b. 1991 Kelly Shami is a first-generation artist of Syrian and Lebanese descent born in New Jersey. She resides and works in New York City. 



BFA with Honors, School of Visual Arts, 2009-2013


Selected Press

2020, Vogue Italia, Kelly Shami - Feature

2020, Milk, Ones To Watch: Kelly Shami

2019, Flaunt Magazine, Q&A | Kelly Shami "Nameplate Poetry"

Honors & Awards

2013, School of Visual Arts Honors Program Graduate

2009, AANJ - NJ Emerging Artist


2020, Apple: Art Lab with Kelly Shami in New York City | 940 Madison Ave

2019, AIGA First Generation Conversation




Painting is an anomalous need I have in pursuit to constantly express the inexpressible. Growing up as a first-generation Arab woman in Western culture comes with many stigmas and suppressed feelings. I learned early on to embrace my solitude and express personal experiences through the private language of creating drawings and paintings. In my work, I use floral subjects to address familiar feminine issues I have experienced such as desire, doom, lust, shock, loss, destruction, change, and the beauty of the female form itself. I allow the floral figures to transcend into human-like figures as they become altered with embellishments and intertwined in scenarios. The piercing jewelry can be deemed as altercation, changes, or self-expression.


At a young age, I worked at my father’s jewelry shop and at a local florist shop. The jewelry shop is the first place I discovered piercing jewelry and piercing forbidden areas of the body. This act felt like an early sensation of self-control. Over time, I had ironically realized both flowers and jewelry are typical American gifts purchased to express affection. As a florist, I became enamored with a large variety of flower species and the language they possess to the giver and receiver. The play between the natural aspect of flowers and the manmade aspect of shiny metal calls to the duality of the world we live in. It is hard to find things that are 100% natural, and that includes love. The punctured flower subjects bloom and survive unnaturally forever through the act of being painted on canvas.


In my own experience of womanhood, I find myself steadily reintroducing and rethinking the meaning of “love”. During heightened circumstances of emotion, new meanings of “love” tensely shift and evolve through time by self-growth, sexuality, politics, and above all, honesty. I am a night painter, which is the time of day that allows me to speak to myself the most honestly and vulnerably. I believe you can see the truth in the dark if you take a more thorough, yet closer look. By working at night, I find that fine details and color palettes illuminate intensely in the dark like the clarity of true self-exploration. I aim for my paintings to be truthful depictions of emotion, that can allow the viewer to enter an appealingly dark, yet safe space to place their feelings in.