-colored background was inspired by the Limestone used in traditional Lebanese architecture. As for the shade of blue, she wanted a blue that evokes a sense of calm in people as they observe her ‘crazy line-work’. Thus, these artistic choices manifest Kelly’s main message, “The only way to move forward is to find your peace and your calm in the midst of the chaos.” Kelly also uses multiple cultural references, like the olive tree branch, the motherhood reference and the painting that has a mirror piece installed in it. “Did you want the Lebanese audience to see their own reflection in the painting?” I ask Kelly.
“Exactly. I wanted people to see themselves in the Narrative,” Kelly shares. “I want people to feel seen, heard, understood… I know Art can’t fix the world, or our problems, but I do know that it CAN be a catalyst for change; it can help heal.”
I want people to feel seen, heard, understood.. I know Art can’t fix the world, or our problems, but I do know that it can be a catalyst for change.Kelly Haddad, artist
The untitled piece, a community piece, will be donated to an organization consistent with Kelly’s values and message. Kelly’s art is an inspiration and a story of belonging. ‘Finding Calm in Chaos’ is an opportunity for us all to reflect on our personal healing processes.
L’Atelier by Maher Attar is a space within a 1900s Lebanese heritage residential building, refurbished to enhance its traditional architecture along with modern, interior finishings. Maher opened the space in 2023 after four months of restoration work, initially for the purpose of photography shoots. Eventually, the purpose of L’Atelier was to be a multi-functional space; it can be used for photoshoots, exhibitions and other events. Kelly’s solo show launched the space as the first art exhibition opening there.
Mira Hawa, the curator and art advisor of the show, is a creative strategist and marketing communication consultant for bespoke projects across arts, culture and design. Her expertise lies in curation, project and relationship management, concept development, and marketing communication. Kelly appreciates Mira’s support for her project and the way their visions align for the realization of the art show.
The show ends on 10 August, and the closing event for ‘Finding Calm in Chaos’ will take place at L’Atelier by Maher Attar in Gemmayze, Beirut, on 10 August. Make sure to pass by and see the show before it ends and/or attend the closing event.
Follow Kelly Haddad on Instagram here.
Follow Mira Hawa on Instagram here.
Follow L’Atelier by Maher Attar on Instagram here.
Follow the author Maie El-Hage on Instagram here.