A tiny woman making huge art, Marie Khouri is a study in contrasts. Her most recent installation is a large pair of stainless-steel abstract sculptures called “Eyes on the Street”. One is 18 feet tall, the other is 12 feet. They keep watch over a public square in her adopted city of Vancouver, a long way from her birth place in Cairo.
Marie herself is petite and elegant. She usually wears black. When she is not covered in plaster, dust or paint, she pairs this black with striking bold pieces of gold jewelry she has made herself. Her work started small. Not from a lack of desire to go big, but because the shelves at school where one left projects between classes weren’t very high. She turned her small abstract sculptural creations into key chains, purses, bracelets and necklaces for fun. Most were gifted to friends, a few were sold.
She was deep into a successful fulfilling career in finance when she and her husband sold their business. She was 35. It was the perfect time to take a short sabbatical; try something new. Marie sign up for a sculpture class at L’Ecole du Louvre. . Almost instantly she knew she had stumbled across something special. “My hands became my language” she notes. She found her passion, her voice.
Turns out Marie had a lot to express. She is no stranger to conflict. Born in Egypt, she was raised in Beirut until her father was assassinated during the civil war. She was forced to flee, immigrating to Canada along with her mother and brother. She is a mish mosh of Italian, Spanish, Christian and Jewish descent. She speaks 5 languages. At 18, Marie moved to Paris to study linguistics at the Sorbonne. She became a translator. Then she went into finance.
Her complex background allows her to relate to everyone; her history is found in her work. A wonderful series of charcoal reliefs are actually stylized maps of Lebanon., She uses branches from the Lebanese national tree, the Cedar in many of her pieces. Doves are another common theme. “Marie uses art to bridge culture and promote understanding” notes Canadian Politian Sam Sullivan.
Yet, there is nothing precious about Marie’s work. Her pieces are created to be touched, filled with plants, sat upon. In 2014 she completed what may be her most inspirational work. This masterpiece, in its entirety, takes up 75 feet and is composed of 21 different pieces. Each is a beautiful sculpture in its own right; combined (and seen from above) they spell out “daouna najlous wa natahadas”. “Let’s sit and talk” in Arabic. It is Marie’s most political work. “It stemmed from a need to turn zones of war and conflict into a sculptural poem” she once said, “A positive, progressive intercultural dialog”. A plea and a suggestion. Could some of the world’s problems be solved if people took the time to talk? If all cultures could come together. Wonderful idea and you can sit on it.
A Google search for Marie reveals raves about her art and the telling of her fascinating story. Yet there is even more to this remarkable woman. She wears outrageously high shoes and can dance in them all night. She is a fantastic cook and an even better mother who will drop everything to be with her kids. Her maiden and married names are both Khouri.
She’s also one half of a fairytale romance. Age 20, studying in Paris, she is told by one friend that another of their childhood playmates from Lebanon is living in the city, But the friend has no idea where. Marie called every Khouri in the phonebook until she found the right one. Robert. They have been together ever since.
Sadly for the fashionista she no longer makes purses or jewelry. As a result these pieces have become highly collectible. Happily with her sculpture she is making the world a more beautiful place. The Hotel de Crillion in Paris recently reopened after a major renovation. Marie created “Vessels” a series of bronze fountains for their interior garden. Though totally modern, they would not have seemed out of place when Louis XV roamed the building. Anyone luck enough to stay in the Marie Antoinette Suite, so named because history claims it is the room in which the doomed Queen spent her last night, can gaze at their own reflection in the sculptural mirror Marie created specifically for oh so glamourous suite.
The contrast between this remarkably happy and fun woman with the person who experienced war, loss and relocation can be hard to reconcile. Meaningfully, Marie Khouri turned her trauma into forms and shapes of remarkable beauty. She also gives good advice. “It is never, never, never too late to embrace your passion”.