Q & A with Noel Maghathe, AAC class of 2017

A photograph of Noel Maghathe sitting on a bench.
Noel Maghathe is a queer, mixed Palestinian American artist currently based in Cincinnati. Dedicated to gender, identity and memory, Maghathe uses performance and installation to advance socially conscious dialogues centering queer voices. Maghathe graduated from the Art Academy of Cincinnati with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture and Photography in 2018 where they were awarded the Stephen H. Wilder Traveling Scholarship. Maghathe has performed and exhibited their work internationally. They currently co-instigate unique art experiences at PIQUE art gallery and bed and breakfast.
Maghathe utilizes sculpture and performance to generate a series of real and fabricated moments in an attempt to understand a deep seated sense of longing for their country, past memories, and personal clarity. Maghathe deals with confusion about where personal history and the present-self converge.Their practice engages these ideas through personal symbolism, reflecting on being denied access to something (memories integral to identity formation) so precious to them.
Q: What made you decide to pursue your art education at the Art Academy of Cincinnati? 
I always wanted to do something with art, someone from the Art Academy visited my high school and talked about the AAC, the diverse ways of creating, and how they have small classes. 
I remember doing the tour at the AAC and falling in love with the plaster room, it was completely covered in plaster, super messy (and it is now my favorite medium). I remember my dad said, ‘what is this?’  And I said, ‘this is awesome!’ 
I liked studying at a smaller private school instead of a university, it was easy to find intimate moments of growth at the Art Academy, and I felt like I connected with my classmates. My classmates are my best friends (even still), the professors and everyone were amazing, those moments were so precious to me, there were like 12-15 people in a class versus my friends at DAAP who had much larger classes. I tell people I would never change my experience; they teach you how to think, developing oneself as an artist.
A photo of the Art Academy plaster studio.
A photo of the Art Academy plaster studio.
The Art Academy of Cincinnati Plaster Studio
Q: You were one of the recipients of the 2017 Wilder Traveling Scholarship, what was that experience like? 
I went with my father to Palestine.  It opened my eyes more because my dad would share more of his true feelings, being scared.  I will never forget I was filming the road and land, he said put your phone down, if these soldiers see you, they will shoot you, you can’t be filming, he was so scared.  
I was able to work with an artist there, and do a photoshoot with Shukri Lawrence from Trashy Clothing, they are based in Palestine and Jordan, and they are queer. We did a big shoot with my cellophane sculptures wrapped around trees. 
I was also able to connect with a woman on a dating app when I was in Palestine and she showed me this old town, Birzeit, its right outside Ramallah.  We performed in the street with my plastic cellophane, and my dad messed up the recording (I’ll never forgive him ha!) we were talking with the wind with my plastic. It was really cool to meet Ramand, we had a little bit of time before the performance to discuss it. We each did each other’s hair right when we first met, talked about being queer, I still identified as a woman at that time, so we discussed being queer women. We didn’t know each other but it was a great experience getting ready together and doing each other’s hair with a stranger, we became closer through this.  
Q: What does your current artistic practice look like?
I am doing performance art and candle making. I have several upcoming performances.  I am doing two studies from the performance Reaching.  I will have a mic to record the sounds when I eat the grapes.  The following is with lemons which I hope is painful, I hope I feel the pain.  My art is so much about confusing people and making them leave with a sense of curiosity, okay this is what its about, its not what I thought it was going to be about.  Like what’s Palestine? Or what is this? Leaving with a question and wanting to know more.   
Some people thought my Reaching piece was very sensual, but it was not for me, when they did learn what it really was about it was interesting to them to have that change in perspective.  That piece was talking about the chronic pain I was experiencing, really trying not to use my hands.  It was about needing to be fed, laying and being fed, calling back to the idea of grapes being fed to someone in a very luxurious manner.  Feeding myself, no one was feeding me, having that sense of self sufficiency, not needing anything else. 
Noel Maghathe eating grapes during a performance called "Reaching".
A photo of Noel Maghathe during a performance at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
Photos from Noel Maghathe’s performance Reaching
In Reaching, I am reaching for Palestine, for Halhul, to be with my situ, in her backyard eating grapes with pita bread. 
I recreated the vines in my situ’s yard into a pulley system with my own body using twine, o hooks, and grapes. I lift my legs up, down, and side to side while maneuvering my body to lower the three grape bunches close enough to my mouth for me to take a bite. Within 35 minutes I had eaten every grape. 
This piece was really important for me to find new ways to create while dealing with chronic pain in my right hand/arm. As I am still dealing with this pain I haven’t been able to create as much as I’d like to and I’ve been continuously trying to find other ways to create without pain. 
Q: Who are your artistic influences? 
I have a big community of queer-Palestinian and Palestinian artists that I connect with on a daily basis. My friend Layan Buftain, and I just did an interview, they called it a study but its actually getting published called Love & Intimacy being published by Lift Of Volumes and The Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University. 
Here is a list of my artistic influences: Trashy Clothing, Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Noelle Awadallah, Samia A. Halaby, Khaled Jarrar. 
A still from the YouTube video Love and Intimacy
Q: How has your experience as a Palestinian-American impacted your work? 
It is definitely heavy right now, in school and growing up, Palestine is so important, it’s always on my mind. I couldn’t imagine not creating work about it, it is so much about expressing my experiences but also creating awareness.   
It impacts me immensely, it is my world, I love Palestine, I want to live there, I want to learn the language so I can speak to my family. It was really difficult with a language barrier, that is why I am really trying to learn, it is so important to speak to my family, being mixed it was hard because we did not speak it every day.   
There are a lot of people like me who feel the same way, we just want to learn and be closer to our roots.  Reclaiming that part of yourself.
Q: What got you started with candle making? Do you see your candle making as performance art? 
I love plaster and so I was trying to make huge candle holders that were like 5ft long, and then with my chronic pain in my arm I couldn’t physically make them. I couldn’t work with the material as I wanted to. So, what can I do next then? I started working with candles then instead, it hurts if I do too much, but it’s much less strenuous of an activity.  That is really what stared it for me.   
Yes, I definitely do see it as performance art sometimes.  I think of them as personal performances, like the burning times from the candles.  They can be very personal.   
A photo of a candle created by Noel Maghathe
A photo of a candle created by Noel Maghathe
A photo of a candle created by Noel Maghathe
Photos from Noel Maghathe’s Candle Performance
Q: How has life been for you out of art school?
It’s been good, I have had several events. The thing is I need to get out of Cincinnati, ha! I have had over 10 performances in the past few years.  I use grapes a lot in my performances, they connect me to my grandmother who used to have them growing her backyard.  She would have me pick them for her and she would eat them with pita bread.   
Things have been difficult recently with the occupation on Palestine. I want to continue educating people about Palestine and what it is like to be a Palestinian-American, I hope to work with a group of local Palestinian-Americans and have discussion seminars with the public to continue the education and awareness.
Q: What brings you joy?
Thinking of a free Palestine, my dog, (I just adopted her, her name is Zaytoon (Olive in Arabic) I love her so much, I have a little camera in my room so I can check on her.)  candle making, my mom, the stars and the moon, and Griffin my partner.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?
With the pandemic it has really changed the way I view time.  I’m hoping to be alive and healthy in 10 years, that’s all I could want to accomplish, anything else that happens is a plus!
Noel Maghathe Performances: 
A photo still from a performance by Noel Maghathe, Mitosis
A photo still from a performance by Noel Maghathe, Mitosis
Collaboration between Noel Maghathe and Sydney Rains (@sydney.rains). Costumes created by Noel Maghathe. 
“Sydney and I performed once every hour for three hours each time leveling out different aspects of Zaha Hadid’s design of the @cincycac . While holding each other’s thoughts above our own, we captured what it meant to be two or one, balancing and leveling ourselves for each other. These images are from our last hour performing. “
A photo from the performance "Blue in Arabic"
Photo of Noel Magathe with the city behind them.
A photo from the performance "Blue in Arabic"
Blue in Arabic 
أنا في الجسم أنا ماء ازرقازرق 
I am in the body I am water 
Drawing on the Hurufiyya movement, while learning Arabic, I play between the lines of the dictation of languages with physical representation, with the body and material. Images by AAC Alum  Nikki Nesbit.