Jeeda Shupassi: An artist who escaped war without a passport

Today I met an artist. Not a typical artist, but an artist without belonging.

Let me tell the story of Jeeda Shupassi. She was born in Syria with a Palestinian father and Syrian mother. She could not get a passport because of her father’s identity as a refugee. Above that, her father left home when she was young. She was raised by a single mother in a patriarchal and repressive society, yet maintains that she was raised on ‘great principles’ like ‘loving your siblings’.

She found a way to express what she couldn’t say and convey. I chatted to her about the inspirations behind her art.

What does art mean to you?

“It’s life! When I am not able to think, feel, and create, I feel powerless like a zombie. I usually get these feelings from everything I see and hear, and as soon as I get that feeling, I have to instantly get it out.”

How did war affect you?

“Still trying to figure it out. It made me experience things that I never thought I would see dead bodies being worried about constantly. I have lost a lot of people, family friends, we had to move several times. I felt unbalanced and unsafe.”

Who influences you?

“My mom and brother, they are my backbone. In addition, Chris Dough is a designer and I love his way of thinking – he influences me to step out of my comfort zone.”

What do you dislike and like about this world?

“Misuse of power, corruption, and giving resources to things that are harmful instead of creating a better environment instead of giving it to artists and creative people. And the thing I like is human behaviour. It’s very interesting because my mom made me analyze expression to become more empathetic, so I always look at people’s hand gestures.”

This picture depicts ‘home’.

Is art an escape for you?

“No, it’s what’s real. I usually about feelings and emotions I am not able to express.”

How your story made you think of who you are as a person?

I’m still in development, but sometimes I think of myself as an AI. I haven’t reached my full potential yet.”

Do you miss Syria?

“I don’t miss the country itself. I miss my family, home, and the weather. The weather is amazing there.”

Why do you draw certain people and certain features?

“They are not women; they are non-binary. They are queer. They have feminine features because it’s powerful. They could be vulnerable in a way that is very powerful. For example, I would find someone crying is very powerful to be able to share this.

Why don’t these people smile?

(Laughing a bit) “My mom also asks me this, she says “draw someone who smiles” It’s related to the fact that I have a poker face most of the time and I can’t always control what my hands do. When I start drawing something, it feels like I’m getting unconscious. My hands do all these things, and when I finish, I take a step back and I realized, it’s not smiling again. BUT I’m looking forward to the day when I will draw a smiley face.”

Here are a few of her paintings that depict emotions:

This piece is called ‘Awake’
‘Drowning’

Now, you’ve read the article and seen the drawings. Here are three questions to get you thinking:

  1. What do you think of these paintings?
  2. What kind of emotions do they provoke?
  3. Did your perception of the drawings changed when you read the story?

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