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Monday, March 20, 2023

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Passionate Art of An Iraqi Kurd

Art and philosophy student Ayad Almissouri combines an international perspective with thought-provoking paintings.
By Chris Arechaederra

Ayad Almissouri started drawing at four years old, making drawings in the sand of little people being free. Today, he continues his art with a focus on his own heritage. 

Almissouri, an Iraqi Kurd and SDSU art and philosophy major, spent two years in a refugee camp in eastern Turkey and some time in Europe before arriving in the United States. Soon after, his family came to New York, and moved to San Diego in 1991 after learning about the region's large Middle Eastern community.  

Inserting an element of himself

Almissouri inserts a certain element of himself in all of his drawings, including things he has learned and experienced in his life.

"A lot of the work involves who I am as an artist, and there have been experiences I have been through—my exile from my homeland and the struggle of the Kurds, the identity of the Kurds and what I've been through personally being in a refugee camp and my journey to the U.S.," Almissouri said.

Others agree, seeing Almissouri in his artwork.

“I find Ayad's work to be thought-provoking and often challenging,” said Yiftach Levy, information technology consultant in Career Services and Almissouri's mentor.  “I know he intends his work to do just that—to prod viewers out of their complacency, to make people uncomfortable to a degree, so they give some thought to the state of the world and their role in making it a better place.” 

In describing Almissouri's “in-your-face work,” Levy said it made him ask questions like "What have those eyes seen that makes then so piercing and melancholy?”

Almissouri worked with the U.S. Army for three years producing linguistic transitions. He was stationed in California, and has been back to his native Iraq to serve.  

You never stop, you never give up. If you think you've given up, that's just the beginning, Just keep going, and do not stop.

Almissouri went to the Career Center to develop his artist statement when he noticed the art already in the center. He spoke with James Tarbox, the center's director, to ask if he could make a donation. Tarbox was thrilled when Almissouri approached him.  

Providing a link for other students

“Ayad's painting provides an opportunity to link Career Services and arts/studio arts majors to show how we can support their work and career development,” Tarbox said. “It also allows arts/studio arts majors the opportunity to communicate in new ways and with new audiences about their work. It builds another bridge between Career Services and the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts.”

The painting in Career Services displays a picture of a Kurdish man taken in 1992 for the cover of National Geographic. According to Almissouri, it was the first-ever portrait taken of a Kurd for an international publication.

“The school has done so much for me, and I can repay them back with something that was so meaningful to me.  Hopefully, it can be meaningful to its viewers, too,” Almissouri said.

It took Almissouri 23 "years" to complete. He does not attach a time period in terms of how long it takes him to complete a piece of art, in fear of hurting any meaning behind his work. But, at age 23, he thinks of his art as taking a lifetime to create—a lifetime of experience and becoming who he is today as a person and as an artist.

Giving back to the SDSU community

Almissouri only creates up-scale portraits, and builds all of his frames himself to save money. Given the opportunity, he would gladly paint portraits for other buildings around campus to give back to the SDSU community. 

He believes that SDSU needs more art around campus, and is interested in doing murals depicting SDSU’s history.

He credits his ability to what he has learned from professors in the SDSU School of Art, Design and Art History, and praises the drive, knowledge and feedback they give back to students.

“I want people to know that we have an art department, interacting with other artists, rather than artists just working in the studio,” he said. “We have to go outside, see the world and see the school. We have such a beautiful school and an amazing group of faculty, which can create a connection to create even better art.”

His future plans include going back home to teach English to save money for graduate school, and continuing to travel the world to help others in unfortunate situations.

He wants to send a message to all other artists and painters at SDSU: “You never stop, you never give up. If you think you’ve given up, that’s just the beginning. Just keep going, and do not stop.”

Learn more about the writer of this story, Chris Arechaederra.

Ayad Almissouri
Samples of Almissouri's work