Nourie Flayhan—who created a series of artworks for Gucci Beauty featuring imaginary characters pictured at home—explains her inspiration of wanting to change the narrative of the stories shared about being Arab and a woman of colour and artistic upbringing in an interview.
Tell us about your art, what and who inspires your illustrations?
The women of colour, the diaspora around me that I grew up and the lack of representation in the media, books, magazines always inspired me. I never saw myself in them, and could never connect. Being an expat and growing up in a country that was not my home country, I always felt at home in the community of diaspora kids who felt displaced and/or had to leave their home countries for a better future. My parents left Lebanon because of the wars that tore through it and they wanted to find a place that would provide us with a sense of stability and a path that could lead us to opportunities that unfortunately our country at the time couldn't provide us with. I was always inspired by the stories that weaved around me and I always promised my younger self that one day I would bring representation to the forefront via my illustrations – images that I wish I had seen growing up along with other arab girls/ diaspora kids. I am using my voice to share the stories that need to be shared about our communities and create conversation around topics that may seem taboo in our cultures or ones that might be sensitive to talk about amongst our societies or patriarchal systems that need to end.
How did your upbringing shape your art?
I grew up never really feeling like I belonged to one specific place, I didn't know where home was, but I felt it amongst the diaspora communities and then later on reconnected with Lebanon, where I'm originally from. Naturally, I wanted to explore and share the idea of home with everyone. It was a process, like plucking out the petals from a Damascus rose to come to this delicate centre. My immediate family all supported art and it was almost my first language as my mum was a creative and brought us up in a very artistic and experimentative home. Surprisingly going to art school in London at UAL was where I was encouraged to revisit my roots and rediscover my identity after feeling like it was stripped from me for wanting to fit in. I wanted to change the narrative of the stories that were being shared about being arabic and a woman of colour, I wanted to take control of that and start writing our stories as they should be told. It has been quite the journey and is ever-changing and always leads me down different paths of discovery. My extended family didn't really understand the art world and weren't very supportive to me choosing to study visual design in London far away from home. Some still don't understand what I do but the support of my parents and brothers and the promise I made to my younger self keep me going.
How did the events of 2020 influence your work?
This year has truly been filled with events that I think nobody will forget. My home country, Lebanon, has been the center of a revolution that gave me the chance to reconnect with it on a deeper level. I created a lot of art to bring awareness to the situation and to spread the stories of the people who were on the ground trying to reclaim their country from corruption. That was followed by a series of events that unraveled in the upcoming days and months that really moved me to use my voice and social media to share the stories using my illustrations, focusing on women’s rights in our region, climate change, mental health, and of course the covid-19 pandemic. It's always important to start conversations about the shift we are feeling and experiencing but I always try to have light in my art as we are facing dark days and sometimes I dive down my poetic side to share warmth and hope with others.