You learn to appreciate sunshine in the absence of rain, but what if you learned it’s not joy, you appreciate in the absence of pain? 

For Ana Carina Najaam Phrisa Lee McBean (quite the mouthful) so, professionally she’s known as Najaam Lee artistically as the Rising Phoenix, it’s life, art and healing she learned to appreciate. Not just in the absence of pain, but because of the strength it has shown her, she possesses. With a mix of hot-blooded and cool tempered cultures from the Caribbean, Dutch, Scottish and Indian heritages that help identify her uniqueness it’s no wonder the Toronto-born, Boston inhabitant has touched the soils of warmer climates than these though not for the cultural vacations you may think.

“I traveled a lot when I was young, my parents took me to a variety of warm climate states and countries,” Lee recalls “to see if my illness would improve.” The illness she is referring to is one not easily seen from her glowing exterior,  it’s Sickle Cell Anemia, which causes red blood cells to be misshapen thus causing blockages in veins resulting in unbearable pain. The gift in all of this is through love and discovery of travel, museums, art, spoken word, nature, meditation and self-improvement she has risen spirits, awareness and appreciation of self, as well as others. Experience the art of living, through PAIN from the perspective of the Rising Phoenix, Najaam Lee.

WBM/AUTR: What drew you into the arts?

Art found me and drew me in. When I was about 5 years old, being in and out the hospital in Canada, a nurse would always come get me out my room, and bring me into this room where I could create, to escape the pain, and allow me to focus on something new. So we would do everything like painting, drawing, paper mache, etc. Also, in elementary school, Art was very important. I was drawing, painting all the time at school and I loved it. I felt I could express myself better through creating. It became my voice.

WBM/AUTR: What’s your name Najaam mean, is there a story there?

Najaam , is an Arabic name, it means Star or Bright Star. It is also a Surah in the Quran. I was given this name upon becoming a Muslima.

WBM/AUTR: Seeing as my alias is Ty Phoenix, I have to ask How’d your alias of Rising Phoenix come about?

Rising Phoenix came about a few years ago when I made a decision to go full on with my art. Years before, I came out of a painful relationship and I was also doing my other business of Fashion Styling and it was like both of these had failed and died around the same time. And I died with them. Few years later, out of those ashes, my wings returned, but much more stronger, brighter and bigger, taking flight, and that is how Rising Phoenix came to be my alias for art.


WBM/AUTR: Why is it you’ve chosen to be such an active advocate of Sickle Cell Anemia, as not everyone who has it is as active, and how is it relevant to your artistic style?

I got so tired of the bad lack of pain management and hospital care from medical staff that I was receiving, and other Sicklers were also receiving, and they were telling me their stories as well. All the racial discrimination and stigmas placed on Sicklers was way too much. And most were coming from “Medical Staff”. So, I decided no more. Enough. I’m speaking out and I will do whatever I can to get President Barack Obama involved and my state senator Elizabeth Warren. And my artistic style coincides from diving into the rabbit hole of curiosity, mystery, beauty, the body and suffering. How the body-mind-spirit-emotion expresses itself through all these obstacles coming for her. What does the body say? What truth is it trying to say or express so that you can hear or feel?

WBM/AUTR: Aside from painting what other forms of artistic mediums do you use? 

I also draw using ink pens, pencils, mixed media. I also do Performance Art. In 2013, I did a video performance art piece for Breast Cancer Awareness. See the video below:

WBM/AUTR: Is art the only form of “entertainment” you’re into? Why or why not?

No. I’m also into Modeling, which I started out in when I was about 10 or 11. I have done some acting, such as some work in The Jackson 5 movie, Poetic Justice…I do love music, also taught myself to play guitar- fave is the electric guitar. I also love creating videos and photography. My past trip to Chicago and Detroit, Michigan, I am working on an artistic photo-video piece based on that trip. And I love writing and spoken word, which I began doing while in college and have performed in New York, Florida, and in California. In 2012, I wrote my first book called Discovering Your Fit, which is based on knowing your body type to style the best look for you.

WBM/AUTR: Which piece of yours would you say has had the most impact? What would enthusiasts of your work say?

This piece which many have seen which is a part of the PAIN series coming this summer, say it has a heart of Picasso in it. From the Galan series, many were impacted by these 2 pieces: some said it was like touching something they’ve experienced before. Enthusiasts have said that there’s a mystery to my pieces, yet has a familiar knowing of their life.


WBM/AUTR: How does your first 9-piece series, “GALAN,” differ from “PAIN”?

Galan was inspired by the meaning and location. A mountain peak in the Andes in Argentina. In Spanish it means ladies man, in Hindu it means Thaw; the sudden thaw resulting in a flooding. Galan expresses the journey of finding one’s path, finding you, and going veils, climbing ladders, seeking protection, and finding the light. PAIN is about diving down into the rabbit hole of pain. To feel and understand chronic pain; see how the beauty of the body is inhabited by foreigners that attack it everyday. On one hand, you see sexy, sensual, free-spirited. Most people will see this, until you take a closer look and see all these creatures (cells) take control and deform the body.

WBM/AUTR: Where do you draw your inspiration, as many of your current pieces of the “PAIN” series seem to be female-centric? Is there a reason for that?

I draw inspiration from Me. My life experiences, knowledge I’ve gained, travel or places I visited. So, my art, especially in this series, reflects a part of me. I was born with Sickle Cell Anemia-SS, which is a blood disorder of the red blood cells that carries oxygen in the body. These red blood cells are shaped like bananas or 1/4 moons, which clog up the veins like traffic jams, this creates a series of excruciating pain in the body that goes into the muscles, bones. These pain attacks can last from a few hours to few weeks and even longer. These painful attacks feel like someone stabbing me with a sharp sword over and over without relief. So for the PAIN series I look at that in a deep way.

WBM/AUTR: Do you express yourself through art or does art express itself through you?

Both. There are times, I get visions or things come to me and I have to stop whatever I’m doing to either sketch it out or just do it. And other times my verbal communication is not the best, and through art I can be clear on how I’m feeling.

Najaam 3

WBM/AUTR: Why does what you do matter?

It’s a part of me as is my arm or hands, I got to do this. What I do inspires others and if this is how I can be of service to others, I will not stop. Its in me to create beyond it being a passion. Creating is my language that I speak.

WBM/AUTR: Anything else you’d like to express?

Telling my story through art or public speaking, is so important to me, to do my part in making some sort of impact in the world. If my journey helps someone else, then I have done my mission on this planet. Doing the SOS Campaign, , is to bring a very loud vocals worldwide to a silent, unknown disease. There is an underlining thread of shame when it comes to Sickle Cell, that it must stop now. Yes, I know many celebrities who have it, or someone in their family has it, and they will not speak up. I want this change to happen, and getting President Obama to speak on sickle cell to the world will leap many organizations, companies, etc into some serious REAL ACTION and it will motivate so many to speak up about SS. To sum things up, without art as my outlet for stepping away from the stabbing pain I have daily from Sickle Cell, even for a little while, then I would not be here today doing this interview. I’m painting the pain away one canvas at a time!