When she was 4 years old, Vian Sora was given a paintbrush with some water colors and crayons by her grandparents. She recalls her immediate fondness for recreating various shapes and patterns she encountered inside her house.
“My home in Baghdad seemed like a mini-museum of oriental objects and soon-to-be subjects of my paintings,” she tells Insider. “I loved the interaction with pigments and how every time I drew something, it created a new result, never repeated, which was a very serene feeling to me then, as it remains today.”
As one might imagine, growing up in Iraq wasn’t easy or even safe. But her family and friends tried their best to protect Sora from the strict regime that ruled the Middle Eastern country. As a woman, Sora was forced to live with specific social mandates that dictated her life. Somehow, through the violence and chaos her childhood, she clung to painting and drawing as a means of escape.
“My family suffered great losses under the hands of hatred and brutality under which we were subjugated, but it was the kindness of people around us that helped my family survive during the terror,” she says. “During such times, painting permitted me to self-express — to explore, to think and be free, if only for a fleeting moment.”
Sora fled from Iraq in 2006 and eventually landed in Louisville with her husband in 2009. She is eager to present her solo exhibit of paintings, titled “Displaced Narratives,” on Friday, Oct. 15, at 1619 Flux. The West Louisville art gallery and community center opened earlier this year.
The show addresses the issue of being uprooted from your homeland, but the artist wants it to apply to all forms of displacement, not just her own experience. She was inspired by a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “We may all have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
“I wanted to focus on the concept of survival and life after trauma — how to pass through, and learn from, events that may haunt us,” explains Sora. “My perspective is not limited to war and violence; it could be any life event that impacts us as humans.”
The more than 30 paintings in the show are often brightly colored and complex. Beautiful depictions of the environment might butt up against nightmarish imagery stored away in memories. She uses the ancient Mesopotamian craft of mural painting by engraving on canvas, which allows her to explore these themes in layers.
Sora believes painting gives her a voice to speak out against oppression, providing a platform of activism through art. She longs for her homeland and everything that was familiar to her as a child, and she struggles with having been forced to leave.
“I wanted to take control of my life and never be a victim of the widespread violence,” she says. “I turned to be an activist — voicing my thoughts through vivid imagery on canvas, colors, texture and tinted stains. I depict euphoric landscapes in my work that represent many unanswered questions, but always attempting to preserve the lost beauty of my home country.”
Sora is grateful to have ended up in Louisville, and she is touched by the city’s welcoming spirit.
“I find the community in Louisville is widely supportive of artists like myself and thirsty to see new bodies of work — to be provoked but to firmly support local initiatives,” she says.
Sora hopes her exhibit inspires others who have experienced displacement and gets people talking about acceptance. After all, we are all unique in our own ways, she says. She also hopes people take away a greater appreciation of her struggle and the challenges of everyone else who has struggled.
“(I hope people take away) many things, but the most important to me is defeating the dogma associated with Iraq, and the fact that religion and certain social metaphors do not define the people there, but also it did not define who I am,” says Sora. “Once society attempts to accept the differences, and people attempt to learn and understand more about each other, we thrive and evolve.”
“Displaced Narratives” opens Friday, Oct. 14, at 1619 Flux, 1619 W. Main St. An opening reception will be held from 6-9 p.m. The exhibit continues through December.