Joseph Tawadros & ‘Hope in An Empty City’

Riveting to watch on stage, Joseph Tawadros plays his pear-shaped instrument with such gusto, flair and focus, matched with creative movement and abandon. Usually donning a colourful outfit with a fancy hat (I quite like his bright yellow Fez) and spirited accessories (the heart-shaped purple specs), it really is the music that brings the throngs to his concerts and sells albums (he’s released 18 to date!).

Highly energetic, Tawadros knows he can joke and laugh with his audience; but, it is, of course, the oud which makes him the virtuoso genius who has been recognised and honoured as such far and wide. Already awarded four ARIAs (Australian Recording Industry Association), he was gifted with the Order of Australia Medal (AM) for his services to music and composition in 2016. He has toured extensively, also, headlining in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East and liaising with outstanding international artists.

Originally from a Coptic Egyptian background, the 37-year-old grew up in Sydney, Australia. Whether he is performing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, at prestigious halls (he is the only musician to have performed a solo concert for BBC Proms) or more intimate gigs, one can expect heightened emotions, as the oud brings newer tangents of experience and soundscapes, so seamlessly and effortlessly. His wooden-stringed wonder imparts the language of the synergy he personally embodies, between Middle Eastern heritage and adopted Western culture. Tawadros is an expert and not afraid to challenge and combine different musical genres, developing new structures and having fun with it!

Currently in London and having got stuck here the past couple of years because of the Covid pandemic, I met up with Tawadros in Little Venice, near St Mary Magdalene Church (the musical venue also known as Grand Junction), ahead of his concert this week Friday, where he will be performing and sharing tracks from his new album, titled ‘Hope in an Empty City’.

Nahla: What brings you to London and where is home?

Joseph Tawadros (JT): I really love Australia, as I grew up there and had a good time and a good following. But I also like London and the buzz, the people and the energy. It is quite inspiring and a good place to compose. I do feel very much at home in Australia and Egypt too. So I have these three places which bind me together and make me; and, I have to get a dose of each one of them every year.

Usually, I am traveling from place to place and doing concerts, so it is just an interesting different chapter. Now things are opening up, I have a big Australian tour scheduled for November with The Australian Chamber Orchestra. It is half my works and half of Vivaldi, and music of the Baroque, which I hope is going ahead. Again, because of the current lockdowns, it is on the knife’s edge.

Nahla: How has your life been impacted by Covid?

JT: Well, financially, it has been a disaster, but I have managed to survive. But I rely on performances and that hasn’t’ happened as much, so it has been a difficult time. But in one way, you find a lot of magic. You got to look at the positives of the situation.

And, of course, musicians have been going through things like this since the beginning of time. That is what the definition of a musician is, to overcome adversity or create in adversity or when times are tough. I think that is what people mostly look to, as artists to keep them sane and to resonate with them.

Since I was bored, I did also start a fun FB and Instagram page, writing about the wonderful characters of Shepherd’s Bush where I live. I was writing mainly about refugees, like Humans of New York, but Shepherd’s Bush London style. There was nothing much to do, but I found their stories and took photos. I haven’t done it for a while since I started getting work, but that was something that kept me focused.

Nahla: I am intrigued to know, who first got you into playing the oud?

JT: My parents emigrated to Australia when I was two. We had family there who moved quite earlier, so they thought it was a good idea. We also loved the arts and were so into Egypt, it made me want to be a part of it and learn more about it.

Maybe because we were big movie buffs, I saw the oud being played; and, especially, I loved the film about Sayed Darwish that inspired me to learn. There was a real thirst and wanting to be an Ambassador for Arabic and Egyptian things. I even had a big Egyptian stamp collection and watched Egyptian football!

I probably wouldn’t have been the oud player I am now, with the things I have accomplished, had I maybe been brought up in the Middle East. I was open to different types of music, and in Australia, that is a very multi-cultured society, so I was exposed to all sorts of cultures and sounds, and foods too. I think that shaped my attitude in music and weight.

Nahla: Do you go back to Egypt?

JT: Yes, I last performed there two years ago. I also gave a workshop at the Arabic Oud House, which is always great because it shows that they might benefit from some of the things you’ve learnt over the years. They are very accepting and warm and I have many great musician friends there. I also think the Egyptians are the funniest of the Arabs, they like to have a laugh, even if they are down in the dumps. In a way, I am taking this attitude to the pandemic, in an Egyptian way.

Nahla: Tell me about the new album, ‘Hope in an Empty City’? Where is this city?

JT: Part of this album was recorded in New York a couple of years ago at Avatar Studios, but then I added new tracks later in London and they were just solo oud tracks. I had the material but didn’t get round to releasing it, it just didn’t seem the right time.

It has the beautiful violin by Layth Sidiq, who is an amazing Jordanian violinist. It is the first album that I have another real Arabic voice added, though it is still a nice hybrid between some great jazz musicians. I’ve got Dan Weiss on drums, Scott Colley on double bass, and David Fiuczynski on fretted and fretless electric guitar.

In terms of the solo tracks, they are more what I was feeling more recently with that space and the empty city. So, yes, it is quite a timely album with 17 numbers. Again, it provides a soundtrack for everyone living what I lived and it could be any city. My music is universal, it could be anyone’s story.

Nahla: What inspires your compositions?

JT: I try to do something different. I love the traditional music that is always going to be there and is deeply rooted. For instance, I love Umm Kulthum and I try to find new recordings. I usually pick a song and be obsessed with it for a week or two, after which I’ll just drop it. Currently, it is ‘Ansak’ because she does some great improvisations I haven’t heard before. But that will drop soon and I’ll go into another song.

Nahla: You make the oud accessible to a Western audience and you seem at ease mixing it with different genres, like jazz, classical and rock too. How do you do this?

JT: I’ve had to grow up like that, it is what I’ve had to do and not out of intention. Because I am Australian I am that audience as well. There was a time when I was a kid and felt embarrassed to play in front of people. But, then, there was a point when I realised that in fact, this is something anyone can enjoy; and, just drop the view that people are finding this too ethnic. Just go for it and play.

There are parts in the new album where the oud sounds like a guitar; where it provides a backing role, instead of it always being at the front. I had a friend once who said to me: “You let all the other instrumentalists play too much. Aren’t you afraid they will overshadow you or take the spotlight?” But I think not.

It is more about what serves the music, and not about serving your ego. You have to be true to it; and, if the music doesn’t require you, then you should stay out of it. Like the violin in ‘Hope in an Empty City’, it has a lot of presence; that is because I like Sidiq and he has something to say. I believe it should always be what serves the music, and what will connect with people.

Nahla: What is planned for you in the next few weeks and months ahead?

JT: I am looking forward to the event at Grand Junction on 10 September. Then I am playing with the Chamber Orchestra in Bromley with Benjamin Grosvenor, who is a great classical piano player. After, I will be going back to Australia; although, there is talk I might not be coming back. They seem to be blocking all travel, unless you have a very good excuse. These are very uncertain times but I am optimistic, so let’s keep the music flowing and see how we go.

To buy tickets for the Grand Junction concert: https://grandjunction.org.uk/events/joseph-tawadros/

For more on Joseph Tawadros and his official website: http://josephtawadros.com

To follow Joseph Tawadros on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JosephTawadrosOud

To find Joseph Tawadros on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/josephtawadros/

This article was first published on Nahla Ink circa September 2021

Sondos Abdelmalak – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (August 2021)

This month I am extremely pleased to feature the Tunisian-Jordanian architect and visual artist Sondos Abdelmalak on Nahla Ink and share some of her pieces. Unusual her work most certainly is, but it has such an allure; that once viewed, it remains in your imagination for an unexpected while and with the yearning to see more. Also rare is the fact you can appreciate her work from different angles just the same, whether turned up or sideways!

I first became aware of Abdelmalak’s art last December through an article in the Arab press (http://www.https://alarab.co.uk) shared via Facebook, when I reached out to her and she responded positively. More recently, she also kindly invited me to the London Art Biennale 2021, held at Chelsea Old Town Hall in Kensington, when one of her paintings was exhibited.

Artist of the Month
Artwork: The Tulip Eater

Primarily qualified as an architect, Abdelmalak graduated from the National School of Architecture & Urbanism of Tunis in 2010. Currently living with her family in Vienna, Austria and working as such; for Abdelmalak, the art is a more recent development, having become a refuge away from stress and worries in the last few years.

In her own words, Abdelmalak offered: “Painting is my way to be free as a woman and as a human being. I run from the constraints and difficulties I face daily in my profession as an architect, in my life as a woman, wife and mother; to the white canvas, my white papers, my colours, my books and my music. My studio becomes my sanctuary.

Artist of the Month
Artwork: Words

“Due to my multiple moving during the last ten years, I have had the chance to live, to work, to paint and to exhibit my artworks in many countries, including: Tunisia, Jordan, The Netherlands, Malaysia, Austria, Italy, The UK, Sweden and India.

“Through my pieces, I try to translate women’s inner worlds and the experience of motherhood, as well as my emotions and dreams. My artistic practice is marked by experimentation; the experimentation in techniques, media, styles and subjects.”

Shaken Reflection, Acrylic on Canvas, Vienna 2020

For example, about her piece titled ‘Shaken Reflection’, Abdelmalak said: “She looks into the water… she sees her reflection. She sees what she thinks of herself, a reflection of her thoughts, never her real self. But what and how is her real self? She shakes the reflection and her thoughts with it. Maybe she will find her truest self in the moving and disturbed water.”

Mother of Two, Acrylic on Canvas, Vienna 2020

In the ‘Mother of Two’, the artist again challenges the idea of what it means to be a mother (usually associated with prosperity, joy, love and unconditional giving) and to integrate that with the reality of daily hard work, an exhausted soul and body, and sense of burden. Therein lies the struggle, how to maintain the balance between being a woman and being a mother.

Above all about her work, she said: “When I paint, I empty myself from myself. I paint my fears, worries, sadness and my dreams … When I paint, I draw the unseen, the thin lines I feel in the ordinary details of every day life.”

To follow the artist on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sondos_ab/

Hasan ‘Alsatoor’ Dhaimish (1955-2016) – A Libyan Artist in Exile

This August brings a tribute exhibition featuring the works of the late Libyan satirist and human rights activist Hasan ‘Alsatoor’ Dhaimish (1955-2016). Titled as ‘Resistance, Rebellion & Revolution’, it shows his prolific output of over 5,000 satirical cartoons spanning four decades, as well as a great selection of his paintings, at the Hoxton 253 venue in the N1 London postcode.

Work originally published 11.06.2011

Passionately curated by his children, Sherif and Hanna Dhaimish, they are honouring his loving memory since his passing in 2016 at the age of 61, by sharing his life story through his various bodies of artwork, while also expanding on his personal journey as an exiled Libyan in the UK. Earlier this year also they launched a website where visitors can access the vast catalogue of his output, a biography and more.

His son, Sherif, had the following to say about the exhibition: “The hardest part of this project has been choosing what not to show. My dad was a multifaceted artist. Those familiar with his satirical work often didn’t know about the artworks he produced outside of the political arena; and many of those who knew him here in England had no idea of the reception his cartoons were getting across the globe, particularly when he started his own website. This exhibition is a celebration of his life and the works he created. He was a special man, and his story deserves to be told”.

Hasan had left Benghazi, Libya in 1975 at the age of 19. He settled in Burnley, Lancashire and soon started publishing his critical cartoons in magazines. Hasan’s satire gained popularity in the early 1980s when he began publishing cartoons for oppositional magazines such as Jihad, which was produced in London by Mahmood Suleiman Maghribi.

Work originally published 16.07.2010

It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium, however, that Hasan adopted the pseudonym ‘Alsatoor’ (the Cleaver) and started gaining momentum with his satire thanks to the internet. A decade in education and a new career as an A-Level graphics teacher in Lancashire gifted him with a new range of creative skills, allowing his satire to grow with the digital age. Before beginning his own blog, he produced works for popular oppositional websites like Libya Watonona and Libya Mostakbal.

The Hoxton 253 show will have a dedicated display of his satire through the ages – from original magazines, to digital murals criticising Gaddafi and his regime, right through to his working during the 2011 Libyan Revolution and its aftermath, when Alsatoor was at his zenith. Hasan saw Alsatoor’s role as exposing corruption and voicing what he perceived to be the truth, no matter how harsh that might be. He understood and respected the power of ridicule, which is evident in the thousands of works he produced over time.

Sketch of Libya

Coinciding with the satire is a series of paintings he produced outside of the political realm. During the 1990s, Hasan was on the path of artistic exploration and education. He began creating works that used afro-American culture as the subject. From an earlier age, Hasan’s musical taste came from rock n roll, motown in the 1960s, disco and funk in the 1970s, as well as reggae and dub.

However, it wasn’t until his discovery of jazz and Delta blues that the works began to influence his art. As Hasan joined college and then university as a mature student, he unshackled himself from the caricature, and began to use art as an expression from within as well as a political tool.

Pauline’s Place

Hasan once stated: “During my fight against Gaddafi as Alsatoor in the 2000s, I found myself spending long periods working alone. I used to listen to jazz and classical music. The two were my companions on the long British winter nights while sitting in front of the screen. I liked jazz and blues music, it affected my artistic career.

“I loved it due to its melodies, its vitality, and the conditions in which it appeared. The suffering of black people in America at the beginning of the nineteenth century from slavery and racism was a reason behind creating this type of music. I felt a commonality in the suffering and persecution, which made me love it more, and I expressed that in a group of paintings and drawings.”

Happy Ground

As part of the efforts to keep their father’s artwork alive and in circulation, Sherif has also published an accompanying limited edition art book that is available to pre-order at all bookstores. It is titled ‘Hasan ‘Alsatoor’ Dhaimish – A Libyan Artist in Exile’ (Pendle Press, 2021).

The exhibition launches on the 18th August with an opening night and will run for the next ten days.

For more on the exhibition: https://www.hoxton253.com/resistance-rebellion-revolution.html

For more on the artworks of Hasan Dhaimish: https://www.alsatoor.com/

This article was first published circa August 2021

Zaid Ayasa: Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (June 2021)

After a short break from the Artist of the Month feature, Nahla Ink is back this June with a new creative whom I am super pleased to introduce to my readers and followers.

Palestinian artist Zaid Ayasa and I got in touch back in October 2020, when I discovered his art page on Facebook. I was taken aback then by his dynamic visual artwork as it approached the Palestinian story; and, its recurring themes of home, belonging to the soil, displacement, desire for peace as well as the right of return.

Using keys as a symbol and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem as the iconic backdrop, his pieces treasure all that is personal to the Palestinian, his verdant land and its fruits, for example, and the indomitable human spirit that has endured so much for so long.

 

 

Now that the world had to witness yet another threatened-forced eviction of Palestinians (families living in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem) and the horrible events that unfolded since, including at the Al Aqsa Mosque and attacks on Gaza, it is more relevant than ever to keep attention on local developments there and ensure we take the humanitarian stand by calling out this apartheid regime and join calls for positive change.

 

I am also pleased to share that Nahla Ink has signed to the Mosaic Rooms’ call to cultural organisations, artists and writers, for solidarity with Palestine and what that entails. You can learn more about this here: https://mosaicrooms.org/call-to-cultural-organisations-artists-writers-for-solidarity-with-palestine/

Biography: Courtesy of the Artist

Zaid Ayasa was born in Nablus, Palestine in 1984 and grew up in Jenin. He is now living and working between Jenin and Ramallah. His artistic education saw him graduate with a BA in Fine Arts & Interior Design from Al-Najah National University, Nablus in 2008.

Utilising a variety of mediums, Ayasa’s techniques and materials include digital and free hand drawing, sketching and painting. Many of his digital projects were necessary as choices have been dictated to by the worsening economic situation and the high cost for materials and artistic tools, such as brushes, colours, oil and acrylic on large canvases.

His passion for art however has no limits, open to all forms and dimensions. He has said: “Art preserves my soul from coarseness. It moves me slowly but surely, almost invisibly, yet radically onward and upward. Its fuel feeds the fires within me and allows me to experience and express passion and inspiration. To me, it is an endless opportunity of moments and connections with inspired meanings.”

Ayasa is also a professional musician who plays the darbuka, aka a goblet drum. He is fascinated by rhythmic multiculturalism and diversity, with a specific passion for traditional folk and indigenous music.

Describing his love for music and movement, he’s said: “As such, rhythm is my addiction. I hear and watch all vibrations and hues of sound emanating around me. Drumming is like a primal, more guttural, unarticulated call that rises up in me an unleashed yet healthy expression, as well as the desire to unravel, to play, to fly, to pray.” He has performed in many shows in Palestine, Jordan, the UAE and Italy.

Artist Of the Month

Currently Ayasa is working as a freelance graphic and branding designer, with a focus on advertising and branding campaigns. This professional niche has seen him twork in the UAE, as well as in Palestine, Jordan, Romania, Italy and the UAE.

He is also involved with projects that open up dialogue and discussion concerning the Palestinian reality of land and peace issues. His focus is on the human being, the daily details of worries and dreams, frustrations and joys, life in general as well as the personal.

Through his art, Ayasa attempts to highlight the interactions and constant negotiations for the Palestinians; with the miseries, the nonsense, the siege, blockade, the apartheid wall, the roadblocks, the tragedies, the calamities, the racism, the right to land and property, private space, and peace.

 

 

Revolving around types and forms of artistic resistance, heritage and clothing, Ayasa has contributed to the Palestinian Cities and Women Project, and the Man of Jerusalem Project. Always he asks the existential ‘why’ of the wars and the dead. Why the occupation, the violence and lying? Isn’t life too short and none of us are immortal? Is it possible to live in peace?

He’s said: “I regret not having been too active with regards to exhibitions and shows. The art scene in Palestine is suffering from the daily miseries of the occupation, poor economic conditions, lack of time, all coupled with the lack of interest on the side of the Palestinian Authority to showcase artists and provide them with institutional support.

Ayasa has exhibited in Palestine, Italy and the UAE.

This artist’s desire is to be in a large open space where he can offload the lines, ideas, and themes that linger in his mind and soul, to rendezvous with his many selves on a short trip and sit down and talk about a better future under a blue sky and warm sun. Looking forward, he wants to secure a scholarship for postgraduate studies in art.

 

To follow Zaid Ayasa on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zaidayasa/

To follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ZaidAyasaArtist

Yazid Kheloufi – Nahla Ink Artist (January 2021)

Marking the beginning of the New Year 2021, Nahla Ink is super glad to bring the works of the Algerian artist Yazid Kheloufi. He and I connected on Facebook and I fell in love with his work straight away; the poetry, the spirituality, the elegance and profound contemplation of the sacred as well as the reverence for the Arabic alphabet.

A versatile artist, his work includes etchings on clay, ceramic sculpture, paintings,  installation, graphic design and photography. 

Biography (Courtesy of the Artist)

Yazid Kheloufi is an artist originally from the region of Maghnia (Wilaya of Tlemcen) in Algeria, where he was anchored from an early age in a land steeped in history and mystical practices; these are the traces of a multi-faceted heritage, which can be found in his works, as he draws upon his roots to extract the beautiful, linking a great spiritual tradition to a culture enriched from various sources.

Artis Of The Month
Letters of Silence

His work as a contemporary plastic artist, indeed reflects, like his spiritual practice, a certain maturity. The line dance and profusion of graphics (letters and symbols) inspired by Arabic poetry, as well as on a spiritual lineage, are a common thread in his artistic creation, integrating into an Arab literary heritage. The spellings and text complement each other and call on one another, managing to account for the intimate momentum that inspired the writing; the letters also register a spiral movement symbolising the movement of the soul.

Artis Of The Month
Breath

Conversely, when he tackles the concept of emptiness, on a mixed clay support, he reveals a complex simplicity, encrusting modelled letters imitating the ancestral stucco, that of the Arab Andalusian masters; he then gives them a new more contemporary dimension. Whatever the medium, the purity and the power of Kheloufi’s work are such that the line seems to disappear, as if to go beyond matter.

Artis Of The Month
Wish & Prepare

Artist Statement (Courtesy of the Artist)

“Since my earliest age, I have been inhabited by letters and I have always wanted to understand the meaning of the wonderful Andalusian-style epigraphies; perched in the various mosques and shrines of my region (Tlemcen wilaya) that is rich in its civilisational past. I try to reproduce them in the ancestral way of the great sculptors of letters from the Andalusian era, whose names remain anonymous as their great artistic achievements were often attributed to the names of caliphs and Emirs!

Dialogue of Letters

“It is a purely personal involvement and a tribute that I wish to pay to these great figures of Islamic art. In my work I attempt to treat phenomenologically “the art and aesthetics of emptiness” as well as the poetics embodied in the alchemy of the “artist-instant-matter” relationship. 

“The image, also, being of the order of the sensitive, pushes man towards materiality and tactility; while words go beyond these limits. The impression left by an image is above all sensitive, while the impression coming from words is abstract, emanating as it does from reason, soul, heart and the interiority of being. Everything has both an apparent image and an underlying image. The image of the thing is not limited to its appearance, it also includes its interiority; for that is its truth and meaning, joining in this the power of words.”

Artis Of The Month
Dialogue of Forms

For more information about Yazid Kheloufi: https://yazidkheloufi.jimdofree.com/

Fathi Hassan – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (December 2020)

Nahla Ink is chuffed to bits to feature the Nubian (Egyptian-Sudanese) Fathi Hassan as Artist of the Month of December, 2020. Thanks to the Sulger Buel Gallery and arts curator Najlaa El-Ageli for giving Nahla Ink the opportunity to share his artwork to coincide with a current online exhibition. His solo show, titled ‘Soul Taming’ will be virtually accessible until the end of the year. All the images below are works by the artist that form part of the gallery display.

Fathi Hassan & Soul Taming (Text Courtesy of Sulger-Bulger Gallery)

Fathi Hassan is an artist, a poet, a dreamer; but, most of all, he is a dynamic creative set on taming his wild spirit and wandering soul through his art, meditations and poetry. Hassan’s visual work pulls the viewer firstly with its bold lines, then the floating texts, figures and symbols. Once that information and layer is absorbed, his pieces translate into a higher level of alchemical synthesis. His articulation unto the canvas is a deep form of poetry.

Fathi Hassan, Crossing, 2020, Mixed media on paper, 189x139cm

Essential to his work is the exploration of identity, as he constantly challenges, superimposes, writes and links events, past and present, to contemplate possible futures and potentialities. Hassan’s diasporic adventure for almost four decades reflects the displacement and the journey between the different spaces, times, perspectives and memories. His creations also reveal a love and passion for classical music and Opera, wherein his lines translate into visual melodies of emotions. His attention to numbers, codes, letters and musical notes are also weaved back into his compositions reflecting a multidimensional orientation.

Fathi Hassan, Burhan, 2020, Mixed media on paper, 74x98cm

His tapestries can also be experienced as archival material containing delicate traces of his Nubian culture and its place in the Arab world, wherein the Arabic calligraphy intersects and blends into symbols. In some instances the letters and the words sharply cut through the Nubian-African heritage to suggest a struggle and the fight for domination and survival. This suspended state is a powerful reminder of not only the past, but also inherently of what is happening today politically, socially and culturally.

Fathi Hassan, Magic Window, 2014, Mixed media on paper, 150x100cm

Ultimately Hassan’ work is to record, store, archive and tame the memories of dreams, souls, life and desire. His quest to pin down a hybrid-cultural form of self and identity continues and is ever so resonant with what is happening now. His utilising of the desert and forest imagery is a tool to reflect upon the injustices and inequalities of the human condition and existential state of being. He also does a brilliant job in bringing forward a Sufi elemental landscape as well as responding to the more recent crisis relating to Covid-19, referring to the traumatic post-Arab Spring period, the rise of the conservative right in the West and the deconstruction of democracy.

Fathi Hassan, Polyphemus Foot, 2020, Mixed media on paper, 99x147cm

Artist Biography (Courtesy of Sulger-Buel Gallery)

Fathi Hassan (aka Akkij Fathi) was born in Cairo in 1957 to Nubian-Egyptian parents. His family were forced to leave their homeland of Nubia when the Aswan High Dam was built in 1952, flooding a vast area now under Lake Nasser. Whether in photographs, paintings, installations, drawings or, often, directly on walls, his texts are deliberately illegible intended to highlight the plight of lost languages and oral history as a result of colonial domination.

In 1979, Hassan had received a grant from the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo and moved to Naples, Italy where he enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti and graduated with a thesis on the influence of African art in Cubism.

Fathi Hassan, Middle East, 2012, Mixed media on paper, 186x149cm

He was one of the first African and Arab artists to exhibit in the Venice Biennial in 1988; and, over the past 40 years, participated in numerous solo and group shows in Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Egypt, the United Kingdom and New York. For many years he has worked productively with renowned curator Rose Issa and currently lives and works between Edinburgh, Scotland and Italy.

Fathi-Hassan-Starway-to-the-Unknown-2020-Mixed-media-on-paper-190x149cm

Some of Hassan’s work is in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum, London and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC and Farjam Collections among many others. He is the subject of numerous publications and writings by major critics, curators and experts, from Rose Issa, Achille Bonito Oliva, Maurita Poole and Liliane Karnouk to Kathleen Goncharov, Francesca Petracci, Elizabeth Harney and Enrico Crispolti. He also features in the recent book ‘Lumieres Africaines’ published by Langages du Sud (2018).

About the Sulger-Buel Gallery

Sulger-Buel Gallery is an art gallery specialising in the contemporary art of Africa and its diaspora. Founded in 2014 by Christian Sulger-Buel, the gallery provides a focus for those wanting to explore one of the fastest developing, ground-breaking and important areas in contemporary practices — Modern & Contemporary African Art.

Whilst addressing a variety of artistic mediums including drawing, painting, sculpture and photography, the gallery is led by a diverse and international team of specialists. Sulger-Buel presents a dynamic exhibition program, produces innovative publications and offers consultancy services; visitors, curators and collectors alike can experience its cutting-edge shows at the London space a stones throw away from the Tate Modern as well as at international art fairs across the globe.

About the curator Najlaa El-Ageli

The ‘Soul Taming’ exhibition has been curated by Najlaa El-Ageli of Noon Arts Projects. She is a British-Libyan architect who in 2012 founded Noon Arts, a small private foundation, to explore the newly burgeoning Libyan arts scene and creative movement that had followed the 2011 Revolution. Its aim was to spot and nurture the work of talented local artists and bring it to the international stage.

After curating a number of successful exhibitions featuring contemporary Libyan art in the
UK, Libya and Malta, another big project came in 2015 when Noon Arts was commissioned
to curate the Imago Mundi Libya catalogue for the Benetton Foundation based in Italy. This
led to the publication of a substantial art book that travelled the world. And, soon after this, she began to liaise with other artists from the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that led to more shows exploring newer themes and turning to work as a freelance curator from a London base.

She has gone on to curate exceptionally well-received exhibitions, including: ‘Textural
Threads’ (done in collaboration with Arts Canteen in London), ‘Jewelled Tales of Libya’
(held at The Arab British Centre in London), ‘Pop Art from North Africa’ (held at the P21
Gallery in London and Casa Arabe in Madrid), ‘Waves’ (at Sulger-Buel Gallery) and ‘Retracing A Disappearing Landscape’ (this showed at the P21 Gallery in London, Casa Arabe in Madrid and Cordoba).

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For more on Soul Taming: https://www.sulger-buel-gallery.com/exhibitions/21-soul-taming-fathi-hassan/

To follow Fathi Hassan on social media: https://www.instagram.com/fathihassanartist/

For the artist’s website: http://www.fathihassan.com/

For more on the Sulger-Buel Gallery: https://www.sulger-buel-gallery.com/

For more on Noon Arts Projects: https://www.noonartsprojects.com/

Calligraphies of the Desert: Hassan Massoudy

Prefaced by his wife Isabelle Massoudy, ‘Calligraphies of the Desert’ is the latest collection of the master Iraqi calligrapher’s work as he turns his focus to the desert, published by Saqi Books. Here we find his signature art form as he ponders: the wonders of the sand dunes and their shifting nature, the reflective elements of the moon light shining down, the vision of the night stars, the feeling of space and the sound of silence, the movement of a camel, the Bedouin’s knowledge of his terrain, or the colour green as it portrays a welcome oasis for the thirsty traveller.

Leafing through this beautifully illustrated book, one is seduced into a thoughtful meditation –  brief or long depends on the time you are prepared to give it – signalled by the artist’s calligraphic interpretation of the desert as a real place and as an imaginary one too. Inspired by the Massoudy couple’s world travels to different desert lands over a number of decades and their collating of texts, poetry and literature about the phenomenon of desert, you get the sense of figurative movement with the words that he paints, as each individual letter comes to hold much power and meaning.

The Desert

With a user friendly layout, the pages on the right side are used to display the artist’s larger works in colour, in which Massoudy’s expert touch utilises the motifs and shapes reminiscent of the desert, with his recognisable majestic strokes in warm yellows, reds, orange, dusky pink and some browns too. These pieces take on poems, proverbs and short mystical compositions written in the Arabic language, be they originally from the Middle East or having been translated. From Al-Mutanabbi and Rumi, to Kahlil Gibran, and writers from the West, including Goethe, Baudelaire, and Antoine de Saint Exupéry.

Whilst set on the opposite pages are smaller illustrations done in black and white that tackle one word concepts or singular ideas, such as the artists’ take on: liberty, beauty, splendour, water, light, the void, the camel, the well, water, light, the wind, among others. Again, each word becomes a cause for contemplation and feast for the eyes, the mind, the heart and soul.

Light Upon Light 

Still yet the book includes Isabelle’s contribution of the longer texts taken from European travellers who have visited the Arab deserts that she had taken years to put together in personal notebooks. In the preface she mentions how, by the time they had visited the dunes of Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco, that: “I carried my little notebooks with me. The desire seized me to reread them in the solitude of the desert, in the very place where they had been conceived, as if to pay homage to those who had crossed it and suffered there, where some had died, yet where none had remained unmoved by it.”

Man’s residence is the horizon. Arabic saying

A prolific artist who has been based in Paris, France for many years, Massoudy is most highly regarded, respected and renowned in the art world by significant art curators, critics, collectors and among other calligraphers throughout Europe and the MENA region. His works have been exhibited internationally and belong to many permanent collections at art houses, museums and institutions, including the British Museum.

Born in 1944 in Najaf, Iraq – a holy city well connected to the origins and development of Islamic calligraphy that is manifest in its architectural and religious fabric – he showed an early talent for the Arabic calligraphy and was pushed by an uncle and a school teacher to learn more, encouraging him to participate in local exhibitions. So that in 1961 he moved to Baghdad where he apprenticed under several calligraphers to study the classic techniques and styles for eight years.

Man, know when to fall silent and listen to the song of this place. Who may say that light and shadow do not speak? Touareg proverb

But Massoudy had also wanted to explore fine art too and in 1969 moved to Paris where he studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. It seems however that after five years there, he felt disheartened and didn’t know which direction to take. After some soul searching, he decided to somehow go back to his first love of Arabic calligraphy and sought out the renowned living masters then, namely Hamid al-Amadi in Istanbul and others in Cairo.

From an extract published in ‘Signs of Our Times: From Calligraphy to Calligraffiti’ by Rose Issa, Juliet Cestar and Venetia Porter, Massoudy once provided this personal statement, relaying: “By the 1980s, I abandoned oil and canvas in favour of ink and paper. I decided to work on abstract compositions based on the shapes of Arabic letters. Words have the capacity to impose shapes I hadn’t considered, through their meaning. This is how Arabic poetry became more appropriate in the course of my artistic practice. I approach the work of poets with the hope that their metaphors will enrich my visual artwork’.

And the rest, as they say, is history, as Massoudy went on to develop his personal style using the means of the classical Arabic calligraphy to visually paint the spiritual verse that inspires him; be it of a Sufi source, philosophic texts, old proverbs, or anything of a transcendental and almost four-dimensional nature. His pieces are a reverence for the word and respect for the sanctity of the alphabet.

The dunes are changed by the wind, but the desert is always the desert. Arabic wisdom

He is considered today by some as the greatest living calligrapher, with a huge popularity and following. Much loved, admired and appreciated from the critics to the experts, the collectors and the younger Arab generations who have been influenced by his genius.

Rosa Issa, a prominent Middle Eastern arts curator who has worked with him, said to Nahla Ink: “For almost 50 years, Hassan Massoudy has been painting the wise sayings of poets from the East and West in his beautiful calligraphical brushes, emphasising on the poetry that is common to all, and should apply to all humanity.

“Words hung in our living rooms, to remind us of the beauty of our culture, aesthetically and philosophically. He also grabbed very early in his career the importance of publishing and making his work and its beauty available to all, and hence inspire young artists. Today despite his Parkinson fight, he continues to embellish the art of calligraphy with word sayings and wisdom that he continues to share.”

Hassan Massoudy: Artist in his studio

Moreover, Hassan has helped usher in the movement taking the ancient Arabic calligraphy into the contemporary and modern art world, raising and elevating it to entry into exhibitions in international art galleries, museums and onto the streets of Europe and the MENA region, especially with the new strand of the art form called calligraffiti.

So holding, touching and reading this new collection of Massoudy’s work – the third published by Saqi – becomes an invitation to take that minute to sit still and consider secrets of the world, nature and existence. It is to open oneself to receive the artist’s gift of wanting to spread a message of peace, joy and harmony with his intense devotional labour. From this collection looking at the desert, to his other works that have addressed love and verdant gardens; it is not to be skimmed over but savoured one Massoudy creation at a time!

And ending with my favourite piece: The Oasis

In Tabelbala people have nothing, but they want for nothing. That is what an oasis is. Michel Tournier (1924-2016)

Note: The original colour works are on paper of two sizes 75x55cm or 65×50 cm. They are based on pigments and binders and the artist has used different tools: a flat brush or a piece of cardboard or a calamus (cut reed). The black works are on light paper and in smaller sizes. The majority of these calligraphies are available for sale.

Images used in this article are with kind permission from the artist and Saqi Books.

To buy the book: https://saqibooks.com/books/saqi/calligraphies-of-the-desert/

To learn more about the artist: https://massoudy.pagesperso-orange.fr/english.htm

Note: This Nahla Ink article was first published circa October 2020

 

Artist of the Month

Mohammed Joha – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (November 2020)

Nahla Ink is thrilled to share the artworks of one of my favourite Gazan-Palestinian artists, Mohammed Joha. I first came across Joha’s work when he exhibited at the Rich Mix venue in East London circa February 2016. I was then introduced to him by Arts Canteen director Aser El Saqqa who curated that show titled ‘Joha – The Journey’. And so ever since I have been following his artistic development.

Featured this November are Joha’s works that belong to his most recent project, entitled ‘Fabric of Memory’, that sees his focus return to his home town of Gaza. He has been developing this idea since 2017 and is still ongoing. The pieces here are all textile and paper collages on canvas. They have already been exhibited in Dubai at the Tabari Artspace Gallery (January 2019), then at Art Abu Dhabi (November 2019), followed by a show in Kuwait at CAP and they will again be the basis of a solo show at Beirout Contemporary in Lisbon, Portugal (January 2021).

Fabric of Memory #04: Textile and Paper Collage on Canvas. 100x75cm (2019)

Artist Statement on ‘Fabric of Memory’:

Mohammed Joha: “How many times are we supposed to rebuild Gaza? How often are we supposed to memorise a new geography? How many new geographies will Gaza ‘wear’ each year? Nobody knows the answer to these questions, and it’s not even necessary, because these intuitive questions will find the many possible answers by themselves and raise many other questions about the reasons of what is happening in Gaza.

Fabric of Memory #14: Textile and paper collage on canvas. 70x50vm (2020)

“The imposed, hated ‘renewal’ is a perpetual story with ongoing wars that affect everyone and everything alike – human beings, creatures, and things. Every two years, Gaza is forced to take off its old robe and put on a new architectural dress; the clothes-changing and the adaptation to it are exhausting and impoverishing Gaza every time more. Instead, it is longing for stability and continuity on the map.

Fabric of Memory #11: Textile and Paper Collage on Canvas. 140x140cm (2019)

“Gaza has become a space that has no routine at all: when it’s war, it’s difficult to call it war, and living repeatedly through such radical transformation makes it almost impossible to cope, every time again, with a profoundly altered geography. The course of the streets, the shape of the houses, everything is different now. Here was a street surrounding a public park, and there was a hotel next to a tower, and an apartment building hosting a grocery store on its ground floor. Everything has changed!

‘A few years ago, there had also been a hospital, a government department, an institution, and a branch street open to another street… none of it is left.”

Indeed, Gaza is in all of our hearts, that will never change!

Fabric of Memory #02: Textile and Paper Collage on Canvas. 140x110cm (2019)

Biography courtesy of the artist:

‏Mohammed Joha was born in Gaza, Palestine in 1978 and currently lives and works between Paris and Italy. He graduated in Art Education from Al-Aqsa University inGaza in 2003, the same year he participated in a workshop residency in Darat Al Funun, Khalid Shoman Foundation in Amman-Jordan, supervised by artist Marwan Kassab Bacchi.

In 2004, Joha was the winner of the A M Qattan Foundation’s ‘Hassan Al Hourani Young Artist Award’, when he was elected Artist of the Year 2004. This allowed him to reside in the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2005, 2008 and 2017-2018, where he developed and strengthened his artistic personality.

Besides being selected for international workshops and residencies, Joha has participated in exhibitions worldwide. He has been working in the field of painting and has gathered a remarkable artistic experience. He is one of the most interesting artists from Gaza,Palestine who stands out by a very elaborate personal style of painting, a masterly combination of various artistic elements in his compositions, and most sophisticated messages. Through mixed techniques of painting, collages, installation, together with a most spontaneous, expressive style, much of his work has explored the questions and conditions of childhood and the loss of innocence and freedom experienced by generations of children in Palestine.

‏The overcoming of physical and psychological barriers imposed by conflict; revolutionary social and political events; resilience and identity are recurrent themes. The closer his works are examined, the more complex they become, in texture, content, and narrative. These multilayered, transformed representations of reality leave room for imagination and interpretation, because they are inspired by universal values and reflect the memory of a collective entity, without being bound to cultural restrictions or temporary or local individualistic gestures.

Hany Rashed – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (September 2020)

It is with great pleasure that Nahla Ink features some of the works of the contemporary Egyptian artist Hany Rashed. At the top of his game, Rashed is in his element challenging both current Egyptian socio-political and individual concerns in a colourful, subversive, creative and prolific way from his base in Cairo.

Born in 1975, Rashed is mostly self-taught although significantly he studied under the well known and highly respected Egyptian painter Mohamed Abla for a number of years. Utilising various artistic tools and methods, Rashed’s expressive creations and interpretations tend to excite, delight and invite viewers to think for themselves as to his underlying messages.

Over the years, Rashed’s paintings have used popular imagery and cultural icons which draw upon social trends that affect young people in Egypt, such as exaggerated materialism, issues of sexuality and state control over rights and freedoms. Whenever he creates, he brings a dose of irony to the different sides to Egyptian life and his generation.

From the beginning of the 2011 Revolution, Rashed visually documented the historical uprisings and their impact on the local Cairenes through his work. For example, he brought the comic character ‘Asa7by’ (2012) to make fun of the abuse of Internet memes whilst his ‘Bulldozer’ series (2015) was a playful deconstruction and repositioning affecting the people and society. On a more personal level, his ‘The Last Farewell’ (2017) expressed feelings about a real family tragedy.

Artist Of The Month
Abstract Stage – 90 Days in the Studio

Most recently and as featured on Nahla Ink, Rashed has produced a new series of paintings under the title of ’90 Days in the Studio’, a reference to the imposed global quarantine due to the Corona virus; when he was stuck in his studio for three months and didn’t go out except for food. The project was done in four developmental stages.

Artist Of The Month
Stage I – 90 Days In the Studio, Hany Rashed

Explaining to Nahla Ink, he offered insight into the thought processes behind this incredible series that took him altogether 90 days to complete.

Rashed: “The first stage was depicting in the abstract which gave me a sense of freedom and yet there was also a hint to a bit of violence with reference to the pressures of quarantine, being stuck at home and the feeling of suppression. The abstraction came from being stuck, but it then transformed into liberation through colour and the bursts of energy. I was producing action through abstraction rather than thinking.

“The second stage became about drawing and including myself in the visual narrative. Normally my work is about people and going out; but, now, I was all alone. So I drew myself with the abstract background, like being isolated in a world of my own. The work reflects that.

Artist Of The Month
Stage II – 90 Days in the Studio, Hany Rashed

“Whist in the third stage I introduced the image of an airplane, taking into account that there were no airplanes flying during this period and little travel. I tried to show the airplane as inflated and changed its appearance because it is not able to move. Again, I put the airplane with the abstract background to put a focus on what is currently happening and things being stationary.

Stage III – 90 Days in the Studio, Hany Rashed

“Lastly, the fourth stage was about the concept of a room and enclosed space. I tried to use different rooms to show a connection between the quietness or stillness of a room with the explosion of colour – from the abstract stage – to show again an element of the violence and the movement through sports, like riding a horse.

Stage IV – 90 Days in the Studio, Hany Rashed

“This 2020 period has had its challenges for sure and I am an artist who has been very influenced by time, history and current affairs. With every canvass the aim is to archive time, space and what is happening during lockdown. In general, I wanted to direct attention to the silence of a room, the idea of explosion and violence in the abstract, and then again movement like with the airplane or with the sports.”

Some of Rashed’s work forms a part of the private collection of the Tate Modern Gallery in London, UK. He has also been exhibited in many solo and collective shows in Egyptian galleries and in Europe.

For more information and to follow Hany Rashed on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hanyrashed_/

Shayma Kamel – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (August 2020)

The month of August 2020 has arrived with the easing of lockdown, at least in London, allowing us all to get back to a new kind of normal. During these strange times of Corona, artists from across the globe still need to function; and, critically, to share their work with potential audiences not just physically but online too. Nahla Ink is therefore so glad to be able to highlight the paintings and mixed media works of the Egyptian artist Shayma Kamel for this month’s duration.

Biography courtesy of the artist.

Shayma Kamel is an Egyptian painter and mixed media artist, born in 1980 in Giza City, Egypt. She lives between Cairo and Beirut, Lebanon. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Ain Shams University in 2002. It was there, whilst studying, that she began to pursue her passion for painting without a formal arts education.

Shayma Kamel Artwork

Kamel’s first solo exhibition was held in 2004 with a body of work focused on personal and family issues. Afterwards, her art developed quickly to highlight issues of politics and society, as well as centring around women and the challenges they face within Arab culture. Some of her pieces also capture the essence of the Egyptian persona and juxtapose reality with fantasy to point out the inherent contradictions in the contemporary Middle Eastern setting.

Shayma Kamel Artwork

Her latest exhibition was held at Mission Art in July 2020 in Beirut. She has, over time, also exhibited in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Egypt, France and The Netherlands.

Shayma Kamel Artwork

Below are some of her more recent artworks from sketches series.

Shayma Kamel Sketch
Shayma Kamel Sketch

To follow Shayma Kamel on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kamelshayma/

To follow Shayma Kamel on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shayma.kamel