Photographer Lamia Khorshid Lifts Veil on Divorce at Curator's Voice Projects

Confronting a messy divorce is a horror. But for Lamia Khorshid, a local artist who teaches photography at the University of Miami, her breakup served as the inspiration for a photo series, which opens this Friday at Curator's Voice Art Projects.

Egypt-born Khorshid shot these self-portraits at the Hotel St. Michel in Coral Gables. She recently spoke with us about the chaotic fallout of divorce, her estrangement from family after marrying outside her culture, thoughts on the future of her homeland, and returning to her roots to document where she was born. 

Lamia Khorshid: I often make work that draws from personal experience. Divorce and break-ups are a common social occurrence, and if, through this shared experience of heartache we are able to find solace and understanding, then art has successfully functioned to describe the human condition. Unlike Frida Kahlo, I do not feel that we are alone in pain. I make the work because I have a need to, and then I think about sharing the work, if I feel that it has a message that society can relate to.

What's your background?

I was born in Egypt and brought up Muslim. It was not unexpected that my decision to marry someone outside of the Muslim religion would not be met with open arms. It created a rift in my family for many years, and my parents took it very hard. Their first reaction was to stop talking to me for a few years.

I understand that the cultural and religious adjustments were tough on my family, as a result of our migration from the East to the West.  Since then, my parents eventually embraced the union, and invited us into their home.  It took some growing pains, but we eventually reconciled.  By the time I made the work, they had already accepted my marriage; I only wish that we had more time to build upon the new found trust of my family.   

From a feminist perspective, we need to examine marriage from a woman's stance. When a marriage ends, in addition to loss of the relationship, loss of partner, loss of property, loss of trust, loss of a previously envisioned future, (those things are shared loss across gender) there is an additional loss that is the woman's alone: loss of identity. 

The social custom in this country is that the woman often takes her husband's last name upon marriage.  As a feminist and an independent woman, I thought about this a lot before my wedding day. However I made the claim that a woman's last name is not her own to begin with, we trade our father's last name for our husband's last name. In addition to all the loss, we also have to change our married name back to our maiden name, further confusing the issue of identity.  It is very disruptive to our sense of self.  In this series, I start re-claiming my territory, and my sense of place and self. 

I decided to go to the Gables area for many reasons. I wanted to be close to the University of Miami where I was teaching. Second, in the history of architecture, the City Beautiful movement was close to my heart. Coral Gables was founded as a suburb of Miami based upon this movement in the '20s. The movement also incorporated Mediterranean Revival styles, which was close to my middle-eastern heritage.

You mentioned that as a youngster, your family moved frequently. Can you elaborate?
It is important to reflect on our definitions of "home". Mine had changed so drastically upon my separation. When I was younger, my family moved constantly, so the physicality of "home" was not something that had to remain constant as I was growing up. The longest amount of time I had ever stayed in the same place was when I was with my ex, and that amount of time was nine years.

Separation and divorce immediately uprooted me from that stability. For a long time, I felt that wherever I was living was only temporary. Upon my separation, the apartment I moved into remained unfurnished for over a year. I chose the bare minimum amount of furniture in order to function. That was a bed, a desk, some bookshelves, a few inexpensive kitchen items, and as an artist, a 300-lb large format Epson photo printer qualified as a "bare essential"!

Lamia Khorshid Rite of Passage
Courtesy of the artist

​Do you still have relatives or friends in Egypt and did you hear from them during the recent political shakeup there?

My entire extended family is still in Egypt.  We were the first in my family to leave the country in 1985 during a time when Egypt still had a middle class.  Now the nation is wrought with poverty, as a result of decades of rule by Mubarak. The revolution in January was essential to ousting Mubarak and for a glimpse of hope towards a chance for a more democratic Egypt.  Many people lost their lives fighting for this change and for the possibility of freedom.

In fact, at this year's Venice Biennale, the Egyptian pavilion features the raw video footage captured by one artist, Ahmed Basiony, who was killed during the last day of that revolution in Tahrir Square.  I was shaken up by the amount of people killed fighting for freedom, and the bloodshed.  I was worried for my family and spoke to them as often as I could. Egypt still has a long road ahead, but elections and a new constitution are necessary steps toward democracy, and Egypt is on its way. I am planning a trip to my homeland in 2012.  I want to take my project about home into a new direction, perhaps to the very beginning!  I will have the chance to photograph myself in the actual house where I was born in 1977, in Cairo.

"Hotel St Michel" opens Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. and is on view through November 12 at Curator's Voice Art Projects (2509 NW Second Avenue, Miami). Admission is free. Call 786-378-6381 or visit curatorsvoiceartprojects.com.

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