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

 

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

Soad Abdel-Rasoul – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (July 2020)

Nahla Ink is thrilled to feature the works of the Egyptian artist Soad Abdel-Rasoul for the month of July 2020. I came to learn of Abdel-Rasoul’s work through her participation in the ‘WAVES’ group exhibition currently showing at the Sulger-Buel Gallery in London. Curated by Najlaa El-Ageli, of Noon Arts Projects, the show celebrates five contemporary artists linked to North Africa and its diaspora, as they explore both regional and global themes.

Due to the Corona virus and the strict lockdown that was imposed on London, the WAVES show had to adapt and launched online in early June, 2020. You can still view the exhibition by taking the virtual tour until 31 August, 2020 and download the catalogue: https://www.sulger-buel-gallery.com/exhibitions/17-waves-curated-by-najlaa-el-ageli-virtual-exhibition/

Artist Biography: Courtesy of Noon Arts Projects & Sulger-Buel Gallery

Soad Abdel-Rasoul was born in 1974 in Cairo, Egypt. Her art explores the African figurative art form. She draws upon folklore and the interaction between people, animals and plants, whilst embracing the interior portraiture traditions of Europe, resulting in a re- imagination of the human form.

Abdel-Rasoul | My Last Meal | 2019
When asked why there are tree branches and creeping vines, not to mention the faces and legs of animals in her portraits, she said: “As my work evolved I started adding botanical elements to biological ones, trying to combat the idea that human beings are more important than animals and plants.”
Abdel-Rasoul | Layla | 2020
Employing drawing, painting, graphic design and collage, the artist offers great detail and an interweaving of human and geographical mapping to trace back roots within the living world. With her metamorphosed figures, she doesn’t seek to visualise physical beauty, but reflects on the connection between people and the elements of existence like earth, metals and plants.
With tree-like figures, branching veins and arteries, as well as monstrous insectlike characters, these merge in her mixed media canvases and collage bust, reminding viewers of the bond between the interior of the human body and the exterior.
Abdel-Rasoul | The Lovers | 2020
By using the fragments of maps and the scientific illustrations of the human body, Abdul-Rasoul re-conceptualises the way we perceive space and notions of the human body, offering something that exalts the feminine, the emotional and the animalistic.
Abdel-Rasoul | Quarantine Days | 2020

She has stated: “Women are my ‘icons’ that I am dealing with in my paintings – not to visualise their physical beauty, but more their secrets, hidden, their special ingredients and silent desires. My works are the result of my reflections on the secret worlds and the relationships-connections of women to the elements of existence like earth, metals, plants etc. I fill the white canvas space in front of me with how I wish my personality to be, and not like the world wishes it to be.”

Mohammad Bin Lamin – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (June 2020)

For the month of June 2020, Nahla Ink is very happy to share the works of Mohammad Bin Lamin, one of Libya’s most distinguished contemporary artists. Born in 1969 in the city of Misurata, he is totally self-taught as a painter, sculptor, digital artist and photographer, as well as being a fine Arabic poet.

Highly respected in Libya and beyond its borders, Bin Lamin works prolifically and creates from varied and unexpected material, as he adapts to different environments and responds to changing social and political concerns. Influenced by Libya’s history – from the ancient to the modern and most recent – some of his pieces reference as far back as the ancient cave paintings found in the Southern mountains; whilst his colours, shapes and forms draw upon Libya’s landscape, especially the Sahara desert, the Mediterranean Sea and the urban and rural fabrics of towns and cities.

A major experience that impacted on his artistic trajectory was imprisonment at one of Gaddafi’s most notorious prisons in Tripoli during the earlier part of the February 2011 Revolution and enduring a mock execution. In his cell, he began to draw on the walls by using the metal dishes in which food was delivered to him by the wardens.

When Western journalists entered the space after liberation, they were astonished by what he left behind and tracked him down for a news report. After he had left the prison, Bin Lamin started on another project. He began to pick up and collect items left by the front lines of the anti-Gaddafi insurgency – shells, grenades, the AK-47s and other war debris – and turning them into incredible new sculptures.

About this period, Bin Lamin has said: “When I was imprisoned in the resort of death, the Abu Salim prison, I used art to expand the narrowness of the room; that vile, narrow, menial and suffocating cell. Due to the absence of drawing tools, I used the aluminium foil that was given to us with our food as foil sheets and plates. I discovered that the foil gives the same lines as charcoal and pencil, especially if you trace it on the wall. So resorting to drawing on the wall was a haven, a refuge, an escape, even in those times when we were moved from one cell to another.

“My goal was to expand the narrow walls and stop staring at the terrifying iron door. Through my scribbling and drawing on the walls I was opening a door for contemplation, for space, for the horizon; and, at the same time, it was an expression of what was happening during those hard days. Creativity in capture is a meeting point between prison and the revelation of the soul.”

Offering further insight into his sculptural work, he has also stated: “My art reflects on the pain, the revolution, the dictatorship, the story of Libya, the so-called Arab Spring, the bad conditions that we all went through for decades; as well as the broken collective memory of being bound and ruled by force.

“As an artist and former political prisoner, I find myself propelled with all my obsessions and emotions and with more strength to insist on uncovering the image of the tortured being on its land; and, to search for the mature artistic expression of the shape of the ghoul (monster) that transfigured people on to its image and raped beauty. Thus I have tried to render the materials of killing – like rockets and the bullets – in the shape of the dancing lovers and to bestow on their gathering some of the jubilation and vigour for love and life, to propagate a message that we are ugliness if we choose and we are also the beauty.”

As I have followed Bin Lamin’s work for a number of years, it was difficult to decide which pieces to feature on Nahla Ink, due to the large volume of paintings, sketches and sculpture. In the end, I chose these images that spoke to me. Belonging to a series completed circa 2018-2019, Bin Lamin has written corresponding Arabic poetry. For example, the work below – titled ‘Urinating on the Corpse’- came with a poem that has been translated into English by the Libyan writer Ghazi Gheblawi.

Urinating on the Corpse – Dec 2019

The age of death hasn’t reached an hour old
The boy hugs his land and spreads his hands
They call him in the language of time: departed
And I call him arriving every day.
People are made of what they missed
Even their sadness is typical
They cry in groups and laugh in groups..
The boy had a photograph in his pocket
He was carrying it in the trouser’s pocket
I think it is the picture of his mother or lover or someone else..
The wretched went to war with friends It seemed like going on a nice excursion
A picnic nearby But it was totally something else
The boy was caught
His hostile fellow countrymen are around him now..
Urinating on the corpse!

Bin Lamin’s work has been exhibited in Libya, Egypt, United Kingdom, USA, China, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, India, Turkey and Malta.

To learn more about Mohammad Bin Lamin: 

Short video by Al Jazeera English circa July 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xa6p8e-dZA

If you wish to follow him, he has a public page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ARTBINLAMIN/

And on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/m.binlamin/

In Conversation with Riham Isaac: Stuck In Corona Limbo, the Palestinian Artist Is Still Seeking Answers About Love

She came to London in the hope of performing and developing her one woman’s show as part of an annual festival that celebrates Arab women artists; but, now, weeks later, she finds herself stuck in Corona limbo, unable to return. Riham Isaac is the 36-year-old Palestinian multi-disciplinary performance artist whose great work over the years includes co-directing a play with Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle in collaboration with Banksy that took place in Bethlehem.

When Isaac came in early March, it was at the invitation of the Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival that features the creative output of Arab women from the Middle East and North Africa region and its diaspora. It was to perform her latest solo piece titled ‘Another Lover’s Discourse’ and to seek the audience’s feedback and active participation in a workshop by giving them a questionnaire asking for their views on love to help further shape her project.

Fortunately the performance went ahead and was a success with an almost full house at East London’s Rich Mix venue. But then within a few short days the city went into lockdown and much of the AWAN scheduled programme had to be cancelled. Still determined to hold also her planned workshop, she managed to conduct it via the Zoom online app and did get some insight from participants. But ever since then, she hasn’t been able to go back to Palestine to get on with her life; and, although she is in a safe place, she is beginning to feel rather homesick.

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

I got in touch with Isaac recently for two reasons. Firstly, I am in awe of her quest to investigate that awesome, gigantic and fluid thing called love from a Middle Eastern woman’s perspective and wanted to learn more about her artistic repertoire: and, secondly, I was concerned for her welfare being away from all that is familiar and waiting, like her family, friends and the Art Salon which she runs as an arts space for the community in her grandmother’s house in her hometown of Beit Sahour.

She was kind enough to respond.

Nahla Ink: First of all, are you somewhere safe during this Corona lockdown? When were you due back home and how does it feel to now be staying put in London?

Isaac: I was due to return on 6 April and have been trying ever since to rebook my ticket but it is not happening. I am not sure now if I will be able to go home for another month. It is tough to be stuck during such a crisis and it is the uncertainty that is the most difficult thing to deal with. I am somehow safe but not too comfortable; I miss my family, my familiar things, my privacy, I am feeling alone sometimes. There are also obligations like your work that you need to think of so it is not easy but what can you do! I am just hoping soon we will find a way to get all stuck Palestinians back to their homes!!

Nahla Ink: Having attended both the AWAN performance of ‘Another Lover’s Discourse’ and also joined in your workshop, I see that humour is a major element in what you do. Tell me some more about this.

Isaac: I am inspired to make work that is deeply connected to the authentic self. This is a method I both use in my productions and workshops. Playfulness, humour and spontaneity are all ways through creativity and help you to release and get out of your comfort zone. It is okay to be a fool and I use this a lot as a tool. What I am trying to avoid is the critical mind, the right and wrong in the creative process, at least in the beginning; and, then, of course later you can restructure and think of it with your analytical mind.

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

Nahla Ink: You seem to be at ease in different artistic roles, including being a director, an actress, a singer, dancer and an arts teacher. What led you to become a performance artist and what have been the highlights of your career so far?

Isaac: I think I was meant to become a performance artist, because when I first joined a theatre club during my undergraduate studies – when I was in fact studying Physiotherapy – I felt completely at ease and in my element. I had to learn a lot but I continued with it even after I graduated from university and went on to become a professional actress working with different theatre companies in Palestine.

I would say the highlight of my career was coming to London to study at Goldsmith for an MA in Performance during 2012-2013. It crafted my talent, offered me new tools, took me out of my comfort zone and I was able to look at my work in a new way. I realised that I quite like to create multi disciplinary works using all my talents, like singing, dancing, visuals and video. I also started to work independently and tackling issues that I found deeply embedded within me.

Nahla Ink: Does your title refer your audience to the classic book by Roland Barthes titled ‘A Lover’s Discourse’? Were you at all influenced by it?

Isaac: When I started my research about LOVE I found myself stumbling upon lots of thoughts, images and ideas; but then, I also found it difficult to express it in words. It seemed like a hard task but then there was the drive within me to explore this theme. There are also two aspects involved: firstly is how do you write about love and describe it; and, then secondly, how do you reveal both the lightness of the topic and the darkness as well? It is not a Cinderella story.

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

So I came across ‘A Lover’s Discourse’ by Barthes which became a huge inspiration for my piece as it allowed me to dig deeper into that question of how to write about love. To quote Barthes: “To try to write love is to confront the muck of language; that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive.”

Nahla Ink: Your play is also very much about love in the way that an Arab society thinks about it. The script and the visuals of your performance also bring to life some of the old Egyptian films with the music and all the romance of an era gone by. So what is that love and how are you challenging it?

Isaac: I come from a society where certain roles are imposed on both men and women. For example, there is the idea that the man is the one who chooses his wife; or, also, the view that the man is wanted more if he is a player and tough, whilst the woman has to be a lady and act the good girl.

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

There are certain cultural expectations that we take upon ourselves as Arab women and we don’t even know from where this behaviour comes from. So I refer to the classical Egyptian films where you can see it visually how these archetypes are and how they have been incorporated in our tradition as Arabs and that impact on our psychology. But then my work also reflects on the universal dynamics of love and relationships that are relevant to the Western viewer as well.

Nahla Ink: Any thoughts on love in times of Corona?

Isaac: Well it is tough to be alone during these times and lucky are those who are with their loved ones. But, then again, it might be challenging to be with your partner as well. However, I do think it is definitely an opportunity to reflect on your status and to deepen your relationships whether you are single or with someone. Maybe we can all connect more to who we are and what we want from Love. I don’t know but that during difficult times, we all definitely need to reach out to the ones we care about, be they our partner, friends, or family!

Nahla Ink: Lastly, I know how keen you are to get people to engage with your project by offering their unique ideas about love that will help you shape the final work of ‘Another Lover’s Discourse’. How can they help and connect?

Isaac: I would like people to answer two questions mainly that I will then reflect upon and use in a creative way towards the finished work. These two questions are: Will we even know how to Love? How do we learn love?

If you wish to respond to Isaac’s questions, please message her via Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rihamisaac/

For more on Riham Isaac: https://www.rihamisaac.com/

For more on the AWAN Festival: https://www.awan.org.uk/

 

 

Shereen Audi – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (May 2020)

Nahla Ink is proud to feature the incredible works of the Jordanian artist Shereen Audi this month of May and share her pieces online. Some of the presented work reflects the artist’s response to the current global Corona circumstance and is very new.

Shereen Audi was born in Amman, Jordan in 1970 and graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts in Amman in 1992. Since then she has completed several art and print making courses at Darat al Funun Summer Academy and the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. Besides that, she has also attended workshops and courses under renowned and established artists such as the Jordanian painter Khaled Khries, the Iraqi artists Nedim Kufi and Mahmoud Obaidi, as well as Professor Lynne Allen who is Director at the School of Visual Arts, Boston University.

After focusing on painting in her early years Audi then turned to mixed media artworks, book arts, collage, video art and digital art. In her work, she advocates equality and full rights for women so that they can achieve their creative potential and explores the female identity. Now with the global Corona crisis, she is producing a whole new series of work again from the feminine aspect.
About this one above titled ‘Hope’, Audi has said: “This is a girl wearing a mask to refer to the need for all of us to protect ourselves; but, then, I decided to decorate her with flowers to give the viewer hope at these difficult times. Yes it is a difficult time and hard on everyone, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel and better things to come.  We just need to be patient, brave and must never give up!”
Whilst this artwork has been called ‘Suffocate NOT”. Audi: “This collage is also about the current situation we are all living in that is scary and suffocating. We are all worried and insecure about what’s coming next and when this pandemic will be over. I wrote the word NOT so as to be positive at the same time and not let this stress us. I made it colourful so we can focus on the good and the beauty of everything, like nature around us. I believe we need to be optimistic; for being the opposite (pessimistic) will only make things worse. Let us be patient. I wish safety and peace for everyone.”

Audi currently lives and works in Montreal, Canada.

The artist has had 11 solo exhibitions and participated in a number of group shows in Jordan, Lebanon, USA, Kuwait, the UK, Canada among others. Her art is housed in many private collections as well as in public collections including Jordan National Gallery of Fine arts. She has held many solo exhibitions and has participated in a number of group shows in the Middle East, Europe and Asia including Germany, Japan, Romania, Finland, Bahrain, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, USA, London and Jordan.

For more information about the artist or to get in touch: http://www.shereenaudi.com/

Ahmed Farid – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (April 2020)

During these surreal times of Corona, artists and art institutions from around the world are learning to go purely online and virtual, making it the only viable platform for sharing.

On Nahla Ink, I am super happy to still be able to feature a MENA artist for the month of April, 2020. It is a privilege for me to introduce the works of the Egyptian artist Ahmed Farid that you will see on the Home Page for the duration of the month and that I will widely share on social media.

Biography courtesy of the artist.

Ahmed Farid was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1950 where he currently lives and works. He is an autodidact painter who trained privately in immersion apprenticeship in established artists’ studios.

With a degree in social sciences and an early career in marketing communication and business, Farid’s encounter with art came through extensive travels in the early seventies. The meeting with the historical western art movements and his attendance of the effervescent Egyptian cultural life results in a very personal artistic research.

The painting of Ahmed Farid is influenced by the gestures attributable to the abstract expressionist matrix that does not deny an atypical and barely visible form of representation but that sublimates it as a revelation of his own reality.

His works has been exhibited in private art galleries and public spaces in Egypt and Europe.

For more on Ahmed Farid: http://www.ahmedfaridart.com/

Ahmed Farid on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/anfarid/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ahmed-Farid-Gallery-192352410810001/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/an_farid

Art And About Africa: Mapping the Contemporary African Art Scene

An ambitious online platform has recently been launched offering users easy access to the contemporary African art scene. The ‘Art And About Africa’ (AAAA) website allows people to connect directly with established and emerging artists, art spaces and key players. Hoping to provide a comprehensive overview of the continent’s artistic riches, it also features an interactive map to create bespoke country-specific art trips and travel itineraries that can be used in the future, pending on the state of international travel.

Conceived by art curator Lidija Khachatourian, she has been involved with African art through an earlier initiative known as the AKKA (A Kostic Khachatourian Art) Project. This latter, a gallery space based in Dubai (UAE) and Venice (Italy), has already organised over 20 exhibitions that have showcased over 30 artists from 11 African nations and produced the National Pavilion of Mozambique at the Venice Biennale 2019.

Of international note, AKKA has collaborated with established artists like Gonçalo Mabunda from Mozambique, Filipe Branquinho also from Mozamibique, and Cyrus Kabiru from Kenya; whilst giving a platform and exposure to emerging talent like Peteros Ndunde from Kenya, Rodrigo Mabunda from Mozambique, Teddy Mitchener from Kenya, to name a few.

Drawing upon her acquired networks and a vast wealth of further research, information and expertise, the new platform is designed to enhance artistic connections, empower the practitioners, unleash the local potential and inspire an international audience to support what is a truly vibrant and burgeoning industry.

The AAAA is currently open to partnerships with entities that can add value to the endeavour and in sharing and appreciating African art. Perhaps also now in the time of Corona, the art world can continue to create powerful connections and organise events through the virtual sphere.

Nahla Ink caught up with Khachatourian a few days after the official launch of the AAAA to learn more about her work background and share a bit more about the project. The launch took place on 20.02.2020.

Nahla Ink: Tell me a bit about your background?

Khachatourian: I was born in Serbia when Yugoslavia was still one country but then moved with my parents to Switzerland where I spent most of my young life. There in Lugano I finished my education and became a chartered accountant, a career I worked in for quite some time. It was also there where I met my husband and we became a family. In 2008, we moved to Dubai where we are still based.

Nahla Ink: How did you come to work in the African art world?

Khachatourian: I fell in love with art from the African continent after I came to Dubai and from Kristian, my partner in life and business, who had lived and worked in Liberia for five years and had acquired traditional African artefacts. At first we would travel to sub-Saharan countries for holidays where we would engage with local artists to explore the continent’s contemporary art scene.

To be honest, words cannot really describe the special vibe related to the African continent that hooks you from the start and never leaves you. By going to Africa, you learn to appreciate every single moment and you learn to focus on the ‘Now’.

Soon we began to build our own private collection and decided to take a step forward by opening the AKKA project. This was and still is a gallery and project space dedicated to promote, support and showcase the work of African artists and African culture. The aim is to give unique experience to visitors, not only by showing them great artworks but also stimulating all their senses by including other aspects, such as traditions, the culture, music, fashion, food and much more.

Nahla Ink: Why the AAAA platform?

The idea for the AAAA was more recently developed as I realised that finding information about art spaces and artists in terms of the African region was a bit challenging and information happened to be scattered between different websites and not always easy to access. I thought of designing the platform to collect and put together all the available data and make it a great resource for everyone who is looking to explore or engage with the creatives working on the continent.

Nahla Ink: Who is the project primarily aimed at and what is the best way of utilising it?

Khachatourian: The AAAA platform caters to art lovers of all types. If you run or own a museum or gallery, or if you are an art facilitator organizing exhibitions, biennials, fairs and other cultural events, you can connect with talent, promote your event, and expand your network internationally through the platform. It is also for passionate museum-goers, enthusiasts and collectors of contemporary art from Africa.

Significantly, also, it caters for new and emerging artists who wish to break into the art world by connecting them with the right people and ensuring they are reachable to a larger global audience, to established artists looking for new opportunities to help them expand and boost their visibility and network.

Unique to the AAAA, one can also generate tailored art itineraries by adding artists and galleries they would like to contact, visit, or follow to preferred lists. Users can then download their lists, which will include all of the most important contact details and locations.

Nahla Ink: Tell me more about the bespoke art tours and who are they for?

Khachatourian: We are still working on this with the aim to launch AAAA Travels later on this year. The plan is to offer assistance based on the needs of our clients, whether that is to connect them with a cultural facilitator or to design a bespoke art-hopping-holiday. The service will be available and can be adjusted to the needs of both an experienced traveller and somebody who is visiting for the first time.

Nahla Ink: Who else is involved with the AAAA project? Do you have working partners?

Khachatourian: The AAAA is privately funded and my team from the AKKA Project is also onboard. We are however looking for technical partners who can contribute to our concept and to the community we are creating. They could be media, travel agencies, content creators and others who would benefit the potential users who are looking to discover the art scene in Africa!

Nahla Ink: What is your future vision for the platform?

Khachatourian: I would love for the AAAA to become the tool that everyone uses when it comes to exploring the amazing art scene in Africa, a platform for exchange and connection between the art makers and the art-lovers.

For more on the AAAA: https://www.artandaboutafrica.com/

For more on the AKKA: http://www.akkaproject.com/