As part of the Empowerment initiative, Growth Is A Journey is very honored to share the amazing story of artist Mariam Paré.
Mariam Fatima Paré was born in Kenitra, Morocco. Her father, a Marine Sargent was stationed in Morocco after the Vietnam War to work at the American Embassy and her mother was from near Tangier, Morocco. They came to live in the United States when she was very young. She always loved painting as a girl, and once her talent became obvious to her family, it was very natural that Mariam would be pursuing a career in arts.
In 1996, Mariam, a bourgeoning artist pursuing a degree in arts was visiting friends in Richmond, Virginia. Her life completely changed in a split of a second, when she was hit by a random bullet while sitting at a stop sign in her car. The bullet pierced her back and left her paralyzed for the rest of her life. At 20 years old, with her ability to keep a brush in her hands suddenly lost, her dream to become an artist appeared dead. Mariam’s expressive joy and passion were replaced by depression: “In the beginning I grieved a lot. I was very sad. Depressed. There’s no way to explain what it’s like to completely start over from ground zero in your life”. She was eventually introduced to the idea and technique of painting with her mouth: “Learning to paint with my mouth was very humbling. I really sucked at first. Months before my accident, I was painting sophisticated portraits and landscapes. I had a great talent and people loved it. But once I became disabled, it was like starting all over again. I had to learn how to draw again, learn how to paint again, learn how my mouth made brush strokes differently than my hand would make brush strokes. It really knocked my ego down because all my life, I had been praised for my artistic abilities. But here I was starting all over again.”
The fact that she could paint again gave Mariam a renewed purpose in life and her dream to become an artist came alive: “It was like a lifeline for me. And it gave me purpose. It gave me something to work on.” Seeing the potential again, Mariam’s goal had become to paint with her mouth at least as good as she once was with her hands. In Mariam’s own assessment, that took about 8-9 years. A few years later, Mariam realized how in fact her own disability has been actually setting her apart as an artist – a lot of her artwork differentiates itself by giving a voice to the disabled: “As a disabled person, being creative can be cathartic. It took me a long time to be able to make art about my disability. I was a painter of faces and landscapes and still lives, but there was a part of me that wanted to express my experience. When I finally got to the point where I felt I could paint about my experience as a paralyzed person, I painted all these birds tied to rocks and people buried up to their chest. I called the series Heavy. It was the first time in my life I was able to make art based on that. But once I was, it really helped me come to terms with my disability and my place in the world.”
In 2003, Mariam began a degree in Fine Art and in 2006, she was accepted as a member of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA), an international, exclusive, and esteemed association of artists who paint professionally either by use of their mouth or feet.
Fast forward to 2020, her artwork has been exhibited at galleries and festivals in the U.S. and internationally. Mariam’s work has even impressed celebrities like John Stamos, Neil Patrick Harris, and Pierce Brosnan, who commissioned her for a portrait. As a matter of fact, in October of 2014 international film star Pierce Brosnan learned about Mariam’s work and invited her to his Malibu California home where she presented him with a painting she had done of him in his iconic James Bond role.
Mariam also licenses her mouth-painted art in the form of greeting cards, calendars and other products.
For more information on Mariam and her work, or to follow her on social media, see links below:
(Article and picture published with Mariam Paré’s permission)