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Ammanda and Kate Selye (Salzman) Profile Work Biography  



Saleh al Shukairi

  On the Internet and in the Press:



American artists Ammanda Seelye Salzman and Kate Seelye grew up in the Middle East steeped in a family history which began in the Arab world in the mid-1800s.

Ancestors Frederic and Sarah Williams set sail for Mount Lebanon in 1848 as part of a growing American mission movement to spread “Yankee” values.  Subsequent generations returned to the region as academics, diplomats and journalists.

The artists see their family’s long history in the region through the lens of a complex, always evolving relationship between America and the Arab world.

In this installation, they have mined their 164-year old family history to explore the implications of cross-cultural encounters and the fraught nature of East-West relations.

The mixed media collages highlight the role that religion and later education played in defining the nature of the first American encounters in the Middle East. The establishment of the American University of Beirut in 1866 by American missionaries marked a turning point in the early relationship, as AUB became a center for Arabism and opposition to French and British colonial rule. There, Laurens Seelye, the artists' grandfather, encouraged his philosophy students to become free and independent thinkers.

Later generations of the artists’ family turned to diplomacy as a key tool in building the Arab-American relationship, while the fifth generation  - disenchanted by the failures of American foreign policy -  turned to journalism in an effort to interpret the Arab world for Americans.

Coloring the Past culls from family photos and letters, super-8 family footage, and materials from the family archive, including fliers printed in 1920s Beirut, exams given by the artists’ grandfather to his classes at the American University of Beirut, and newspaper articles reflecting the foreign policy crises that characterized the later Arab-American relationship.

Through these materials Ammanda Seelye Salzman and Kate Seelye tell a very intimate story about one family’s enduring connection to the Middle East and its impact on their sense of belonging and identity. 


Ammanda Seelye Salzman | Kate Seelye