About Zena

Zena el Khalil believes in the positive impact that art can have on the world. Born year of the Dragon, she 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. 

el Khalil's work has been exhibited in international institutions and galleries such as the Mori Art Museum, Japan; Madre: Museo d'arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli; BAM Biennale Arcipelago Mediterraneo, Palermo; Institute du Monde Arabe, Paris; Boghossian Foundation, Brussels; Royal College of Art, London; National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo; Galleria Giorgio Persano, Turin; Barajeel Art Foundation, United Arab Emirates; Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Berlin; White Box, Munich, and Fondazione Merz in Turin. 

Zena is regularly invited to lecture about her work and novel. She has been featured in The Guardian Hay Festival: Segovia, Spain; the Edinburgh International Book Festival, UK; the Hay-On-Wye Festival of Literature, Wales, UK; the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), UK; The Leighton House, UK; the American University of Beirut and the American International School, Lagos, Nigeria. The New York Times, CNN, BBC,  Le Monde, El Pais, The Guardian, The Financial Times, LA Times, La Stampa, Repubblica, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine, to name a few.

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Artist Statement

The word is the audible manifestation of breath. And all the while, from silence, to breath to sound, there is vibration, or Spanda in Sanskrit- the subtle creative pulse of the Universe as it manifests into living form. And it is words that have powerful healing vibrations that I choose to work with. If the entire cosmos and all that exists, from the smallest quark to the largest quasar consists of sound vibrations (nāda), then we could use sound energy, even our very thoughts, or spandan (thought vibration) as building blocks to create a global matrix of peace and reconciliation. Inspired by nāda yoga (union through sound) and dhikr (repetition of devotional phrases), I use words in a creative play of consciousness into form and form awakening to consciousness. My works become perfect units in a complex arabesque- multiplying and expanding through anāhata (unstruck sound) and praṇava (audible sound), creating a bridge between Universal Consciousness and the physical world in an interrelationship between vibration and form within the Matrix of Space-Time-Being.

Merging art and healing modalities, I conduct healing ceremonies across Lebanon in spaces that have historically endured trauma and violence, such as environmental disasters, massacres and even the torturing of human beings with the intention of transforming these places and objects in them into generators of peace and reconciliation in nature and with communities. I developed these ceremonies with techniques informed by Yogis and Shamans I have been studying with. The ceremonies include a process of meditation; music and chanting of mantras, dancing and whirling, and a purifying fire ritual. It is through these ceremonies and ritual, that I actually create my paintings, sculptures, video and sound works. From the residual carbon ashes of the fires, I create a special ink onsite that I use to paint with. And through the method of ritual, I come to understand which mantras will manifest into sculptures. And throughout all this, I record to create sound and video pieces.

All this work started from a very personal place. The first site I worked on healing was my family home in Hasbaya south Lebanon. Our house was once occupied by the Israeli army for over 20 years and used as a military detention center where people were imprisoned, interrogated and even tortured. In the year 2000 when south Lebanon was liberated, I went home for the first time and took photos... and then waited for instructions from the Universe.

Informed by Tantric practices, I contemplate on the notion that we have all arrived from the womb of the God/dess; the gift of life being the most compassionate of all acts. With this realization, I find home nestled within a non-dualistic understanding of my Divine Self, in oneness or dare I say tawhid, with my true Divine (Mother) Nature. All the work I do comes from this resonance of Universal Love, which I have come to believe is our true essence.

With all my work, I ask the question: is it possible to create an object that could put an end to violence? After years of work and research, asking all sorts of people from gurus in the Himalayas to quantum physicists at TED, I found my answer. It is possible. You are that object. You are the greatest work of art ever created. You can work on a personal level to become that instrument of peace, as peace starts within. If we can “tune” ourselves back to the resonance of Universal Love, which I have come to learn is our true essence, then everything else falls into place. We are that object. Art is a tool. And Love is the way. Connecting us all to every thing that ever was and ever will be. Every atom, every leaf, every whale, every star and every breath, come together to create the beautiful fabric that is-







"S/he who knows the secret of sound, knows the mystery of the whole Universe." – Hazrat Inyat Khan

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. Through xanadu*, she also publishes young poets and comic book artists in Lebanon, also publishing the first four editions of Samandal Comics Magazine. Though her new project, the Ātman Institute, Zena is curating cultural workshops and concerts pertaining to Nāda Yoga, the yoga of sacred sound.

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 novel, Beirut, I Love You, published in 2008 is translated in several languages. She has also been included in several anthologies including 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 speak at a conference on freedom of expression over the internet. In 2012, Zena was selected to become a TED Fellow, and has since given a few TED and TEDx talks. In 2018 she was awarded with a Senior Fellowship at TED. In 2016, Zena graduated from the first program in the world, certified by the Yoga Alliance, devoted entirely to the practice of sacred sound and subtle vibrations. She is from the first class of graduates. She then went on to establish the Ātman Institute, a collective which aims to use the healing art of sound to create a culture of peace through workshops, lectures, concerts and exhibitions. In 2017, Zena launched a national scale 40 day exhibition and multi disciplinary project of her work entitled Sacred Catastrophe : Healing Lebanon at Beit Beirut. She was the first artist to exhibit in this historic war relic.

Zena has also completed two yoga teacher trainings certified by the International Yoga Alliance; Nāda Yoga (Heart of Sound 200hr RYT) in Rishikesh, India and Hatha Yoga (Indea Yoga 250+hr RYT) in Mysore, India. She has also trained in Sufi whirling and is a Quantum Alchemy Crystal Bowls and Reiki practitioner. She is currently in training with the Foundation of Shamanic Studies, the British Institute of Sound Therapy and the Tantrika Institute.


Beirut Update

“From fire, we create life. From destruction, we find the strength to construct meaning in our lives.

If stars destroy themselves, then maybe it’s only natural for us to do the same. We are obeying the fundamental laws of our universe. Churning each other up, and spitting out star stuff. Constantly. Effortlessly.”

TED Blog /
Interview with Zena