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Inspiration: An Interview with Artist Ilham Badreddine Mahfouz

by Mehmet DEDE

Ilham's art goes deep beneath the surface, literally and figuratively. In several layers of paint she tries to capture the life experience with explosive colors and abstract images. At the core of her work, underneath each layer, is not a plain white surface but rather the unconscious. This is where man is in tune with himself and God celebrating the joys of life, freedom, faith and hope.

Ilham Badreddine Mahfouz was born in 1956 in Damascus, Syria. After immigrating to the US in 1972, she took a degree in Interior Design from LaSalle University in Chicago. She went on to study Art History in Spain for a semester and then earned a B.F.A. in painting and ceramics at the Eastern Michigan University. Mahfouz has had solo exhibits in Michigan and won awards for both her painting and ceramic work. She also exhibited in groups shows in New York.

Ilham's art deals with architectural elements combining mixed media designs, colors and textures. Her puzzle-like shapes (including some that resemble Middle Eastern mosaics) and color-sensitive images all represent a different levels of energy and reflect her emotions and reactions. Clearly, here is an artist who has a lot to say, and her real material is not strokes but humanity.

The following interview was conducted in February 2003 via telephone.

"I look at life with a sense of liberation, [hoping] for a better world filled with peace and harmony."

Your art is very colorful and emotional. How do you manage that?

I enjoy the various emotions revealed to me from colors storming toward each other. [I use] diverse lines and shapes [that] ease the tension and help balance the painting harmoniously. The viewer engages with the artwork as if traveling through time, exploring and learning new encounters and beliefs.

How about you? What goes in your mind?

I try to transform the ideas, emotions, and rhythms spontaneously onto the artwork.

So you create the artwork without being concerned about what the viewer might think?

[Before] I was concerned [that my art] was not strong enough, or [what] opinion other people had more than my true sense of what I thought was right for my painting. I am more aware of my senses, emotions, and ideas now and pull them all together in my own style to deliver [something that is] truthful to me.

What is your starting point?

Faith in God is my foundation. Belief in myself that I have a purpose in this life is continuous and I shall search for it until I accomplish it.

Clearly, you find strength in religion.

It's part of my life. What I do in my art does not have a conflict with any religion of God. So I have to be responsible to give out a message that is positive and truth. There are spiritual and humanitarian aspects to it. It's about helping each other; making the world a better place to live, extend a hand to someone else.

What are the qualities that are common to art and Islam?

Faith, dedication, and honesty.

Do you consider your art a piece of Islamic art?

What I paint is a reflection of my identity. My faith in God is what keeps me going, so I am a spiritual person. I sometimes use verses from the Qur'an in my painting, or a quote from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Last but not least, who are the people that have had an influence on you and your art?

First is my ceramic teacher Robert Piepenberg, and also Suzan Stephenson for their artwork, ceramics, and abstract style. Of painters, I was influenced by Professor Barry Avedan - his work is magnificent. He truly was a great role model for me. Also, I am intrigued and fascinated by the work of Matisse, Pollock, Goya, Picasso and the magnificent beauty of nature, especially mountains.


1993 Manhattan Arts International Award of Merit, Talent Search, NY
1991 First Prize Award at McKenny Union Art Show at Eastern Michigan
University. "Meditation in peace with God" - Watercolor
1990 First Prize in the Art Show at The Earth and Art Gallery in Milford, MI
"Desire" - Ceramic Sculpture


2000 "Inspiration" at Pontiac Creative Art Center, Pontiac, MI
1998 "Habitat" at Urban Park Gallery, Detroit, MI
1997 Alternative Artists Space Gallery, Southfield, MI
1992 Art Show in Franklin, MI
1991 Art Show in Franklin, MI
1989 Art Show in Franklin, MI
1989 Cultural Institute, Auburn Hills, MI

plus over twenty selected art shows


1997 President of IMAN (International Artists Network)
1994 to present co-founder and member of Alternative Artists Group
1991 to present member of ACCUSS - Arab American Artists in Deaborn, MI
1990-1991 Member of Intermedia Gallery at Eastern Michigan University

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72" X 48" Oil on Canvas

72" x 44" Oil on Canvas

20" x 16" acrylic on canvas