With a number of personal traumas recently and throughout her life, Emily refuses to live her life as a victim, and was inspired by the lack of support for victims of tragedies portrayed in the media, she began to create a new perspective on people who have survived something. While our entire world is constantly bombarded daily with negative images in the media, images of people in seemingly hopeless circumstances, we don’t get to find out how they survived through the trauma, came out on top of the wreckage, with hope and strength. The media only shows these people as victims.
In The Face of Survival, each subject, once considered a victim has been captured through Emily’s paintbrush, in their personal time of triumph over the specific challenges described in their accompanying stories, which are also on view. She wants to shine a light on the hopeful and determined people that she has met along her own journey of survival. Emily is proud to have survived her trauma and tragedy, and shows the viewers through her emotionally charged artwork, that survivors—including herself— have more strength, beauty and hope than we may think.
Emily’s work is inherently political; many of the stories in The Face of Survival are also politically charged. From an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who came to the States for cancer treatment, an orphan from the slums of Haiti, to a sex trafficking survivor, Emily has made lasting connections with these fascinating people and have gotten their permission to not only paint them, but also to share their stories with the world.
Emily chooses art as her activism. With over 20 years of public art and projects all over the country, multiple documentaries featuring her activist artwork, helping others cope and work through their traumas and tragedies through activism and artwork, and now in her second year of working with the SXSW festival in Texas, Emily’s work continues to remain humble and gracious, even in the face of success and suffering.
Combining personal symbolism from her own life in all her works, making the paintings that much more meaningful, viewers can see and feel her passionate connection to these subjects and stories. In her signature style, she only paints on a collaged surface of the New York Times, Sunday edition—something she grew up around in her house, but she also takes a different stylistic approach with each portrait. Being sensitive to each story and detail, she finds a unique way to visually express the personal trauma and triumph of her subjects.
Every story of survival has a face to remember. These 10 stories and faces are not sad or hopeless but strong and beautiful. To survive is a natural instinct, but not everyone who suffers gets to survive his or her tragedy. These faces are that of endurance and perseverance, of pride and compassion, of humility and heroism. These are the faces of survival.
An opening reception for Lydia Emily's The Face of Survival exhibition will take place at Garboushian Gallery on Saturday, September 17, 2016 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. The exhibition will remain on view until October 14, 2016.