Aya Ghanameh is a Palestinian writer and illustrator. She is based in Providence, Rhode Island, where she is earning her BFA in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design with a concentration in Literary Arts and Studies. You can find her work and contact information at ayaghanameh.com.
When I found your work, I got particularly captivated by the preview pages of Wafa. Can you tell us a little bit about this graphic novel project of yours?
I can tell a little bit, yes! It started out as a short comic assignment for a class, and ever since I’ve been in the process of expanding it into a full-length graphic novel. In my work lately I’ve been trying to move from Palestine as an object to Palestinians themselves as a subject, and this comic is no different. It’s set in the early 2000s between Nablus, Palestine, and Amman, Jordan, and follows my family through the Second Intifada. In expanding it, it will also explore my grandmother’s story, and how she got to where she is now. I think when people think about Palestine, we often think about it through lenses of nationalism and as a place caught in a never-ending struggle. I want to amplify the stories of the ordinary Palestinian.
You seem to use a varied array of mediums for your art. Which one is your favorite, and what is your usual process with illustrations?
Over the past year I’ve really started to use digital tools a lot more, mostly for accessibility reasons, and I purchased an iPad—Procreate is so fun! There’s a wide variety of brushes and textures I’ve really enjoyed playing with, and the digital tools have really helped me gain more confidence with using color as I struggled a lot with that before. Traditionally, I like pen and ink, pencils, watercolors, and oil paint. I usually start by making super rough sketches, and I take those and digitally expand them into the actual size I’m working in. From there I make super detailed value sketches in black and white, and work on top of those with color. It helps me with consistency and figuring out the composition and layout early on.
Which other Palestinian artists inspire you? From any media: visual art, music, writers, etc.
I learn a lot from Leila Abdelrazaq’s creative work because she’s constantly exploring how her words intersecting with her art—a lot of which taps into magical realism—can depict issues related to diaspora, refugeehood, history, memory, and borders in ways that I think successfully resonate with an audience that can and cannot relate in their own experiences. Especially inspired by her graphic novel, Baddawi, about her father’s life growing up in the Baddawi refugee camp in Lebanon. I also love the revolutionary artists of the last generation—Ghassan Kanafani, Naji Al-Ali, Fadwa Touqan, Mahmoud Darwish, etc.
You also do children's illustrations. How is working with art for children?
Yes! As someone particularly invested in inclusivity and intersectionality, I am constantly exploring how my community organizing and artwork can center the voices of ordinary people, and I’ve found this in the intersections of picture and word, and specifically in communicating these ideas through picture books. Children need to see themselves represented, and liberation needs imagination—picture books are great for this.
What does the future hold for your work?
I’m a graduating senior of the Rhode Island School of Design, so this has been the question on my mind throughout the academic year! I would love to go into publishing as a career and continue to work on books in my own time. Children’s picture books, graphic novels, comics, and otherwise. I am as much a writer as I am a designer, and I actually recently signed with Ayesha Pande, a literary agency!