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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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).
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.
“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.
“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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Below are some of her more recent artworks from sketches series.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.