Crossing the Tigris River on her way from school to her father’s sport store in Mosul’s old city, Zeana Atarbashi would pass by Nineveh’s ancient walls, winged bulls, and old neighborhoods. These images of cultural history, engraved in her memory, helped shape the future artist-to-be.
“I realized early how rich Iraq and Mosul’s heritage is,” said Atarbashi, an Iraqi-Canadian artist now based in Dubai. “I was fond of art and preferred buying sketchbooks and paints over dolls. Archaeological sites in Hatra and Samarra were my favorite places for vacations.”
Like the majority of students in the region, however, Atarbashi put aside her hobby and got a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Mosul.
In the 1980s, she left Iraq for Greece, where she worked in transport research and development and studied Greek at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the country’s largest university. Atarbashi loved the Greek culture, music and people, and for 11 years found a second home in Thessaloniki.
“I speak Greek fluently. My son was born there,” she said. “Greek people are so kind and joyful. We have many mutual things, especially the cuisine.”
From Engineering to Art
In 1999, Atarbashi moved to Toronto to work for the global architecture firm IBI Group. The firm’s expansion took her back to Dubai in 2007.
However, Atarbashi never stopped listening to her oldest passion.
“Art is different [from engineering] as it nurtures both our sentiment and taste,” she said. “It is an important aesthetic and intellectual expression tool. Any artwork translates the artist’s intellectual memory and imagination.”
In Thessaloniki, she had taken many art classes. However, her talent was only discovered and sharpened by the famed Syrian painter, sculptor and poet Suheil Baddor in 2016.
“I attended Dr. Baddor’s classes just to keep drawing,” she said. “But he told me I can have a place in the art scene. So I took more classes to express my message through colors.”
Over four years, Baddor influenced Atarbashi’s style, theoretically and artistically. “He was a brilliant mentor and a faithful source of inspiration,” she said.