Fresh Paint Artist Zeinab Saab Reflects On Creating Mural, Benni wa Bennek

Zeinab Saab working on the mural, Benni wa Bennek. Photo by Sarah Farahat.

First, I would like to thank the members of the Regional Arts and Culture Council and Open Signal projects for this incredible opportunity. I am honored to have been a recipient of this grant, and creating a mural for the first time has been a dream come true.

Second, I have to thank my mentor, Sarah Farahat, for her patience, guidance, and overall support. As soon as the open call for the Fresh Paint project was released, Sarah was quick to send the opportunity to me and pushed me into applying for it. To tell you that I was nervous about applying would be an understatement. I have no background in this medium, but with Sarah’s 20 years of experience in creating and assisting in murals, I began to feel a sense of comfort in the unknown. When I began, it felt rather intimidating, but Sarah made it feel like a breeze. I am beyond grateful for all the knowledge and feedback she offered within the duration of this project.

The completed mural on Open Signal’s building at NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Photo by Sarah Farahat.

Benni wa Bennek is a love letter to the Arab women I grew up watching on their porches when I was a child playing throughout the neighborhood in Dearborn, Michigan. This was the space to speak of the gossip circling around the block, to share the joy and difficulty of motherhood and womanhood, and to share the intimacy between women using the veranda as either their daily or weekly therapy sessions over a cup of Turkish coffee. The design of the cup in the mural was taken directly from the set my mother had used for occasions such as these, two or more women after a long day of work, who can unwind in each other’s presence on the veranda.

I would also like to dedicate this piece to the Arab and SWANA (Southwest Asia and North Africa) women; and to the femmes, gender-non-conforming, and queer people I have had the privilege of meeting in my life. How we too have been able to build a portal of our own, even in a time when we thought our mirror would not exist at all. Our search for our reflection led us here, being able to spill some tea and gossip, and also getting to trust each other enough to build our own emotional intimacy over a cup of qahwah. We too are now able to sip away our struggles and joy on the proverbial veranda, wherever that may be. And finally, I want to especially extend this dedication to the SWANA community I have met in Portland; a place like this can oftentimes make me feel like a foreigner, but this group of people allows me to find solace and comfort in them.

It is an honor to have been a part of this experience, and to have done this in NE Portland on one of the busiest streets in the city for people to witness. Thank you to the community of NE Portland for this invitation. Again, I am both humbled and honored. Thank you.

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