PHL Airport's Airport Exhibitions Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Over the coming weeks, the airport will take a look back at some of the artists who have participated in the program over the last 25 years.
Symone Salib – whose murals and other artwork can be seen around Philadelphia – is a first generation Cuban/Egyptian street artist, muralist, and trauma-informed educator. Her portrait drawings feature bold graphic outlines combined with words for context, which highlight the lives and stories of the people of Philadelphia, especially people of color.
2020 – Terminal F, Para mi familia y para mi
Describe in general your artistic themes/subjects and the media that you work in.
Using acrylic paint, recycled paper, and a wheatpaste installation method, my goal is to create art that’s accessible to all within the community. It spreads joy, sparks reflection and conversation, and shines a light on the stories of people who are different from ourselves. I started out painting famous portraits but now focus on members of the community or those who are doing work for the community. I feel like I have a skill to help amplify other people’s voices.
What did you exhibit at the airport and what inspired this particular body of work?
Para mi familia y para mi was a 20-foot art installation featuring 35-plus portraits of all of the women in my life. In particular, it highlights the story of my grandmother’s immigration to the U.S. from Cuba, as well as the long lineage of strong women in my family. It was one of the first pieces I’ve made about my own story, rather than other people’s stories, and an opportunity to tell my truth. All of the women in my family are there – my mom, my grandmother, my cousins, my aunts. It’s easy to overlook the labor women put into things, and I wanted this piece to highlight that. It was such an emotional piece to make.
The mural was installed during the height of COVID, so unfortunately my grandmother was unable to travel to see it before she passed away.
What was it like exhibiting at the airport compared to where you usually display your work?
This piece was hand-made in my own home during the early months of COVID, customized to fit the dimensions of the wall. The installation was a collaborative process, and while I was creating it, I did not know that it would be installed in the way that it was. I’m used to posting street art and murals - posted around the city on construction barriers and boarded up houses - and this was a completely new experience. It was just so crazy to be asked to do this!
What impact, if any, did the PHL opportunity have on your future work/career?
The airport installation was one of the bigger challenges of my career. It gave me the confidence to continue to push for more larger scale projects – I love art that is bigger than me. It also gave me the momentum to use my art to dive into my own story and create more pieces that are inspired by my own life. And, it motivated me to apply to my first artist residency in 2020. Without this airport experience, I would not have had the confidence to put myself out there.
Art is such a big part of the Philadelphia experience, and I am so excited to have been a part of it at the airport. There are so many things we can be doing to encourage art in these spaces - here in Philly and around the globe.
To view an interview with Symone, check out this online tour of PHL's Exhibitions program from Visit Philly Live in August 2020.