STAND UP

Interview with Saad Ghosn


by Jeffrey Hillard
Sept 2008

 

A vigorous advocate for peace and justice, Saad Ghosn is a visual artist, publisher, philanthropist, and literary activist, as well as director of pathology and laboratory medicine service at the Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Cincinnati and Chillicothe, Ohio. He is also a professor at the University of Cincinnati. In August-September, 2008, Mr. Ghosn’s visual art exhibit entitled “Scream” was featured at the Clay Street Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio. The exhibit consisted of woodcuts and 3 dimensional multimedia construction art pieces (that incorporated wood, metal, collages, photographs, objects, and writing) – which, collectively, illuminate Mr. Ghosn’s constant mission to make people aware of the urgent need for justice and peace in a world beset by strife and neglect. At the same time, his art integrates aspects of tranquility that he believes surface amid the dark shades and edginess in his work.

See the video of Saad Ghosn talking about his art and the Slide Show of selections of his work.

 

Saad, could you tell us a little about your evolution as an artist and some of the things that have shaped your vision along the way?

I have been interested in the visual and literary arts from a very young age. Growing up in the country of Lebanon, I was a passive art consumer, an avid gallery visitor and avid reader, but without the chance or the financial luxury to be able to develop academic skills in either field. After graduating from medical school I came to Paris, France, then to Boston, Mass., to pursue post graduate medical training. This is where I started my personal art expression.

Possibly urged by the relative isolation and cultural estrangement I was experiencing in these new societies I resorted to drawing and to writing to express myself, my feelings and the spiritual dimension I needed..

My drawings were initially fanciful, design and color oriented, spiritual with reflexive content, but with no direct political message.

After living 10 years in Boston I  moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to join its medical school and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. At the medical school I offered to organize art exhibits at the medical sciences library; that I did for over 15 years. During that time I met and befriended hundreds of local visual artists. During the Cincinnati riots of April 2001 and after Sept 11 of that same year, I was surprised to hear my artist friends express very strong political opinions pertaining to the ongoing issues of the day, yet not to find these issues transpiring into their works. I became then very interested in using my own art and promoting art in general as a vehicle for social and political expression and change; this type of art, I found out quickly, was not encouraged in our society or in the art education provided to future artists.

I decided then to found SOS Art, a yearly (now in its seventh year) art event and exhibit of sociopolitical expressions for peace and justice with the intent to get artists out of their isolation, provide them the opportunity and a venue to express their sociopolitical views, help build a community to share, exchange and strengthen their values and beliefs, etc.

Art became then, for me, associated with activism, but not a mere materialistic activism, rather an activism triggered from within, espousing the beliefs, knowledge and skills of the artist, basically for the sake of the artist’s life, and life in general. This change in valuation of art directed my own art towards a sociopolitical expression, using my artistic expression to denounce what is wrong societally and worldly and pointing to what will make a better world, the world of peace and justice I dream of.


In terms of creating a piece, how do you work? Do you create toward a clear issue, subject, or event? Or do you start without a plan or subject and let the work organically reach a point where it satisfyingly connects to a subject you care about addressing?

In my creative work I am very much idea, message-oriented. Usually something, an event, an idea, a value or lack of, will be preoccupying me for a while; it will have grown and matured inside me, to the point that letting it out and expressing my feelings about it will become imperative. Contemplating it, its message and how visually or literarily to convey it, it will progressively take shape and become lucid and clear in my mind. At this point the image of the final product will have become clear; I will then sketch it down quickly and expand on it technically.

Going through the process of bringing the final product to completion can sometimes be painful and unpleasant to me since my impatience to see it finished, as it is clear in my mind, will take over. This explains why lately I have almost abandoned doing mixed media construction art pieces that require a lengthier and more tedious process than a simple immediate drawing, or even a wood cut for that matter.


How do you come to decide what medium to use? Your choices are fascinating and show a wide range of interest: from woodcuts to painting to photography to collage – even to publishing?

I love expressing myself in different media, and especially discovering and exploring new media. However, as I said before, I have been running away lately from media which are more process oriented, lengthier and more tedious in their realization. I have been favoring immediate-expression media that satisfy my curiosity and my impatience to see the final product clearly conceived in my mind quickly completed. I tend also to enjoy the repetitive mind-freeing and meditative-quality media such as wood carving, drawing, stitching, etc.


Your unique annual anthology of poetry and drawings – the Peace and Justice anthology – has grown to acquire more and more admirers these past several years. How does the anthology fit into your vision, or onto the world canvas of so many escalating conflicts?

This yearly anthology started as an appendage to SOS Art in order to give local poets and visual artists a venue to express their views, ideas, etc. on peace and justice in a printed, published, available format, one that would also reflect the issues of the year of its creation. This yearly publication will therefore be like a milestone of the sociopolitical, peace and justice issues lived during that particular time.

The anthology’s intent was also to bring poets and visual artists together, trigger in both and in the reader/viewer, expression, dialogue, thinking, tolerance, compassion, etc. Also to give the poets a venue and an audience at the yearly SOS Art event when they are invited to read their poetry.

The anthology includes side by side local poets and visual artists, all levels and all venues of life and society, young/old, amateur/professionnel, beginner/well established, etc. They strengthen each other’s voice while providing dynamism and vitality to the publication and to the issues it addresses.

Actually my initial (and still ongoing) wish for both SOS Art and the anthology is to see them replicated locally in many cities in the US and throughout the world; they will become a cement in these local societies for peace and justice, recognizing and addressing at the same time the local issues that each faces. They will also contribute to solidify locally (in each city) a growing community of diverse expression-artists, connected and concerned for the same (but also different) issues facing their society and the world.


You personally are so much about hope. Your work is infused with hope. Are you still optimistic that people will get the message? How should we think now about the thing that concerns you and your art?

I do not think I would do anything if there were no hope. All my activities and creativity are triggered by hope, by my conviction that a better world is possible and that we, as human beings, can each, willingly and unselfishly contribute to it. We need each to be constantly reminded that easy greed is not the answer and that we can resist it if we connect, exchange, build a loving community, use our energy to better the world we live in, become heroes because of our heart and love qualities and not because of our material possessions, power and control, etc.

Art can touch hearts; art is potent; art can be subversive in the way that it subverts bad values and straightens crooked paths. Art for me is spiritual; it is the essence of every individual’s creativity, of every individual’s free giving, of every individual’s power, not the power of material control and possessions, but the power of inherent and convincing values coming from within, the power of love, the power that connects individuals to themselves and to the dream of a beautiful world.

Good values are prone to grow and expand; once planted they flourish in both the one who planted them and the one who receives them. So are art, images, poetry, visual ideas, visions of peace and justice; they grow, and sometimes surreptitiously, inside the artist, the reader, the viewer…

Saad Ghosn

Saad Ghosn