The Visual Art of Saad Ghosn

by Jeffrey Hillard
Sept 2008


Artist Saad Ghosn is full of hope. He is an optimist, yet he’s also a realist. As much as he sees goodness in people, however edgy and fragile, he sees and feels the frustration and, in many valid cases, the anger rising in people who know they’re being manipulated and deceived by especially people whose corrosive power seems to always prevail.

Ghosn will never be an artist given to silence. It’s interesting, too, that he is director of pathology and laboratory medicine service at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and a professor at the University of Cincinnati. Human life is too important to Ghosn. Silence is not an option.

His life and work are dedicated to thrusting the issues of peace and justice in front of as many people as possible. His gifts as a visual artist, activist, writer, and publisher simply embolden the way Ghosn challenges us to pay attention. As a writer and publisher, he is edits the evocative annual Peace and Justice Anthology, an extraordinary book in which visual artists are paired with poets, resulting in drawings that respond to poems.

Just recently, Ghosn showed a series of visual art pieces in an exhibition titled “Scream” at the Clay Street Gallery in Cincinnati. Political and vibrant, the art images had a startling, often shocking emotional effect. You paid attention. The images were entrancing. You could not avoid appreciating Ghosn’s deeply-honed skills.

Most of the pieces reflected Ghosn’s concerns with the multitude of injustices that he sees escalating throughout the world. America is not, for instance, the only country that has a burgeoning prison population. Ghosn’s woodcuts, lithograph pieces, and mixed media constructions tend to provide a contrast of highly-charge and mellow images.

While some pieces are harsher in tone that others, there is nothing consistently understated in his art. The works clearly engage you, and you realize that Ghosn is not patient with injustices like war, starvation, declining democracy, and corruption of power in the guise of religion. You understand that Ghosn is crying out for the freedoms that are being taken away from nearly everyone globally.

The exhibition revealed an artist obsessed with jolting one into seeing that we’re are at a cultural crossroads. He’s even suggesting that his own freedom of expression could be at risk sooner rather than later.

The raw force of the images in his mixed media piece, “We Will Make Oil Out of Them,” hinged on Ghosn’s placing broken figurine bodies in small piles in the canvas’ center. Bordering the piece were small stars placed on small red, white, and blue blocks.

“In the Name of Jesus” is a 3-D mixed media in which dangling small heads are constructed and centered inside a border of skulls. It suggests that much bloodshed has occurred in the name of peace that is hardly present; that peace and freedom are deceptive reasons why a war must ensue. Values are trampled, rights are scourged – all totally in contrast to the notion of a loving God.

His 3D mixed media piece, “The Country We Love, the Country We Live,” consists of the images of faces filling the core, while photographic images of food (consumption) border the faces. The delicate, black-painted skeletal figures fill the bottom of the piece. Could this bottom be the pit of humanity that cultures are heading for? Either that, or the bottom – the pit – is the shame many of us feel watching politicians, military powers-that-be, or intolerable people of any kind bleed the planet of justice and joy.

In some of the pieces, there’s almost a playful quality in the arrangement of stark objects. “Scream” conjured dark thoughts about dark societal problems we’re witnessing; but pieces like “Words of New Meaning,” “Kevin for President,” “Jane Doe Caught in the Web” (a woodcut print), and “John Doe” are fascinating creations underscored by a degree of dark humor.

In Ghosn’s work, subtleties cause you to pay close attention to the themes. In “In the Land of the Free,” thorny tree branches imprison birds that could either be trapped or are in the process of flying away. A background of wood-hatchings suggest grass or sky (freedom).

These kinds of wild contrasts and dual-meanings exemplify the artist conflicted about where this world is heading. But, behind it all is a vision of hope, peace, and justice. Shards of light in the form of colorful images in much of Saad Ghosn’s work may not be the first thing you see – but you will see it. Just look. Look again.


Ghosn art

Artwork by Saad Ghosn - see complete slide show.