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The Secrets They Carry

Gouache and ink on board

96.5 x 78 cm

The phrase that I have written is from a saying in Arabic, loosely translated to mean, “There are many secrets hidden under the abaya.” The abaya is the outer black robe that many women in the Arab world wear.

While writing this phrase over and over, I thought about the many secrets and stories hidden beneath her abaya. What has she seen, what has she heard? I thought about her strength as a woman, her beauty, her power, especially in the face of adversity, war and displacement.


I thought about her protecting her children, wanting only peace and stability for them. I thought about her ability to persevere in any circumstance she faces.

The Secrets They Carry, Helen Zughaib
Helen Zughaib

Helen Zughaib was born in Beirut, Lebanon, living in the Middle East and Europe before coming America to study art at Syracuse University.

Currently living in Washington, DC, she paints primarily using gouache on board and canvas, and creates mixed media installations.

Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in America, Europe and Lebanon. Her paintings are included in many collections: The White House, World Bank, Library of Congress, US Consulate General-Canada, US Embassy in Iraq, Arab American National Museum, Detroit, and DC Art Bank. She has received grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities in 2016 and 2017. Her paintings have been included in Art in Embassy exhibitions in Brunei, Nicaragua, Mauritius, Iraq, Belgium and Lebanon. She has been invited by the State Department to travel to Palestine, Switzerland and most recently Saudi Arabia, as cultural envoy. Her paintings have been gifted to heads of state by President Obama and former Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.

As an Arab American, Helen feels that her background in the Middle East allows her to approach the experiences she has in America in a unique way, remaining an observer of both the Arab and American cultures. She believes that arts are one of the most important ways to help shape and foster dialogue and positive ideas about the Middle East, especially since 9/11 and the more recent crises across the Arab world.

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