Zena el Khalil believes in the positive impact that art can have on the world. Born year of the Dragon, is a visual artist, writer and Nāda yoga instructor based in Beirut. Her work includes mixed media paintings, installations and performance that focus on creating a culture of peace through love, compassion, forgiveness and empathy. She holds a Masters of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in NYC, a Bachelor of Graphic Design from the American University of Beirut and a 200 RYT teaching certificate from the Yoga Alliance.
El Khalil exhibits internationally, including New York, San Francisco, Miami, London, Paris, Tokyo, and Dubai. She has also held solo exhibitions in Lagos, London, Munich, Turin and Beirut.
Zena also conducts a yearly performance entitled, The Pink Bride of Peace, where she participates in the Beirut International Marathon wearing a pink wedding dress. She uses this opportunity to pair up with local NGOs to raise awareness on issues in Lebanon pertaining to women’s rights, and to spread love, peace and positivity in a region that is volatile and unstable. The performance started in 2003 and continues to this day. Zena has also created two other performance-based projects that aim to spread peace on a national scale throughout Lebanon, including Reading for Peace and Healing Lebanon.
Zena is also the founder of xanadu*, a non-profit art collective, began in New York City as a direct response to the 9-11 attacks; el Khalil set up this platform as a gallery space, to help Arab artists during a time of extreme xenophobia in NYC. In 2006 in Beirut, she curated the first all young women art exhibition entitled “Shu Tabkha, Ya Mara? (What’s Cooking, Woman?) in partnership with the International Museum of Women’s program Imagining Ourselves, of which she was part of their Global Advisory Committee. She also co-curated “Nafas Beirut”, an exhibit that opened one month after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, featuring works made during the attacks. She was later instrumental in producing the first four editions of a magazine dedicated solely to comics and illustration in the Middle East, Samandal Comics Magazine. Through xanadu*, El Khalil also created a publishing house to support and publish poets and writers based in the Middle East.
Though her new project, the Ātman Institute, Zena is curating cultural workshops and concerts pertaining to Nāda Yoga, the yoga of sound and vibrations.
During the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, Zena was one of the first largely followed Middle Eastern bloggers; her writings published in the international press, including the BBC, CNN, and Der Spiegel. The entire Guardian G2 supplement in July was dedicated to her blog, Beirut Update. Her writing was also included in the anthology, Lebanon, Lebanon, published by Saqi Books and Beirut Noir, published by Akashic Books.
In May 2008, el Khalil was invited by the Nobel Peace Center to participate in a conference on freedom of expression over the internet.
Zena’s novel, Beirut, I Love You, published in 2008 is translated in several languages including Italian, Spanish, Swedish, and Portuguese.
El Khalil is regularly invited to lecture about her work. Some events include, The Guardian Hay Festival: Segovia, Spain; the Edinburgh International Book Festival, UK; the Hay-On-Wye Festival of Literature, Wales, UK; the University of Westminster, London UK; the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), UK; The Leighton House, UK; the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University.
El Khalil work and projects have been covered by The New York Times, El Pais, The Guardian, The Financial Times, LA Times, Spiegel Online, La Stampa, Repubblica, Time Out Magazine, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine, to name a few. She has also held several radio interviews with the BBC and has been featured on Al Jazeera’s arts program, “Artsworld”.
In 2012, Zena was selected to be a TED Fellow, and has since given a few TED and TEDx talks.
In 2016, Zena became a certified instructor of Nāda Yoga through the Heart of Sound program. This is the first program in the world of its kind, dedicated solely to the yoga of sacred sound and subtle vibrations, certified by the Yoga Alliance. She is from the first class of graduates.
She lives in Beirut and her daily mantra is Gandhi’s “be the change you wish to see in the world.”