Ebtehal Badawi’s multimedia work “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” was a main topic of conversation during the 2019 Spring Art Show at the Galleria of Mt. Lebanon.
The Jefferson Hills artist was eager to discuss her new creation, depicting an array of religious symbols above hands in a variety of colors, as emblematic of her mission to promote unity.
Since then, “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” has spread across the region with a series of reproductions created by Ebtehal with the help of people who agree with his line of thinking.
” We like the same things. We hate the same things,” she said. “There are more things that bring us together than things that separate us.”
Over the past few months, she has led groups of participants lending brushstrokes to their own versions of the original painting, including a day-long effort in her home school district involving 800 students and staff.
In fact, “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” is on its way to every school in West Jefferson Hills, with Superintendent Michael Ghilani’s blessing.
“Ebtehal is one of the kindest and best-meaning human beings I have ever met. His mission is to make the world a better place by highlighting and embracing diversity through a positive lens,” Ghilani said. , former principal of Upper St. Clair High School.
“The way she expresses herself in her artwork speaks to everyone and for our students symbolizes positivity, working together and making connections, regardless of their culture or beliefs,” he said. he continued. “We are truly lucky to have him as a parent and a member of our community.”
Unfortunately, the idea for “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” was born out of an incident in which his son was subjected to racially insensitive comments, for which he later received an apology.
“But as a mother, I felt it hurt, and I also thought about the other person. Why did he do that? she recalls.
Around the same time, she learned that a Syrian immigrant had been assaulted in the girls’ room of an area high school, with another student taking video of the incident.
Ebtehal and a group of other moms discussed what they could do to help prevent similar occurrences, and they decided that a poster could send out a positive message.
“I’m the artist and I love helping people,” Ebtehal said. “With this intention, I began to draw.
A counselor at the school where she worked at the time suggested an appropriate representation for Pittsburgh—”We have over 400 bridges here”—and Ebtehal added other elements to reinforce the theme.
Her multimedia piece was adapted as a poster, which she tried to place in as many places as possible. One was placed on a wall in the cafeteria of the school attended by the son of a friend of his, originally from Puerto Rico.
“She told me that her younger son was having panic attacks and anxiety because his older brother was playing football and he was being bullied. She took the older brother out of the district, but the younger is still there,” Ebtehal said. “During one of his panic attacks, he was in the cafeteria. He saw the poster. He felt out of place and he got better. .
Inspired by the revelation, she decided to see if she could find places for larger reproductions. In early 2020, the owner of the Keystone Café on Sixth Avenue invited her to paint the image on one of the restaurant’s walls, and soon after she joined the students in rehearsing the effort. at Arsenal Middle School in Lawrenceville.
The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic slowed his ambitions. Eventually, she was invited to participate in an event called World Square: Welcoming All of Pittsburgh’s Neighbors, held last June in Market Square.
Just before World Square began, she had the idea of sketching the outline of “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” on a large canvas, then inviting anyone interested to add a brushstroke. Some 200 people accepted the offer and 154 of them provided him with their email addresses to support future projects.
One is to replicate the image on a much larger scale than ever before, and Ebtehal reported that a McKees Rocks landlord gave him the green light to use one side of his building.
Over the past few months, she has sketched the outlines of “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” for use at many venues and events. For example, she was a speaker at the annual banquet of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Pittsburgh, where she invited guests to use brushes on a canvas.
And she is always looking for new collaborators.
“My vision is not just in Pittsburgh, but to go to different cities and states to paint with different people,” she said, “because at the end of the day, we’re all the same.”