Mirella Salame, mostly known among the Beiruti-artist circles as ‘Ella,’ is a multidisciplinary artist like no other in Lebanon. This is not because she’s a visual artist that works on installations, but also because her art can be heard or smelled, and because of her lifestyle and the way she practices her art and presents it. The process she pursues to reach the artistic end-product is as sensible to mother nature as the end product.
Many artists do upcycle and it is a highly respected trend worldwide, but Ella’s authentic, genuine approach is considerate of every grain and texture you can find in nature. Her relationship with mother earth makes her stand out among other current artists. Her recent series clearly shows her deep soul searching, raw, confused feelings that we all go through especially during this overwhelming pandemic and the heartbreaking Beirut port explosion of August 2020. Her protagonist, maybe her “alter ego,” is not afraid to cry and yet shows tenderness in a harsh world surrounding us. She procures usable substances from discarded natural items and brings them to life with a powerful romanticism.
She upholds an unapologetic feminine energy in her art, that “energy comes from the Earth,” she says. Her findings in nature easily turn into treasures. She is also the only artist I know of in Lebanon that only uses reclaimed earth pigments, wood, paper, seeds, and plants. She tells us her story. And is not reluctant to say that she is “strongly influenced by the ecofeminist worldwide movement.”
The ecofeminist movement is vast and diverse, but Ella Salame mainly takes the parallels between the oppression used against earth and faces them with the oppression taken against women. "We are seeing this as a fact. As the system is collapsing,” she reflects. She criticizes the unhealthy accumulation of wealth without any considerations. She considers her art as a vessel to ideas that promote the protection of the environment. In her opinion, “all these bad behaviors and attitudes against nature lead to the situation we are living in right now. All of this is because we are not respecting mother Earth.” Especially during the pandemic lockdowns, she recalls how “it made people think more about the eco-problem, how to be self-sufficient, and how goods are shipped.”
Mirella Salame embraces mother earth like no other using nature as her art store. Any discarded wood or branches become the ingredients that help her achieve the end result.
Whatever pigments she can find in nature she uses to reach the final result without plan but through the artist’s intuition. She tells me: “the process is an integral part of my work. Most tools I use are reclaimed. I cannot remember the last time I bought something from an actual art store or any canvas. I find discarded wood pieces, herbs ... and I use pigments from the earth.”
“The material used in the painting is as important to me as the painting itself. For me, art should reflect the time we are living in, politically, socially or ethically. What is my place in this world today? The Earth needs our consciousness.” The profit and only profit of a capitalist system is disturbing to an artist like her. She believes we all should shed a light on this problem of pure greed, “the Earth won’t hold us longer if we ignore it. [And refuse to protect and restore it]. She has sent us warnings...I am not here to find a solution but art’s responsibility is to ask the right questions.”
She creates a sensitive, emotional composition where she depicts vulnerable feelings and transposes them to paper or wood.
To heal from the violence of the city and the filth of thugs and warlords who are still oppressing the living. She retreats to nature to retrieve its positive energy and, as she says, “people around us need us to be okay.”
She is in a way the founder of an ecofeminist art movement in Lebanon. She retreats to nature and upcycles its material to make pigments. Ella has a distinguished, genuine style. While she considers herself a self-taught artist, she actually studied cinema and she is by far one of the interesting feminist artists worth meeting and applauding.
She is a master at depicting the pain we are feeling in these unusual times: frail, fragile, but yet so strong in conveying tenderness, love and undistorted, intuitive art. It is no wonder that her art studio in Zouk is 10 minutes away from a forest.
11 years ago after finishing cinema school she found herself painting on discarded wood pieces she found in nature. When the studio became full of art, that’s when she organized her first exhibition .
What about the survival mode after all that had happened?
“Traumas are also my teachers,” she says. After the August 4 explosion in the Port of Beirut nothing stayed normal. The question became: how can we turn a blind eye to survive this horrific event. I thought war came back again. Anxiety attacks hit, shortness of breath was the norm, obsessive checking of the news, and flashbacks from the war. Then I decided that I will stop watching the news ...how can such evil occur?! For 3 weeks I couldn't do anything. I took the whole time to heal. I didn't want to know anything unless it was good news. The people behind the explosion, they are too evil. On the other hand, We need to be okay and well for people we care about. Negative feelings can’t be good to my family and friends and to my art …"
Only after the blast, she thought seriously about leaving Lebanon. “I think now we need to be away. Where there is kindness and art. “Enough suffering. We went through a lot (as Lebanese). I am sick of it. We are not treated as human beings.”
About the woman the main protagonist she draws that keeps returning in her paintings. “She is a reflection of me, my alter ego. It just flows out of me, I see it as my mirror…”
Salame’s art is not out of reach. Prices depend on the material she uses. She agrees that “It is not easy for an artist to survive in Lebanon, financially, especially with the current crisis.” On the other hand, Instagram helps promote an artist and get broader international connections. “You get much more recognition from abroad than locally,” she laments. Her art was exhibited in Paris and Copenhagen. Recently during the pandemic, with fellow artist Semaan Khawam, they started a correspondence project between a suburban artist and a city artist. With both interested in upcycling material, they wrote visual letters, opened a conversation “as if birds are carrying these letters from his studio to mine.” Unfortunately, after the blast, this project, titled a conversation through letters and art during quarantine and collapse was put on hold until further notice. @feed.the.birds.seed.the.earth For more info follow about Ella Salame you can find her on instagram @fertilepalms