A few weeks ago, while I was visiting the Three Rivers Arts Festival and Market Square’s World Square with my friends, we saw a young girl applying bright blue paint to a blank canvas. She quickly ran over to us and asked if we wanted to join her to help with the painting. Her mother followed to explain what her daughter was asking us.
The woman introduced herself as Ebtehal Badawi, an artist from Saudi Arabia. She created this painting titled “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” as an inclusive and healing work. Setting up an interactive painting activity in the market square for the international festival was the perfect place to promote the main purpose of the artwork: to show that no matter what our differences or beliefs may be. , we are all a community of Pittsburgh. I found myself immediately inspired by this concept and its history.
I had the chance to speak with Ebtehal to learn more about his history and his vision for the project.
Ebtehal standing with “Pittsburgh builds bridges” (📸: @ ebtehal.badawi81)
Ebtehal was born in Saudi Arabia, moved to the United States about 15 years ago, and made his home in Pittsburgh for the past seven years. She is an expressionist artist and cultural explorer whose main goal is to build bridges between different people. His passion comes from the belief that art heals and brings joy to everyone.
Ebtehal’s goal? Use Pittsburgh as a backdrop to spread the message of Pittsburgh Builds Bridges. She is looking for a downtown location for her mural and many different people to help her. It just seems like a mural on the Pittsburgh community is being created by the Pittsburgh community. In World Square, 200 people joined in to paint the smaller version of the painting, and 154 wrote down their information when the time came to help create his mural.
Ebtehal dreams of being an artist since the 5th year. After finishing elementary school, she recalled writing a note to herself saying, “Today I finished elementary school and I am so happy. When I grow up I want to go to art school. Unfortunately, Ebtehal didn’t go to art school right away because everyone convinced her that art was just a hobby. After turning to science and obtaining her master’s degree in industrial hygiene, she embarked on a journey of self-esteem that brought her back to art. She studied for a year at the art institute, then stumbled upon an art therapy program, which she is currently working on.
“Helping people through art, this combination, is what I want to do,” Ebtehal said.
Expressionist artist, Ebtehal Badawi (📸: @ ebtehal.badawi81)
After living in Pittsburgh for a while, Ebtehal felt the need to create a painting to bring all the people of Pittsburgh together. Years ago, his son, now in grade 10, was playing for a local hockey team when he received racist comments. Ebtehal assured me that the bullies have since apologized, but as a mother she has never forgotten this hurt and pain inflicted on her child.
Around the same time, Ebtehal saw a video of a student beating up a Syrian refugee at Carnegie High School. The video lasted a few minutes.
“I felt as a mom, as a woman, that it was awful. How can someone film this for so long without calling for help? Said Ebtehal.
She turned to the child’s mother for support and comfort. The couple came up with an anti-bullying and anti-racism poster to promote inclusiveness. As an artist, she felt responsible for the design of the piece. His inspiration comes from his life experiences. She wanted something to represent Pittsburgh as a whole. Ebtehal felt that nothing would represent the city better than a bridge. The small idea for the poster quickly became the idea for Pittsburgh Builds Bridges.
Ebtehal began hanging the poster in various libraries and schools, including Jefferson Hills where she resides with her family. After hanging up the posters, her Puerto Rican friend called her and explained to her the personal effect Pittsburgh Builds Bridges had on her son. Her son has experienced panic attacks since his older brother was bullied on his football team. She told Ebtehal that when he started having a panic attack at school, he saw his poster and immediately felt safe.
“When I heard that, it was my ‘why’. It heals. When she told me this story, it really changed my definition of art. I knew art could heal, but I didn’t know it could help in these kinds of situations, ”Ebtehal said.
Ebtehal painting with a child in the market square (📸: @ ebtehal.badawi81)
These stories inspired Ebtehal to publicize his work of art. She met teachers and students from different schools. Ebtehal wanted to write about the play but was worried because she was not a strong writer. After talking to the teacher at her daughter’s elementary school, Ebtehal met with the Grades 3, 4 and 5 students in Jefferson Hills to help her out.
Another teacher from Carnegie Elementary invited Ebtehal to speak with grade 1, 2 and 3 students. They all drew their own versions of Ebtehal’s painting to show their enthusiasm. This same teacher explained to him that he had hung the painting in the hallway so that the pupils could pass and show their hands, saying: “It’s me… It’s me.
“So why is Pittsburgh building bridges?” To welcome everyone so that they feel at home, ”said Ebtehal. “Then I had the idea to find a wall and paint it like a mural with different kids, people and maybe players from the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates. My intention is to plant seeds of love, acceptance and to build bridges in the hearts of our children and in our hearts too. “
Ebtehal has reached out to various organizations in an attempt to find a location downtown for her mural, but she is still waiting for a response. If you have wall space and want to fill it with Ebtehal art, email us at [email protected].
My friends lend a hand to help with the painting (📸: Zoey Angelucci)
“I hope to find a wall and paint it together, bringing people together to build bridges between different people. So everyone, when they see it, they feel like they belong and Pittsburgh is their home, ”Ebtehal said.