Alia El-Bermani (American, b.1976) was born and raised in Boston, MA. She is a figurative painter and sculptor whose work often explores ideas about intersectional feminism. Her work has featured in numerous solo exhibitions, as well as museum exhibitions across the United States. In 2015 her painting Paper Wishes was acquired by the Museu Europeu d'Art Modern (MEAM), in Barcelona, Spain for their permanent collection. She has been honored as a guest lecturer at several universities including East Carolina University, Meredith College, Laguna College of Art and Design and Texas A&M University as well as for the 2016 Symposium for Women in the Arts. Several articles and interviews have been featured in periodicals such as American Art Collector, Art Week, The Independent, the Savvy Painter Podcast and American Arts Quarterly. She currently lives and works in Raleigh, NC.

Painting by Alia El-Bermani

As a woman of color, of Arab descent, my work has become rooted in the intersectional feminism that I have to embody for survival in this society. It is ideas of our connection, commonalities and collective work together that most inspire my work.

Instagram: @aliapainter

When was the first time you felt like you were an artist?

I think I honestly have always felt like an artist. As a child I was content to quietly observe people and nature. It’s that direct observation that most inspires my work. In college we had the honor of having the Bugs Bunny creator Chuck Jones come to give a lecture shortly before his passing. One of the things he said that will always stick with me, is that the word “artist” is a gift word. That it’s a word others may bestow on you, not that you can claim on your own. With that definition in mind, I suppose I felt most seen as an artist during my very first solo exhibition of my work at a gallery in Pasadena, CA. With this body of work, I asked talented musician, artist, and writer friends to pose. We focused on presenting their private moments both mundane and found during times of creation.  

What would you say is the underlying thread that connects your work?

As an Arab woman living in the South, I would say Intersectional Feminism permeates all my work. Keenly aware of how it feels to be othered, I’ve spent a lifetime painting people and the stories that instead connect us, that share our universal humanity. I am deeply moved to paint the people who are a part of my community as well as the nature that surrounds us. Through spending the extended time it takes to paint from life, I build relationships and expand narratives with my subjects. Without these slow, meaningful connections, my work would pale in comparison -- less layered and nuanced. I’m so grateful that painting offers me a way to see and experience the world in this slower, richer way.    

What is the most satisfying part of your practice?

Although the start of a project is a quite exciting time with all the potential an idea can hold vibrating with possibility, the most satisfying part is in the middle where decisions have been made, where the relationship with the models and the work are becoming enriched by the time spent together. This is the time where the first marks may still be present, but you can also see how the final image can be pulled together. There is still work ahead to relish, still time to be with the work and listen to what it may need, before it gets released to the world.  

Painting by Alia El-Bermani

Tell us about a turning point in your artistic journey and/or career.

I am quite fortunate to have enjoyed a long career as an artist. Being an artist for over 20 years now, life is constantly flexible and made of many turning points. Perhaps, the easiest turning point to speak of then is the one I am currently experiencing. Several years ago, at a point in my career when I was tired of my own painting, I picked up a piece of paper to fold into an origami flower. I absolutely fell head over heels in love with the geometry of this simple form. This turn to a new media recharged my interest and since then I’ve incorporated many of my paper creations into paintings. Currently, I am working to complete a 65’ long fully articulated cut, folded and glued paper snake skeleton. This paper skeleton will be both a sculptural installation as well as the subject for the largest painting I have ever created at over 14’ in length. This painting will feature a dozen female-identifying models and will of course hold an intersectional feminist message.  

If you could show your work anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

This question is so hard for me to narrow down. Of course, I would love to have my work shown in some of the most prestigious museums of the world such as within the unique spaces of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. But on a more personal level, I would love to have a body of work of the people and plants of the endangered marshlands of southern Iraq shown in a museum in Baghdad.

Painting by Alia El-Bermani
Alia El-Bermani