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Local painter Mechtaly expresses activism through art

Published: January 24, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.


Chama Mechtaly, a local artist, is gifted in her ability to convey the narratives of culturally-marginalized groups and communities in North Africa through her art. She has been painting and drawing for as long as she can remember, and fondly recollects her father always encouraging her to draw. When she turned 15, she stumbled upon oil paints and immediately loved them. After spending a few years experimenting with different media and subjects, she finally decided to use oil paints as the main media to communicate her political ideas. She hopes to use the concept of time and memory to bring forward issues of social justice.

Out of all of her paintings, Mechtaly finds “Jewish woman from Tinghir” to be her favorite.
“My favorite piece is definitely the first portrait I made of a Moroccan Jewish woman. I’m really attached to it because of the specific look that the woman has in the painting: It’s a look of persistence, strength and determination. That look somehow reminds me of my mother,” she said.

Mechtaly is inspired by her mother as well as the stories of under-represented communities in North Africa. “I’m inspired by the complex elements of the collective North African identity and hope that my work creates bridges between the different religious and ethnic communities throughout North Africa and the Middle East, challenge the binary relationships we are made to accept, but also dignify and rehumanize the indigenous groups of Maghreb,” she said. Mechtaly feels that artists carry a huge burden because they can change the world without taking political power.

She believes this is the reason why artists, such as herself, tend to neglect their health and sometimes friends and family. She also jokes that the worst part of being an artist is having to clean up. Giving up or taking a break, however, is not an option for her, as she said, “I don’t choose to paint, I need to paint.”

“Each piece documents my search for my own identity and struggle with questions of colonialism, exploitation, religion, pan-Arabism and ethnic and gender marginalization. It is part of the movement of decolonization that I deem necessary for the progress of Morocco specifically and other places where indigenous communities are still marginalized. Giving up on art means giving up on my country, culture, people,” she said.

Mechtaly has been featured in many shows, however, her first “solo show” will be held in the American Islamic Congress’ art gallery on Newbury Street in Boston. Her exhibit opens in early April.