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Art With Mid-East Flair

Myriad crisp curves and immaculately imperfect lines harmoniously meld together against a cool white background. The characters, which have been skillfully drawn on to the canvas, are undeniably fascinating. The cursive style scripts intertwine forming an exquisitely chaotic triangle. Different hues of red and orange softly blend at the bottom, forming a mystifying alphabet based foundation. An erudite spectator would be able to appreciate this dazzling Arabic calligraphy with lucidness, yet it still might remain curious to an undiscerning western eye. Whichever way you look at it, beauty and mystery are all part of this detailed version of Reem Hussein’s original artistic creation called Transliteration I.

Born in Bayonne, NJ in 1975, and raised in Merrick, Hussein was an artist from the very start. She said, “According to my parents, all I wanted to do was draw. Even at four years old, my teachers would say that I was more talented than any of the other children. I was very lucky because I grew up with a Muslim-Egyptian heritage. Despite the fact that in our culture it is common for parents to encourage their children to become doctors or lawyers, my parents were always very supportive of my artistic ambitions.”

Throughout grade school she continued to excel, so much so, that she received the “Nassau County Cultural Award for Fine Arts” twice, both in eighth and 12th grade.

For Hussein, growing up on Long Island in the 80s and 90s, there wasn’t a very large Arab-Muslim community that existed at the time. She wanted to learn more about who she was and connect to her ethnic roots. As a young woman Hussein would go to Islamic themed fairs and events for inspiration where she would speak with various Arabic calligraphers. She eventually became a self-taught expert in the craft.

Hussein went on to graduate from The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City with an Associate’s Degree in Interior Design. Afterwards she changed her major and received her Bachelor’s in Object Restoration. Hussein explained her artistic deviation from her lifelong passion of fine art at the University and said, “As an artist I wanted to take on everything. I knew that having an eclectic artistic background would help me tap into more of my creative artistic efforts.”

After college, she wanted to go back to her roots and start drawing and painting again. Like many young people starting out, Hussein didn’t have a lot of money after she graduated, and all she had were watercolors. She began experimenting different ways of painting in Arabic, and different styles of painting the Arabic word for god “Allah”. She took her works to fairs and Islamic events. “People responded positively to my work,” Hussein explained. “People would come up to me and ask me what my artwork meant? They may not have understood the language, but they did share the same fascination and appreciation that I had in the beautiful way that the Arabic language is written in,” explained Hussein. “During this time period I tried to exhibit as much of my work as possible and I was able to sell many of my pieces.”

After a few years exhibiting her work, Hussein wanted to change course. She described how she felt with a grin, “I got tired of the bohemian lifestyle. I took a break from it, and instead I wanted to learn more about how the art gallery world worked.” She did just that when she got an internship at the prestigious Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in Chelsea in 2002. She was eventually hired by them and worked there for approximately three years.

In 2005 Hussein got married, and was later surprised by an unexpected pregnancy. It was a difficult time period in her life, and she ended up getting separated a short time after her daughter’s birth.

Hussein moved back in with her parents in Hicksville. Feeling restless, she decided to pursue a Master’s in Fine Arts at LIU Post. “I wanted to set a good example for my daughter. I wanted her to see her mother doing what she loved. I didn’t want her to feel like I gave up anything for her.” Hussein received her Master’s Degree in 2011.

Hussein’s talent is undeniably intrinsic. Her creative gift is an amalgamation of her roots, her upbringing, and a special natural born capacity that perhaps cannot be taught. Her artwork has been seen all over the world, from Manhattan to Malaysia. She is one of our island’s very own artistic gems. She is a stellar artist whose work is definitely worth checking out.  

Hussein also paints microorganism themed abstract art. She is an adjunct professor, art teacher, and the chair of visual and performing arts at the Knox School in St. James. She has since remarried and lives with her husband and daughter in Farmingdale.