Ebtehal Badawi’s multimedia work “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” was one of the main topics of conversation at the Spring 2019 Art Exhibition at the Galleria of Mt. Lebanon.
The Jefferson Hills artist was eager to discuss his then new creation, depicting an array of religious symbols above hands in different colors, as emblematic of his 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 thought.
” We like the same things. We hate the same things, ”she said. “There are more things that bring us together than separate us. “
Over the past several months, she has led groups of participants lending brushstrokes to their own versions of the original painting, including a one-day effort in her home school district involving 800 students and staff.
In fact, “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” is on its way to all schools in West Jefferson Hills, with the blessing of Superintendent Michael Ghilani.
“Ebtehal is one of the nicest, best-intentioned human beings I have ever met. Its mission is to make the world a better place by showcasing and embracing diversity in a positive light, ”said Ghilani, former principal of Upper St. Clair High School.
“The way she expresses herself in her artwork speaks to everyone and to our students symbolizes positivity, working together and bonding regardless of culture or beliefs,” he continued. “We are really lucky to have him as a parent and a member of our community. “
Sadly, the idea for “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” arose out of an incident in which his son was subjected to race-insensitive comments, for which he was subsequently given an apology.
“But as a mother, I felt it hurt, and I also thought about the other person. Why did he do this? she reminded herself.
Around the same time, she learned that a Syrian immigrant had been assaulted in the girls’ room of a local 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 a positive message.
“I am the artist and I love to help people,” Ebtehal said. “With this intention, I started to draw.
A counselor from the school where she worked at the time suggested a suitable representation for Pittsburgh – “We have over 400 bridges here” – and Ebtehal added other elements to reinforce the theme.
Her multimedia work was adapted into a poster, which she tried to place in as many places as possible. One of them was placed on a wall in the school cafeteria attended by the son of a friend of his, from Puerto Rico.
“She told me that her youngest son was having panic attacks and anxiety because his older brother played soccer and he was being bullied. She took the older brother out of the district, but the younger one is still there, ”Ebtehal said. “During one of his anxiety 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 the Arsenal Middle School in Lawrenceville.
The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic slowed its ambitions. Eventually, she was invited to participate in an event called World Square: Welcoming All of Pittsburgh’s Neighbors, which was held last June in Market Square.
Right before World Square started, she had the idea to sketch the outline of “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” on a good-sized canvas, then invite anyone who was interested to add a brushstroke. Some 200 people accepted the offer and 154 of them provided 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 owner gave him the green light to use one side of his apartment building.
Over the past few months, she has sketched the outlines of “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” for use in many places 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 paintbrushes on a canvas.
And she is always on the lookout 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.”
For more information, email [email protected] or visit ebartphotography.com.