Welcome to Deep in the Heart of Dallas! Our latest series, focused on sharing the stories of the Dallas community, follows local creatives through the city to learn about favorite spots and how the city inspires their work. Today, we're featuring Marian Mekhail, a Dallas-based contemporary artist. For her upcoming exhibition "MAKTUB: It Is Written," Mekhail explores her Egyptian roots to showcase her talents and the rich history of her heritage - with a twist. The exhibit will be on November 13th from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on November 14th by appointment only at The Whiskey Spot. Let's take a deep dive into Mekhail's story!
Tell us about your upbringing and how your creative side developed...
I found my artistic side at 13. My dad studied architecture. I used to sit at his table where he would work, and I would draw basketball players because I was a tomboy. I was brought up in a very strict and traditional Egyptian home. Even though Egyptians were known as some of the very first artists, art was not seen as a viable career option with my family. When it came time to graduate and go to college, I wanted to study art, but I had a scholarship and my parents said 'you're not going to waste a scholarship on art.' So, I chose exercise science since it tied into my love of sports. I worked in physical therapy offices, but it just wasn't connecting for me. I transitioned to working in retail, interior design for a couple years - which I really enjoyed - and then medical staffing. Throughout this time, I've always maintained a love of art. In 2013, I did my first group show. And in 2015, I decided I was going to invest in making art my career and build it as a business. So, for four years - while simultaneously working my 9 to 5 - I was creating art, doing local shows and building a clientele.
When did you decide to take up art full time?
My anniversary of being an art-trepreneur is Valentine's Day 2019. Of course, the first month or so you're like 'what am I doing?' But then this innate drive kicks in. You no longer have co-workers. You no longer have a routine keeping your body physically engaged. You have to consciously be disciplined, and it took me six months or so to find that discipline. I also had to be creative in how I created opportunities financially for myself. It's an operation. Everyone sees artists as 'starving artists,' but in order to be a thriving artist, you have to run it as a business.
What Dallas galleries do you like to frequent?
There's a small boutique gallery in the Bishop Arts District that I like called Ginger Fox Gallery. The Green Family Art Foundation is always doing cool pop-up exhibitions, and they currently have one going on in the Design District called "Black Bodies, White Spaces: Invisibility & Hypervisibility." Of course, I always have to go see what's new at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center.
Tell me about your upcoming exhibit "MAKTUB: It Is Written" and the inspiration behind it?
The Arabic word maktub means it was written. In 2020, I think we all went into deep introspection, and I realized my work wasn't reflecting me, my experiences, my upbringing and heritage. I felt it was time to lean into that and the history flowing through my veins. At the beginning of this year, I began reading a book called The Alchemist, and the premise of the book is that the journey is the treasure. In the book, the word Maktub is written many times. I began this collection in March 2021, and I wanted to tie in specific passages and themes from the book and use figures from Egyptian mythology and history. I also wanted to create a modern feminist gaze by advertising the gender roles in some of the imagery to where the woman is the lead protagonist. The collection itself is large canvas, mixed media pieces. I'll also have some small, framed pieces and hand-painted papyrus and things like that, but it's very much a modern gaze into ancient Egypt.
How will your second exhibition differ from your first?
The first one was called "Queendom," and it was my way of addressing patriarchy seven months after leaving my job. Looking back, the work was great, but "MAKTUB: It Is Written" is much more cohesive. Each piece has one, or a combination of all of the following: literary context, biblical/spiritual context, historical context, or personal experience.
What do you want people to take away from the exhibit?
I want people to ask themselves 'do I know what my mission is in this life?' And when I say mission, I think everyone always immediately thinks about career or what's going to bring them monetary gain. That's not the case. By knowing your mission, you're able to find where you fit in any room, in any situation; you know what you bring. I know my mission is to create. To create art? Sure. But also, to create conversation and connection.
Thoughts about the current art scene in Dallas and the future of it?
I think the Dallas art scene - over the course of the past few years - has truly evolved. Deep Ellum has always done a good job of utilizing local artists. I can tell that more businesses in Dallas are beginning to invest in Dallas artists. As different galleries continue to curate group shows, I pray that they're including local artists, female artists, and female artists of color.