Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Exhibit eyes peace in Mideast – The Columbian

Artist Kanaan Kanaan wishes he could go back in time, he said, to a time when the Middle East was not beset by “lunatics running around with guns,” to a time when even occupation and low-level background conflict felt, at least to a child, something like peace.

“I completely disown this period in history,” said Kanaan, who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan.

That doesn’t sound like a picnic, but Kanaan said he looks back on it fondly when compared to the chaos and terror sweeping through parts of the Middle East today.

“It’s completely insane, and for the past couple of years I’ve really been looking back to a time when people could enjoy their lives, enjoy their children — a time when they really had peace of mind,” Kanaan said. “They were not perfect times, but they were peaceful.”

Peaceful enough for young Kanaan to spend chunks of his youth dreaming and doodling. He went on to study at the College of Fine Arts at Baghdad University before immigrating to the U.S. in 1994. He was an adjunct professor in Portland State University’s art department for eight years; he also advised foreign students and just this month launched his own American Culture and Language Institute, a business aimed at helping foreign students acclimate to U.S. society.

Here’s another way he’s trying to help: by curating an art show aimed at reviving the forgotten goodness and beauty — the humanity, he said — of the Middle East.


Peace in the Middle East is the theme of the October art exhibit at Vancouver’s North Bank gallery, It features works by several Iraqi and Iranian artists that Kanaan enlisted. He said he’s sorry he couldn’t come up with a Syrian artist, which would have been especially relevant right now; he’s pretty sure the Jewish photographer he invited will come through.

“I told him we all long for peace, no matter who you are and where you’re from,” Kanaan said. “We can all come together to show a different image of the Middle East.”

For himself, Kanaan said he’ll be showing works that harken back to that earlier, innocent time in his own life. They’re all brand new works, he said, but they’ll recall a time when everything seemed simpler — and childlike doodling was a legitimate way of expressing the peace he felt.

“Right now I feel the Middle East is living through the Middle Ages,” he said. “What god ever asked you to do this? Religion came to enhance humanity, not to destroy it.”

North Bank’s October art exhibit for peace in the Middle East, called “Nostalgia,” is available for viewing all month during gallery hours, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the First Friday Art Walk, from 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 2. North Bank is at 1005 Main St.