Harmonizing Artistry, Music, and Mental HealthOct 22, 2023 02:04AM ● By Natalie Veloso
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
At the intersection of art, music, and psychology, the craftsmanship of a local artist brings an unconventional creative vision to Omaha.
Ameen Wahba, a multidisciplinary artist whose work stretches beyond traditional boundaries, crafts avant-garde experiences that traverse the vibrancy of visual performance, the soul-stirring cadence of melodies, and even the profound soul-searching of psychotherapy.
“It always starts with a feeling—I feel happy, or I feel distraught in some way,” Wahba said. “And there's this urge to express it; to process and move through it.”
At The Union for Contemporary Art, Wahba is primarily a sound, video, and installation artist, contributing his ingenuity as a 2023 fellow. During his year-long fellowship, Wahba’s creative focus shifted toward experimental film and sound on a personal project filmed in Hi8.
Wahba’s dual identity as an artist and practicing psychotherapist finds mutual space, inspiring and enhancing each passion in turn. Here, Wahba employs the artistry—and the science of empathy— to seamlessly blend his vocations toward a common good.
“Personally, art feels like an internal kind of psychotherapy because I don't know exactly what I'm looking for, but I have these images or ideas,” Wahba said. “I pursue them, and in the process, learn something about myself.”
Wahba has established a delicate balance between indulging in a passion project and allowing it to dominate one’s existence. Having earned his psychology degree from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2017, he dedicates much of his time to his therapy work.
With the soul of an artist and the training of a psychotherapist, Wahba maintains that his own creative endeavors don’t burden him with excessive pressure.
“I think the most overwhelming part is the social sphere,” Wahba confessed. “Like, getting people's schedules for filming different scenes, or finding time in my work schedule to get to the studio. Having different mediums is honestly really fun for me.”
Wahba’s art reflects the complexities of the human experience, while his insights into the psyche infuse his creations with a depth that speaks to the heart and mind. His music, too, becomes an avenue for channeling these nuanced experiences into captivating rhythms.
Wahba is a guitarist for multiple bands, notably for alternative outfit Thick Paint, which has toured nationally. At other times, under the name “Little Ripple,” he embarks on solo ventures that grant him full creative freedom.
The real fun lies in his live performances—interactions between himself and the audience is a crucial element of Little Ripple’s art. Through projections and improvised interludes, his performances are unpredictable, only limited by the extent of his imagination.
“A performance doesn't just have to be someone playing music,” Wahba said. “It can be an opportunity to play with conventions or experiment with social situations.”
Wahba notes that while audiences anticipate a vocal performance, they don’t foresee the additional elements he incorporates. When it comes to surprises during his shows, he prefers to ask for forgiveness, not permission.
“During one performance, I had a punching bag, and then I walked around with a Zoom meeting on my head,” Wahba recalled with a laugh. “Another time, I asked the audience to close their eyes, and I went around and asked them to hold their hands up and gave them a date, and at the next show, a piece of candy.”
Elements of Wahba’s music are inspired by those he admires. He considers Animal Collective among the first bands to inspire him to branch out creatively and to explore a diverse range of genres. He also credits the impact of Fela Kuti, a Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer and activist, whose politically attuned music sparked a transformative movement. However, Wahba finds immense inspiration within his own circle of friends and community members.
Like his other artistic endeavors, Wahba believes a specific blueprint for a project isn’t necessary, as long as the end result evokes the emotions he aims to communicate.
“I'll play some chords or notes, and kind of babble to myself words that just make sense at that time,” Wahba said. “And then I go back and clarify to see, is this matching the feeling? Is it saying what I wanted to say?”
At 27, Wahba has refrained from confining himself to a single realm. While he identifies as an artist, he sees his personal time commitment as a 50/50 split between his creative pursuits and therapy work.
Balancing numerous endeavors can be challenging, yet Wahba has devised an effective approach. He designates a primary focus, such as his ongoing film project, while maintaining alternative outlets for self-expression. Presently, he’s engaged in a painting of green squares, adding to it whenever he’s not filming.
“I might be inspired after going to my painting and say, ‘Oh, I have a new idea for the movie,’" Wahba explained. “It all feels like one practice.”
While he expects to stay in Omaha, Wahba muses on future destinations and other possibilities, and his aspirations extend far beyond the cityscape.
“I hope to finish this film,” he said. “But I also hope to enjoy my life more and do less—to live more presently. I want to swim more, go to the ocean more, and make meaningful things.”
For other creative individuals in Omaha, Wahba encourages boldness and novelty in their art—“whether people get it, or not.”