By Eunyoung Suh, New Voices Volunteer Program
North Vancouver has more than 180 public artworks along walkways, trails, buildings, and parks. Among the many artists who contribute to this collection, sculptor Marie Khouri has a unique multicultural background that sounds like a story in a movie.
Marie Khouri has 25 public artworks in Canada and internationally, including the artwork “Forest Spirit” on view in Lynn Valley at 2517 Mountain Highway.
As part of MONOVA’s New Voices Volunteer Program and the new exhibit Voices of Diversity: North Vancouver’s Newcomers opening on February 20, I met with Marie Khouri to talk about her life and experiences as a newcomer in Canada.
The Early Years
Marie Khouri was born in Egypt in 1960. As a result of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s time in power, Marie and the Khouri family were forced to immigrate and live in Lebanon until she was 15.
When the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, Marie’s father was assassinated. After this, her family immigrated again to Vancouver, Canada with the support of the Red Cross.
It was these under challenging circumstances, with their assets seized in Lebanon, that they had to start over in a new country. Even though there was support and programs available for new immigrants, Marie’s mother struggled to support her family and they had a difficult time. Yet, they were grateful to be accepted in a country that welcomed and allowed people to feel at home.
A few years later, Marie moved to Paris, France for her academic studies.
Return to Vancouver
When Marie returned to Vancouver from Paris for the second time in 2008, it was under different circumstances than her first arrival in Vancouver.
At this time, she had to face things she had not dealt with before. The memories from the difficult times were still in her and not easy to forget. She didn’t want to show her family that she had difficulty adapting, so she had to put on another face.
But things got easier; time heals. She felt blessed that she was able to come back and raise her children here.
Something that Marie enjoys the most about living in Canada’s west coast is the space — room to breathe, room to try, a green space anybody would love to live in.
As an artist, Marie didn’t have the opportunity to create large-scale sculptures in her Paris studio. The sculptures had to be on a small scale to fit on the studio shelf. But after arriving in Vancouver, she could start working on more large-scale artworks designed for outdoor spaces.
Marie created larger artworks, as big as she could handle. She had complete freedom given to her. Living in Vancouver gave her the space she needed to grow. Now, Marie is regularly invited to create large-scale public artworks in France because of this freedom.
Marie started sculpting when she was 33 years old. At first, she took a drawing class, but her instructor recognized that her drawing could be well expressed by 3D materials. The teacher took her to a sculpting class, and Marie surprised the sculpting teacher by creating a impressive sculpture at the first clay trial class.
After a year, the teacher told her that her pieces already had unique ways of formation. This encouraged her to start studying at L’Ecole du Louvre in Paris, France. Because she started later in her life, she was confident in the direction she was taking. This confidence allowed her to achieve her career goals faster.
Artworks informed by Life Experience
Marie Khouri’s life experience is often combined and expressed throughout her artwork.
Marie Khouri’s collection Let’s Sit And Talk reflects her life in Lebanon during the Civil War. During that time, the fighting never stopped. She created Arabic alphabet-shaped sculptures that could also be used as benches. It shows a way of saying, “Are we able to sit down and communicate in a different way than with weapons?”
Marie’s exhibition I Love is part of her collection Let’s Sit And Talk displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Because she created the whole Arabic alphabet into sculptures, her pieces can be displayed to form different sentences in various cities and places.
Even though she had many challenges with immigration, Marie believes that her path made her stronger; she wouldn’t be the same person she is today without these experiences.
After leaving Cairo, Marie has lived in Beirut, Paris, Madrid, and Vancouver as a newcomer. Her life was not always easy, but she never gave up. Marie started over again, looked in positive ways, learned from experiences, and found ways to grow.
She’s now fluent in five languages and explores language through her art. She is resilient in the face of adversity, and continually challenges herself to learn and grow. This resilience and curiosity made Marie who she is today.
Message for Newcomers
Within the context of the Voices of Diversity: North Vancouver’s Newcomers, Marie Khouri has the following message for newcomers:
Don’t be shy. Reach out.
Don’t hide. Embrace people. Don’t be afraid of a community that doesn’t look like yours.
Work hard. Nothing happens without hard work. It’s not a lottery. You have to work at it.
Give the best of yourself. Always the best.
Don’t take the easy road. Don’t repeat things to go easy. That’s not the answer. You must challenge yourself.
Never say it’s too late to embrace your passion in your life. Do it now and embrace it.
The New Voices exhibition Voices of Diversity: North Vancouver’s Newcomers launches on Family Day, February 20 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm at MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver (115 West Esplanade). Voices of Diversity tells the stories of seven newcomers to North Vancouver through photography and video. Admission to the Museum will be free on Family Day, February 20. Opening celebrations will feature musical guests and storytelling.
The New Voices Volunteer Program is generously supported by the Kitty Heller Memorial Fund, held at Vancouver Foundation, Deux Mille Foundation and Lohn Foundation.
Marie Khouri’s Forest Spirit, on view at 2517 Mountain Highway, draws its inspiration from the trees and rivers in Lynn Canyon as seen through water droplets on a camera lens. Magnified and reinterpreted in sculptural form, the sphere is representative of earth with life giving waters.
We rely on contributions, monthly or one-time gifts, to help MONOVA safeguard and expand our community’s archival and museum collections, build learning experiences and inspire future generations.
Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.