Alia Bensliman: Doodling From Tunisia to Trenton

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With the city of Trenton almost taking up 8 square miles of land, it's inevitable that you'll run into practically the entire arts community during an event; something as simple as a gallery opening could bring out the majority of the movers, shakers, painters and appreciators on any given Friday night. That fact makes a new face in the scene very interesting; it's even more intriguing when that new face can make an impact out the gate. That's where Alia Bensliman comes in; the name might not sound familiar, but her dynamic work—and her passion for both art and the revitalization of the city of Trenton—appear to make her a unique new asset to what's going on within the community.

If you attended Monster's Ball 2016, or at the very least saw this year's Art of Darkness: Nightmare on the Bayou exhibit, her work should be familiar, primarily because her piece "Pulcinella Takes Off Her Mask" took home first prize.

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The piece, which features a woman removing a mask while a skeleton is taking hold of her, isn't just a spectacularly on-theme work of art; there's a deeper story there that Alia graciously shared with me during a calm Saturday night at Artworks Trenton. "I had some issues over the summer," she says. "I had severe migraines and I was hospitalized twice. It was a tough moment for my family." Alia is Pulcinella, you see, and she explained that the skull biting Pulcinella represents her fight with the migraines, with the baby symbolizing her fight against the headaches. The mask? That represents her removing the illness, which she said she's getting over. The plants hugging Pulcinella are a representation of her husband, who she says is "fantastic" and is "always encouraging." Word to the wise: Alia says that all of her drawings have "tiny symbols" and stories weaved into them; some of them more hidden than others.

It's hard to tell from an image, but Alia's drawings are way more intricate than you might realize. She mentioned that "Pulcinella" took a few months to do, but these were almost 16-hour days spent working on it, primarily to meet the Art of Darkness' deadline. She normally documents the progress of her pieces via her Instagram page, but purposefully kept Pulcinella's progress a secret because of the competition. While Alia doesn't consider herself an excellent drawer, she says she "always loved lines and textures, dots and colors." She shared a few never-before-seen images of the Pulcinella process, just so you can see how something of this magnitude was put together.

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She calls herself "Doodles Diary," which is an homage of sorts to her childhood, particularly about how she'd always wanted to have her own diary. Due to her dyslexia, "it was "always difficult for me to write," Alia explained. "The only way I could write about myself was to draw, to express my life with pictures." Her doodles end up becoming stories about her life. When asked how long she'd been doodling or creating, Alia jokingly says since she was in her mother's womb back in Tunisia, where she was born and lived. She actually met her husband, Khaled, in Tunisia, and while he grew up in Maryland, they settled on living in New Jersey about eight years ago, primarily due to his work but also because Alia fell in love with the history of the city of Trenton as well as the architecture of this great city.

In Tunisia, Alia did study art, but it was more of a design school that involved architecture (a.k.a. she knows a thing or two about AutoCAD), and while she did do some internships, that line of work didn't interest her. She soon fired up YouTube and learned how to make jewelry, and after attending workshops conducted by Susan Kazmer, Alia says she "fell in love" with working in mixed media. Alia's jewelry pieces involved recycling things like magazine paper and turning them into beads, utilizing some of her Tunisian flair and influences in the designs and really just having fun, as well as seeing where this style of jewelry making could take her.

For those of you planning on stopping by Artworks for Art All Day (which takes place on Saturday, November 12 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.), you're in for a treat: Alia is among the cavalcade of artists showing their works. She will have some of her drawings on hand, as well as a number of her jewelry pieces. It's one of those magical moments where you can see someone emerging from their shell and truly being ready to show the world what they can do without being selfish. "I think Trenton is a wonderful city," Alia says, "and the people of Trenton need to be more encouraged to get involved in [local] activities." She specifically shouts out Lauren and Addison at Artworks, which she considers her "first family."

Hopefully you're as excited to see what Alia has in store for Art All Day 2016 as she is in presenting her art to you. For more details on Alia, be sure to follow her on Instagram. If you have any questions about Art All Day 2016, consult this handy post (which also includes PDFs of every stop on the tours), and be sure to follow the Art All Day page on Facebook, as well as @ArtworksTrenton on Instagram.