Before you even step foot into Aida Murad’s exhibit at Founders Lab NYC (972 Metropolitan Avenue), you’re greeted by a hand-painted booth designed specifically for attendees to participate in an energetic exchange: write a lesson you’ve learned from your grandmother, and take another one with you.
During the height of COVID-19 shutdowns, Murad lost her grandmother. Unable to go home to her family in Jordan, Murad found another way to process her grief: through sharing brilliant, beautiful paintings in celebration of grandmothers everywhere.
Upon learning of this root inspiration, I immediately thought of my own grandmother and her presence in my life both before and after she passed. My grandmother lived with my family for twelve years, and while the lessons I absorbed as a teenager were seemingly ordinary, I’ve learned so much more about how extraordinary she was and about the impact she had on this world after her passing in 2016. It was so overwhelming I wrote a play about it.
So many people grieve the loss of their loved ones through forms of artistic expression, which is what makes Murad’s exhibit both so unique and special, and also so universally relatable.
Murad’s grandmother, Nevin, after whom the exhibit is named, and whose spirit is represented in the featured painting Dancing Queen was a “zest of life,” according to Murad. When I asked about her grandmother, Murad said that most people would mention her bright green eyes, but she especially remembered how frequently her grandmother would sing loudly, and proudly, in public. With such joy singing, often in multiple languages, her voice and spirit had an infectious quality that Murad recalls fondly. Nevin and her mother were both artists as well but never pursued it professionally. Before she passed, Nevin wrote Murad a note expressing her pride and admiration for Murad’s art, which you will find displayed in the exhibit.
Should you feel inspired, Murad also has a community canvas hanging in the exhibit, dedicated to “our grandmothers”, for you to leave a mark on behalf of your own grandmother. So far, 110 visitors have finger-painted on it, and after the exhibit closes, Murad plans to donate the canvas to a nonprofit. The exhibit features fourteen paintings in total, plus an installation.
Aida Murad’s Artistry
Murad has been a full-time, Brooklyn-based artist for the past two years, but began painting seven years ago. Although an obvious natural, Murad came to her artistry in a rather unexpected way with no initial intention of pursuing it full time. It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 20 years old and her hands were semi-paralyzed for over four years did she turn to art as a healing outlet.
Despite having a very active business career in Jordan, when Murad arrived in the U.S. with this diagnosis in mind, she struggled to understand her worth in the corporate world and had already sold all of her belongings to pay for doctors’ bills. As an example of her resourcefulness, Murad returned to Jordan and founded the first online sustainable fashion consignment shop in order to give women a platform to earn money in an eco-friendly manner.
Fast forward a few career changes later, and Murad now has had seventeen exhibitions with ten previously sold-out collections.
Art became a fuller presence in Murad’s life once she embraced the uniqueness of her own fingerprint and the healing power of painting. Her painting, Total Package, is a representation of what she thinks the world would look like if everyone knew that they are more than enough.
This theme of discovering your own self-worth and the limitless nature of your capabilities is a through-line in many of her works, right down to the process itself. Murad rarely has a plan before she gets to painting. Rather, she often chooses a chakra to focus on and channels the energy into the painting. For example, for her piece Delilah, Murad decided to focus on the root chakra, which inspired the red color.
Likewise, for her piece Sweetness, she decided to focus on the crown and third eye chakras, which inspired this concept of fostering stillness and finding enjoyment in the sweet things of life. Similarly, for her piece Evermore, Murad focused on the heart chakra. This emerald green color, which turns brighter the closer you get, and darker the further away you are, showcases how opening your heart to the right people is how we protect it.
Murad also practices reiki on all of her paintings, always includes 5-11 layers of paint, and works only in dresses. The dress she painted in is hanging as an installment of the exhibit, along with angel cards, incense, and flowers to represent her core value: “energy is everything.”
With her hands and her forearms, Murad is able to create these vivacious works, in spite of her condition. Simply by listening to her hands, Murad has acknowledged their capabilities and thereby learned more ways to use them.
“My purpose is to help individuals, couples and communities understand themselves deeper as well as foster/amplify what they want to feel and experience in the world.”Aida Murad’s website
The exhibit is open until March 7. Weekday visits are by appointment only, and on the weekend the exhibit is open to the public from 10 a.m – 6p.m. She is hosting a finger painting class in the exhibit this Sunday, and will continue to host classes once the exhibit closes, which you can find on her website under “art journey.”
Murad will have another exhibit in March on the Lower East Side, and you can also find her work on her Instagram, @muradaida.