Salvadoran-Palestinian artist showcases work in cross-cultural art exhibition

My career has never been about money, popularity, or recognition, but about passion. I want to show others that thinking outside the box is something that society should not only allow, but encourage.

  • 2 years ago
  • May 7, 2022
6 min read
of some of her work at the opening event of the Cultural Fusion art exhibition Monica poses in front of some of her work at the opening event of the Cultural Fusion art exhibition | Photo courtesy of Monica Anduray Miguel
Monica Anduray Miguel
Monica Anduray Miguel is a mixed media and digital artist. She is currently the only Salvadoran-Palestinian artist to use epoxy resin with a mixed technique.
Background Information
“Cultural Fusion” is a collaborative artistic exhibition presented by the Ministry of Culture and the embassies of Palestine and Mexico in El Salvador. It highlights three Salvadoran artists of Palestinian origin: Monica Anduray Miguel, Maira Handal and Anette Handal.

The exhibition is open to the public at the Embassy of Mexico in El Salvador through May 16.

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR- I remember the first time I ever held my hand against an art sketchbook, drawing pencil strokes into what was supposed to be a butterfly. As my hand moved and brought the drawing to life, a rush of excitement and belonging settled in me. I felt whole.

That’s how I knew I had a special connection with art, even though I was not the best right away. My butterfly turned out a bit outrageous.

Choosing practicality over passion

As the years went by, I enrolled in several art workshops and courses. I even took sculpting lessons for a while. To me, it was all about creativity. My biggest inspiration came from one of my favorite illustration books, where I learned there are no rules in art and human expression. From the first time I read it, there were no rules. I experimented with all sorts of different materials, techniques, ideas, and shapes. 

The last two years in high school were challenging. Unfortunately, in my country, art is not taken seriously, and at times people can undermine your passion. One of my teachers would often attack my spirits and tear apart my drawings with hurtful words and unnecessary criticism. It angered me, but I didn’t have any other recourse than continuing to do what I love. 

When high school came to an end—knowing that the life of an artist in a third-world country can be tough and uncertain—I decided to become an architect and keep my art as a side hobby. I never had hopes of making a living out of it.

A path of artistic perseverance and self-expression

During college, I kept myself so busy with my architecture studies and life in general that my art took a back seat.

However, progress matters even if it’s slow. Whenever I had free time, I painted and brainstormed new ways of elevating my art to the next level.

Luckily, I had a creative drawing class, where I would do human portraits. One day one of my classmates offered to pay me for her portrait. I was in shock; the idea that my art could earn me was unexpected and unbelievable. It was exciting but nerve-wracking, I didn’t even know what I should charge.

From this moment on, everything changed. I realized I was good enough to make a living doing what I loved, and that maybe I had a real chance at being an artist. I decided to pursue my dream and immediately began to create new artwork non-stop. Despite my new determination, it always surprised me to find that people were interested in what I was doing and willing to pay for it.

Whenever I work on something new, my ideas come and go, but I get to work when those sudden, spontaneous sparks of creativity fly.

First, I grab whatever materials seem suitable, but usually, my pencils and brushes are my key tools. I lay the different colors in front of my canvas while I wait for inspiration and an inexplicable gut feeling to strike me. I choose out of intuition what goes into a new piece, what layers of texture and depth to add.

That is art; there are no rules. I think art should resemble dreams, those realms of imagination, and express what cannot be put into words.

Some of Monica's other works on display at the Cultural Fusion exhibition
Some of Monica’s other works on display at the Cultural Fusion exhibition | Photo courtesy of Monica Anduray Miguel

From failed exhibits to the right exposure, art is a hustle

Eventually I was able to get in touch with an agent, and she landed me my first exhibition. I hadn’t had enough time to prepare, so I only displayed two pieces, which were not well received.

No offers or calls came in after the show. It wasn’t a great experience, but I knew I had to keep pushing.

My next step came when somehow, a well-known art manager reached out and offered to give me a space in her upcoming exhibition, with the condition that she would take 50% commission.

As soon as I brought out my paintings—including my most recent pieces with different layers of depth and materials such as epoxy resin—the first comment I received from the manager was, “Listen, some will think your work is fine but most will look at it as an amateur mockup.”

It was hard to hear those words coming from the person who offered me a space, and I knew she was devaluing my work apart from taking half of my sale. But to her surprise and my delight, I received three offers for my most recent work using the depth and layer technique. This gave me a new light of hope—maybe I could make a living out of my passion yet.

From there I had other successful exhibits and worked on several other projects to make myself known. I drew a mural for a well-known brewery, participated in an illustration competition, and did the illustration for a series of short stories published during the pandemic.

My Palestinian roots take me on an unexpected journey

I’d like to say that my hard work led me to participate in the first Palestinian art exhibition in El Salvador, but the truth is that a little bit of luck played a part as well. Sometimes success comes from being in the right place at the right time.

Explaining the meaning of her art to an interested audience | Photo courtesy of Monica Anduray Miguel

I was introduced to the Palestinian ambassador by chance, and he immediately became fascinated by my art and family background when he found out they were originally from Palestine. He offered me the chance to showcase my art in this exclusive and unique exhibition.

As I considered the opportunity, all sorts of thoughts and emotions came to my mind. Had I finally made it? Was this my breakthrough? What would happen if my work wasn’t up to standards?

Excitement and adrenaline rushed through my body, and tears of joy wanted to run down my face. However, I held them in as I smiled and imagined a bright future where I could live solely off my art. 

As I stand in front of my most recent paintings and see them laid out so beautifully at the exhibition, I am full of joy and pride. The light falls on them as other artists walk by and stop to admire the creative expression I’ve placed into each one of them. It is such a unique and wonderful feeling, and I’m filled with happiness and gratitude.

My career has never been about money, popularity, or recognition, but about passion. I want to show others that thinking outside the box is something that society should not only allow, but encourage. There isn’t a right way of doing art—I want to inspire other artists to take that leap of faith, and to create and experiment as it suits them.

Monica (third from right) cuts the exhibition’s opening ribbon with other artists and dignitaries | Photo courtesy of Monica Anduray Miguel

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