Lebanese designer Rafik El Hariri turned to digital illustration so he could process difficult emotions, helping others in turn.
On a clear blue day, a man appears to emerge from a tree trunk. Flowering vines wrap around his body. His head turns towards a little bird hovering before him. In her beak is a golden key. The illustration that draws on pillars of nature, nostalgia, and mental health, is called Growth, and the man featured is the artist himself, Lebanese digital illustrator Rafik El Hariri.
El Hariri wasn’t always an artist. He was once a student athlete, engrossed in gymnastics, striving for perfection. This led to a very personal journey of depression, bulimia, and ultimately self-acceptance that he explores through his digital art and now a new book called 3:00AM. Released this month, it shares a mental health journey. “I hope people can relate to it because we’re creations of emotions who go through ups and downs,” El Hariri says. “Books tackle many important topics such as self love, self acceptance, mental health, and self discovery,” he offers.
Fighting the stigma of mental health, particularly in the Middle East, El Hariri has since caught the attention of the likes of the UN and Doctors Without Borders. He works within academia and offers independent workshops for children and adults. Next month, he will embark on a world tour in collaboration with Wacom, to speak about the fusion between mental health and digital media, and the importance and viability of using it as a tool for social impact. Despite his success, El Hariri underscores that opportunities have not always been forthcoming, and challenges abound. “Being a Lebanese, Tripolitan artist has no shortage of inspiration, but equally as well as struggle,” he says, adding that the last year in particular has been “very rough and filled with challenges considering the dreadful situation in Lebanon. I do admit that on several occasions I’ve contemplated the idea of giving up on my craft due to my fear of the unknown and feeling stuck in my own country,” he shares. “But in that moment, everything came rushing back to me and made me remember why I started doing everything that I’m doing in the first place. I’ve had so many doors open to me to do what I love most, telling stories through my illustrations.”
Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Vogue Man Arabia
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