- Location: The Mayor's Gallery, 5th Floor Boston City Hall
- Dates: June 1 - July 15, 2022
I first met Farid Haddad about one week after I arrived in Beirut, Lebanon, to start a three-year position as an art
teacher, almost 50 years ago. It was at the international school’s welcoming party. Farid was a rising artist about
town, a recent graduate of the Art Department of the American University of Beirut (AUB). I had never been to
Lebanon before that, I happily took in his pointers on the art world of Beirut. Several weeks later, when, following his
advice, my wife and I went to a downtown art store to get supplies, we met again. He introduced us to the owner; we
sat and sipped coffee. He drove us home, and we fed him lunch. After that, we saw each other regularly, but not
frequently: as he was single, moved about, and kept different hours. Later, in the spring, he arranged, with another
friend, for three of us to have a joint exhibition.
It was in that spring, as we were sitting around the friend’s living room, that Farid popped in (in Beirut, at that time,
we did not use telephones – it was before cells, and landlines were uncertain – when we visited, we took our chances
and knocked on doors) and announced: “I met her, the woman of my life!” We, too, met her soon afterwards. She
was Sylva Boyadjian, a French-speaking, Armenian-Lebanese freshman at AUB. Her father was a famous Armenian
writer, her mother, a schoolteacher. Her family moved to Beirut from Antioch, following the 1915 massacres of the
Armenians in Turkey. They were together for the rest of our time in Beirut. Farid got a studio space across the street
from our house. We became neighbors, and saw each other more often. \
We left a peaceful and thriving Beirut in 1972 – full of live-theaters, fashionable boutiques, cafés and intellectual
discussions in three or four interchangeable common languages – but there was always an undercurrent of potential
political strife. In 1975, a vicious, political-religious, civil war erupted that was to last for the next fifteen years. Farid
and Sylva were married in 1974, but soon life in Beirut, in the war zone, became intolerable. In late fall 1975, they left
for the U.S. to go to graduate schools: he for an M.F.A., she on a graduate program in literature.
We followed events from a distance, but were not much in contact. Then, after Farid’s graduation, he found a
teaching post in a college in New Hampshire, and settled to live close by, in Concord NH. For many years, they were
professors. Farid continues to paint and draw. Sylva is a published poet. Through thirty-some years, with our
proximity, and some shared and understood history, we got to be very good friends. We watched their daughter,
Severina, grow from a toddler to a PhD; saw Mme. Boyadjian, Sylva’s mother, moved in to live with them, and, Farid’s
family – father, mother (both now deceased) and two sisters, Nuha and Nada – came to settle nearby. Our families
became like each other’s families. We often spend holidays together.
It was at one of those parties, a post-Christmas dinner at our house – it was getting late, we were all feeling well-fed
and mellow, and the conversations were congenial – that I asked, why don’t you spend the night. All three, Farid,
Sylva and Severina, said simultaneously: “Oh no, we can’t! Duke is waiting for us at home!” Duke was their black
Labrador, named after John Wayne. I thought of Beirut, and of Hamra, the high-style street where Farid and Sylva
seemed so customarily at home. I thought of Concord NH, and of the different paths of cultural distinction that we
navigate in our lives. I started the first painting soon after, to try to sort it out: possibly with Duke as the seeing guide.
The completed 6 paintings depict narrowly only those aspects of what I saw as Farid’s and Sylva’s “American” lives,
and avoid showing any of their professional accomplishments. In that sense, I am very grateful to them for
collaborating with me to let me borrow them as personages to sound out my own feelings: of what is being an
American, and of what is living in general.