Beirut-based Iraqi artist Leila Kubba explores displacement, exile and homecoming in her latest solo show at Artspace Hamra

With the number of refugees worldwide higher than at any time in history, the experience of displacement, migration and exile is one that we should all seek to understand. For artist Leila Kubba, who was born and educated in Baghdad, attended art school in the U.K. and the U.S. and now resides in Beirut, the experience of exile has formed the backdrop to her life, her studies, the growth of her family and her artistic pursuits.

In her latest solo exhibition at Artspace Hamra, Far from the Shore, Kubba explores displacement from a hopeful perspective, suggesting that no matter how far we travel, and how much we leave behind, the things that matter endure – if not physically then internally.

Kubba’s colourful, many-layered paintings are filled with a rich vocabulary of symbols, from a flock of doves flying before the sun, to the silhouettes of palm trees, immortalised so beautiful in the poetry of Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab. Fragments of delicate Arabic calligraphy appear tangled into the canopies of trees and decorate the facades of ramshackle buildings in mysterious cities. A woman in a red dress sits, apparently waiting for someone, with a bunch of roses on her lap, a single red flower adorning the black curtain of her hair.

The symbolic languages of diverse cultures and countries combine to create fractured, light-filled scenes that might be fragments of memory, half-remembered dreams or compilations of multiple places and times. Kubba’s own experiences of migration and exile are fused with those of currently displaced people the artist interviewed, creating images that convey both the pain and fragmentation of loss, and the hope that home can always be found within.

Substituting the idea of physical return for the more ephemeral, boundless concept of belonging, Kubba’s work is at once personal and universal, mournful and hopeful, far from shore and infused with the promise of home.

By Irene McConnell