Artist + cultural activist
Artist, Cultural Activist, Writer
As an artist, writer, TED fellow and cultural activist, Zena believes that 'Love will Save Us.' She offers love as a solution for the problems in the Middle East.
Zena el Khalil, born year of the Dragon, is a visual artist, writer and cultural agitator based in Beirut, Lebanon. She has lived in Lagos, London and New York. Her work includes mixed media paintings, installations and performance and is a by-product of political and economic turmoil; focusing on issues of violence, gender and their place in our bubblegum culture. She has exhibited in the United States, Europe, Africa, Japan and the Middle East. While living in NYC, Zena co-founded xanadu*, an art collective dedicated to promoting emerging Arab and under - represented artists as a direct response to the 9-11 attacks. Currently, xanadu* is based in Beirut where Zena is focused on curating cultural events and publishing poets and comic book artists. During the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, she was one of the first largely followed Middle Eastern bloggers; her writings published in the international press, including the BBC, CNN, and Der Spiegel. The entire Guardian G2 supplement in July was dedicated to her blogging. In 2008, she invited to speak at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and soon after, completed her memoir, Beirut, I Love You, now translated in several languages, internationally. She is currently adapting her book into a feature film with an international co-production team. In an attempt to spread peace, Zena is often seen running around Beirut in a big pink wedding dress. El Khalil is regularly invited to lectures about her artwork, book and activism. Some events include, The Guardian Hay Festival: Segovia, Spain; the Edinburgh International Book Festival, UK; the Hay-On-Wye Festival of Literature, Wales, UK; the Victoria & Albert Museum, UK; New York University, Abu Dhabi to name a few. Zena lives in Beirut with her Jack Russell Terrier, Tapi. She once held a brown belt in Shotokan karate and participated in national competitions while she lived in Nigeria as a child. She believes that listening to Fela Kuti’s music as a teenager helped her develop into the international rabble-rouser that she is today. Her daily mantra is Gandhi’s “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Her artwork can be viewed online at zenaelkhalil.com.
Fattoushe with pomegranate molasses, hummus, spicy potatoes (batata harra) with a tall glass of Arak. A typical night out in Beirut!
A funny story about me:
I used to be a "metalhead". I was elected President of the Student Council several times growing up. The only reason I kept winning was because I had the best posters. I used to copy/draw Heavy Metal album covers for my campaign. So, imagine an intricate pencil drawing of an Iron Maiden cover, but with Vote for Zena on it. It worked every time! And needless to say we threw many rock parties while I was in office... yes, in Nigeria.