Hani Zurob – Nahla Ink Featured Artist (Winter 2023)

To resonate with this emotionally harsh season, Nahla Ink is featuring the works of the artist Hani Zurob, who has sacrificed years of his life for being Gazan, forced into exile from his Palestinian homeland for 16 years. Much of his art, not all of it, touches upon how the geopolitical can influence the personal; and, how that also impacts on universal themes of identity, place and memory, as well as the specific states of suspension, delay and waiting, alienation, movement and displacement, absence and resistance.

I personally got in touch with Zurob recently, when I came upon his Instagram feed. Scrolling for visual accounts interpreting the current hell scenes on our computers, Tvs and mobile screens, I was drawn to the intense energy emanating from his pieces that date back in recent time. When no rational mind can make sense out of the disproportionate Israeli punishment against the defenceless innocents today, I had to turn to artists for respite and momentary closure; they alone are alchemists, able to turn human ugliness and psycho-pathological madness into psychic gold, beauty and power.

Excuse me Piter Doig: This is a sea canoe’, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 200 X 160 cm

I was always trying not to believe that we were alone. But unfortunately: how alone we are in the sea of ​​humanity’s darkness.” Hani Zurob

Of course Israel’s violence is nothing new to the Palestinians, marked in the textbooks by the Al Nakba of 1948, which saw the forced expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinians, as well as by later Nakbas. We all know, also, that the original ‘catastrophe’ can be traced back to the arrival of the Zionists in Ottoman-held Palestine in the late 19th Century, whose cause was expedited by the British with the Balfour Declaration in 1917.


Now-93-67-48, 2016, tar and mixed media on canvas, 200 x 65cm, Institut du monde arabe collection

In an insightful interview article by Italian journalist Naima Morelli for Middle East Monitor (MEMO) published in January, 2022, Zurob pointed out: “For a Palestinian who is in exile it is difficult to quantify or qualify one’s losses; your struggles for your right to live become a constant. As for my gains, they lie in my art practice and art; my art is my heaven, it is the compass of my Self and Soul without which I am lost.

“When one is not deeply connected to one’s Soul, life will be gruelling… I reached that point through my constant inner quest into the Self and the journey to purify the Soul; this for me is my victory over any form of threat.


Now-93-67-48, 2016, tar and mixed media on canvas, 200 x 65cm, Institut du monde arabe collection

Although the Palestinian tale is old without a foreseeable just end, it happens to affect each and every single one of us. Voluntarily or not, we are bearing witness to the tip of an historic genocide, of an Occupier state brutalizing women, children, journalists, academics, musicians, and artists who have done absolutely nothing wrong.

Ignorance is not really an optional alibi; and, especially, as we have awoken to the complicit inaction by powerful governments, who continue to protect Israel, and stubbornly refuse to do the right thing. Even as the millions peacefully protest ‘Not in Our name’, nothing has shifted; making us all swallow the bitter pill of double-standards and hypocrisy.

No matter, the dirty politics will continue and the unholy wars will be waged, until the end of the human story on the earth. What becomes relevant is what can be done in the meantime to empower the wounded soul and satisfy the ethical balance, guided by our desperate need to still believe in some form of karmic justice. Again, this is where artists have always walked ahead of us, I trust them to be my friends in these worrying times.

Artist Biography – Courtesy of the Artist

Hani Zurob [b. 1976 in Rafah camp, Gaza Strip, Palestine] is a contemporary visual artist who has been living and working in Paris, France since 2006. He obtained his Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from Al-Najah University, Nablus in 1999. In 2002, while living in Ramallah, he was selected as a finalists of the A. M. Qattan Foundation ‘Young Artist of the Year’ Award that was a turning point for his future career, topped by a residency grant at Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris in 2006.

Zurob’s pieces tend to conjure private experience and the stories that have shaped his life; and, in particular, how these connect to the unfolding events in Palestine, carrying both political and cultural dimensions. Searching and researching memories, the artist deconstructs the relationship between the past and present, on himself and others, to be able to transcend borders and geography.

In terms of material, Zurob selects media to the extent of its literal meaning or, at times, pointing to metaphorical associations to amplify his message. Most notably, he uses tar, which has allowed him to present a unique contextualized vision of Palestine, referencing the time of youth up until the present age.

Residing in Paris, he has forged a successful career with exhibitions held worldwide and having been the recipient of many Arab and international awards, including Renoir Stock Exchange Prize, France (2009). Today, he is considered one of the most brilliant and influential Palestinian artist of his generation.

Low-Quality Love, 2015, Tar and mixed media on canvas, 240×200 cm, Institut du monde arabe collection

His work can also be found in several prominent private and public art collections, including those of: The British Museum (London, UK), The Arab American National Museum (Michigan, USA), Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, MSUM (Ljjubljan, Slovenia); Williamsburg Art & Historical Center (New York, USA); Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris, France), Barjeel Art Foundation (Sharjah, UAE), Dalloul Art Foundation (Beirut, Lebanon), Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts (Amman, Jordan), among others.

In 2012 a monograph tracing the evolution of his work, titled ‘Between Exits: Paintings By Hani Zurob’ (Black Dog Publishing, London), was compiled by Kamal Boullata, including an introduction by the late art critic Jean Fisher.

Hani’s practice provides an important voice in contemporary Palestinian culture, as well as a significant contribution to the creation of an Arab aesthetic. Ultimately though, while Zurob’s art gives powerful expression to the Palestinian collective experience, it can also be seen in the context of more universal themes of personal identity and embraces humanity beyond the Palestinian context.” Kamal Boullata

For more on the artist: https://www.hanizurob.com/

To follow his Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hanizurob/

I highly recommend reading the full MEMO interview article by Naima Morelli: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20220126-floating-in-tar-interview-with-palestinian-artist-hani-zurob/

Olive Jar – Directed by Elias Matar

The Olive Jar is a new play directed by the Palestinian Elias Matar who utilises the applied theatre model to work with 12 individuals of Arab origin, all currently resident in the W2 London postcode. Staged last weekend at Grand Junction, as part of the biennial Shubbak Festival, it is a brilliant example of how the socially-informed method can empower a niche community to share its real lived experience, on its own terms and turf, and gently touch the heart of its audience.

Under Matar’s sensitive yet confident instruction, informed by his strong narrative therapy background, the mix of male and female participants – eleven of whom have no prior thespian experience – conquered any debuting stage fright by beginning to open, in sequence, the neatly placed olive jars around the stage, with very few other props needed. Each glass container held a real tale of personal migration, displacement and subsequent diasporic settlement in the United Kingdom, the place each of them now calls home.

Mariam on stage, photo©EllieKurttz 

The first one to share was the energetic Mariam of Algerian descent. Over a cup of mint tea, she told us of how her blacksmith grandfather had left Algeria due to an inheritance dispute with his siblings, set within the context of the French occupation that spanned 132 years. Making reference to the complex post-colonial legacy that impacted waves of Algerian migration to Europe, it is a reminder of the historical role of Western intervention in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Next Hafiza comes forward. Named after her Palestinian grandmother who was twice widowed and made to be a refugee, due to the 1948 Nakba and declaration of the state of Israel, she reminds us of Britain’s relationship to that ongoing conflict. She is followed by Majida, a veiled older Palestinian/Lebanese woman, who relays the tale of when, heavily pregnant, she arranged to escape for her unborn child’s sake. In fact, she ended up giving birth to a boy onboard a flight headed to the United States, whom she would later lose at the tender age of 22 years.

Continuing with the others. Ali is the newly arrived Iraqi refugee, who with broken English, says his story is still too raw and difficult to recount and may be too much for others to hear. But then a lighter vibe takes over with the humorously philosophic Adam, a lost Lebanese tourist who slept on London’s park benches for weeks on end, and still remembers hearing the loud bang of the Hyde Park bombing by the IRA in July, 1982! 

Men on stage, photo©EllieKurttz 

The stage then quickly transforms into a wedding scene for Syrian bride Nasrin, whose big day was disrupted by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, that impacted on her marriage and reasons for travel. Soon turning into a kitchen for Sarah, the half-English girl, the desire to recreate an Arab grandmother’s aromatic dolma finally reconnects her with long-lost Middle Eastern relatives. Then it is Amal, the humble feminist, who was deprived of rights and freedoms for being a girl – as basic as wanting to swim and ride a bicycle – and so ran away to spare her daughter the same fate.

Nasrin’s wedding, photo©EllieKurttz

The two Iraqi women in the group then contribute. Whilst Phayaphi fled because her family members were being executed by Saddam Hussein for being opponents of his brutal regime, Lana left Baghdad due to the upheavals caused by the American-led /British invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the resultant war which destabilised the country. As they put it, “war is separation” and the reason why ordinary people come to seek refuge in a foreign land, even when confronted by the challenge to start all over again, far away from all that is familiar and of comfort to them.

Lastly a word about the youngest cast member, the eloquent 7-year-old son of Lina, a Syrian woman who chose not to open her jar but stood on stage supporting the acts of all the others. Her handsome little boy assuredly took to the pulpit in the sacred St Mary Magdalene’s church, to keep an imaginary register as part of the dramatics of the play. His role, according to Matar, is to represent the people we meet on our various journeys, who support us to open our glass containers. I couldn’t help but also notice the pride in Lina’s eyes as they followed Ali, trusting she’s done the best to secure him a brighter future.

As these talented and warm, funny and intelligent, kind and generous souls aired the symbolic Olive Jar(s) to deliver the performance of their lives, I sensed the firm friendships and neighbourly bonds now forged between them, and the huge respect towards Matar. As the director tasked with steering the project, which began in October 2022 by way of weekly-held workshops, Matar has accomplished an incredible feat of applied theatre that truly honours the vibrant Arab community in the Paddington area.

Rolling the dolma, photo©EllieKurttz 

By devising the simple yet truthful script for his aspiring actors, for most of whom English is not the mother tongue, it allowed them to proudly and publicly perform in an adopted second language, with only brief Arabic segments. It actually felt like they wanted the audience to see them in light of their ‘Britishness’ and not their ‘otherness’. Indeed one can only imagine the troubled emotions when any of us comes across the continuingly unfair coverage that dehumanises those currently attempting to cross the seas, individuals risking everything for safety and survival.

So I truly enjoyed every element, including the live music by harpist Georgie Pope and percussionist Nuno Brito, as well as the Arabic lyrics and poetry composed and sung by the Palestinian Ruba Shamshoum. Her graceful voice gave the Olive Jar an added spectacular ingredient and the magical atmosphere. As a grassroots performance based on the real pains, desires, struggles, horrors, loves and dreams of its stars, this was a rare treat, so delicately and skillfully put together.

For more on Shubbak Festival, the UK’s largest biennial festival of contemporary Arab arts and culture: https://www.shubbak.co.uk/

For more on Grand Junction, the venue for arts, culture and community based at St Mary Magdalen’s Church: https://grandjunction.org.uk/

This Nahla Ink article was first published circa July 2023 

Where, if not faraway, is my place? Artist Nour Jaouda celebrates solo show +Essay by Louise Benson

Where, if not faraway, is my place?

Recently I attended the launch of a solo show for the Libyan artist Nour Jaouda at Union Pacific, London. It was a wonderfully busy event with a young mix of guests who came to see the work and congratulate the artist on the hard work she’s put in over the past year. Gracing the space over two floors, clearly some great effort had been taken to install and place some of the heavy and intricate sculptural pieces.

As I walked around and later mingled, I met some of Jaouda’s Libyan family and Cairene friends who had come from abroad to celebrate this significant early career achievement. Born in 1997, Jaouda grew up in Cairo, Egypt before she came to the UK to study at The Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University (BFA, 2018) and later obtain a post-graduate degree from Royal College of Art, London (MA Painting, 2021). Showing promise from student days, Jaouda was the inaugural Winner of the Emery Prize during her last year at Oxford and Finalist for the Hopper Prize in 2021.

I asked directors of the gallery Nigel Dunkley and Grace Schofield, how and why Union Pacific had picked Jaouda for this show. They said: “We found Nour’s work through researching graduates of local universities. We felt that Nour’s practice stood out because of the textile focus– we had been looking at textile work for some time, and Nour’s art is unique in its relationship to both social history and personal reflection.

Nour hand-dyes her fabrics in natural pigments, creating infinite variations of colour; this, and the layering she uses, creates a painterly quality to her work and grabbed our attention immediately. On our very first visit to her studio, we wanted to offer her a show and were extremely excited by the potential of our collaboration.

Nour Jaouda If the olive tree knew the hand that planted them (Detail), 2023 Fabric dye on canvas, hand-dyed cotton tassels, steel

I also wanted to know from Jaouda what this project signifies for her creative journey. She offered: “‘Where if not faraway is my place’ is an exploration of my relationship to the volatile narratives of time, place and belonging. The work is a continuation of my never-ending struggle to materialise personal and collective memory and examine the fluidity of our cultural identity.

“Embodying all the different elements of my practice, textile design, painting, sculpture and installation, each piece in the space is a fragment of the overall installation, as if they were all deconstructed from one another. This deconstructionist approach to making attempts to leave the viewer’s mind driven to construct unity, meaning and closure.”

Nour Jaouda Where the fig tree cannot be fenced, 2023 Fabric dye and pigment on canvas, steel, cement, ceramic

Referring to the above installation, she also said: “Taking the architectural shape of a deconstructed gate, with textile pieces weaved through its steel ridges, I wanted the installation ‘Where the fig tree cannot be fenced’ to be experienced as if it were a gate in a constant process of becoming, hovering in the liminal space between creation and destruction, where borders within the space are created and opened up.”

Still searching for clues to have a deeper understanding, I finally chanced upon an essay penned by Louise Benson, which had been specifically commissioned by Union Pacific for the launch. This is what truly opened my eyes to Jaouda’s intense labour of love in sourcing and transporting her material from one continent to another, to welding tough steel and manipulating cement; and, ultimately, how these works have come to reference an inner realm of thought and humble emotion as well as the desire to put the transcendental into an art form.

Thus with kind permission from Union Pacific and Benson, the article is republished below.

Lastly I am honoured Jaouda has agreed to be a Nahla Ink Featured Artist (Summer Season 2023) so I can share the work more extensively on social media in the coming days. As a fellow and older Libyan, it gives me that much extra pride to introduce her to my readers and wish her every success!

Please note: If you are in London, there is still time to visit the ‘Where, if not faraway, is my place?’ exhibition, until 15 July, 2023. Union Pacific Gallery’s opening hours are Wednesday-Saturday from 12noon-6pm. Nearest tube station is Aldgate East.

Where, if not faraway, is my place? – Essay by Louise Benson

Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears,” Italo Calvino wrote in Invisible Cities.

Streets are lined with the secret lives that play out inside the home, revealed in furtive glimpses through windows and doors left ajar, its architecture a patchwork imprint of the people that have passed through these locales. Each view around the next corner unfurls a line drawn from the present into the past, of family history passed through generations and the wending lines of ships that have brought migrants overseas.

Nour Jaouda was born between two places and now finds herself with connections to three. Born and raised in Cairo within a Libyan family, she currently lives between London and Cairo, and keeps a studio in each. Cairo, the place that Jaouda first called home, is a city that is ever-renewing, a hybrid space built upon majestic history and colonial intervention, of a yearning for the past and a drive towards the future. Her relationship to the ancient Egyptian city is shaped by her family’s history of migration and a feeling of existing in-between, a slippery experience of presence and non-presence, and of what exactly it means to belong.

Nour Jaouda Blindspot (Detail), 2023 Fabric dye on canvas, hand-dyed cotton tassels, steel

The many layers that make up Jaouda’s work are woven from this same palimpsest of time and space, of fabric stitched together from the threads of her own multifaceted identity and split sense of self. Textiles found by the artist at markets in Cairo and London, a mix of raw and primed canvas and pure Egyptian cotton, are stitched together and blended in new shapes. Some textures are loose or rough, while others are tightly bound. Together their topography offers an alternative map of her encounters with the city, localised to their street corners and flashes of her brief interactions with their vendors.

Colour,” Josef Albers once reflected, “is the most relative medium in art.” Just as there are infinite shades of green when looking up at a tree or out at a foggy mountain in the distance, so are there endless variations to be found in the interaction of colour with cloth. Jaouda dyes her materials in vivid natural pigments that transform each scrap through their saturation into a rainbow array of yellows, pinks, greens and blues that dance and infuse through them, like a drop of ink amidst a vast pool of water. Colour comes alive and is made physical, three dimensional, pushing outwards into new forms that crease and intensify with time.

Neither a painter nor a sculptor, instead hovering somewhere between the two, Jaouda nevertheless has a painter’s sensibility in her attunement to the effect that a bright or muted hue can have upon the shifting of a mood or even the most fleeting of feelings. A soft colour glimpsed on a passer-by can bring back an intense yearning for a loved one, or a memory long forgotten.

Nour Jaouda Blindspot, 2023 Fabric dye on canvas, hand-dyed cotton tassels, steel

In Jaouda’s restless work, the remarkable fluidity of textiles becomes fully apparent. Cloth can be folded inwards, packed and transported, rolled up and bound. It can also be stretched wide, unfurled, fanned out and draped to form a cloak or even a temporary place of rest. A single sheet of cotton can, with a gust of wind, shift momentarily from two to three dimensions.

For Jaouda, the tactility of her materials is rooted in this transformative quality, shapeshifting in a tension between sanctuary and fragility, mass-production and personalisation. Cut and sewn, deconstructed and then reconstructed, they give away glimpses of social history and personal reflection that trickle away like a conversation briefly overheard from a cafe terrace, at once unfamiliar and yet profound.

The structure and design of Jaouda’s wall pieces are inspired by the Islamic prayer mat, with the tassels and textiles nodding to the spiritual spaces that are created from the highly specific configuration of materials in the form of divine geometry. Reconfigured and pulled apart, Jaouda suspends these stitched scraps from bent steel, cascading down from the metalwork in a delicate array of shapes that meld the industrial qualities of the steel with the intimate domestic associations of woven fabric.

Jaouda’s steel frames are themselves formed from fragments of the past, taken directly from former gates and doors dotted around downtown Cairo, where the faded grandeur of the European-inflected colonial architecture can still be seen in increasing disrepair. Removed and remade by Jaouda in patterns that echo their origins, the old is inherently embedded in the new. Each piece hints at the streets that these curved steel gates once flanked, their doorways the division between exterior and interior, simultaneously forbidding and welcoming, a portal between two states of being.

While walking down the street, I have occasionally encountered a foot or handprint frozen in the cement of the pavement, or even a playful graffitied drawing hastily scratched with a twig. I once saw the paw print of a cat fossilised in the grey concrete on an overcast London afternoon, a permanent record of a momentary strut across the surface as the cement was still setting, like a shadow that refuses to disappear with the shifting sunlight. How long ago, I wondered, had that cat walked across this path?

Nour Jaouda Where the fig tree cannot be fenced, 2023 Fabric dye and pigment on canvas, steel, cement, ceramic

Under Jaouda’s direction, cement becomes a surface for excavation, somewhere between sculpture and drawing, as she carves rapidly into its still liquid face before it hardens. Where the stitching of textiles requires a slowness that defies the natural rhythms of intuition, sketching in cement invites rapid decision-making and mark-making that is part-deliberate, part-unconscious in its many twists and turns. Is that a fig tree in the monotone of the concrete? Representation melts away into abstraction, colour into hard stone.

Nour Jaouda Immortal olive tree, 2023 Cement, fabric dye, steel

There is a constant sensation when encountering Jaouda’s installations of a work in progress, of the unravelling (or rebuilding) or a project that is just midway through and still active. Their unfinished qualities – provisional, full of possibility, with the artist’s hand still present – are the key to their seductive allure. After all, what separates an artist’s studio from the gallery? The heavy frames encircling the hung canvases and the lick of white paint upon the walls? Jaouda brings her process, at once repetitive and ritualistic, into the gallery, where each work is an invitation to trace its history back not just to its inception in the studio but even further into the past.

Broken apart and fragmented, Jaouda invites us to participate in putting the pieces back together again. We peer through the doorway and hover on the threshold, before taking the first step inside.

Essay republished on Nahla Ink Online Journal courtesy of Benson and Union Pacific. Images courtesy of the artist and Union Pacific.

Union Pacific is a contemporary art gallery in East London that houses diverse and ambitious exhibitions. Spread across two floors, the gallery facilitates a range of experimental projects with international artists that range from paintings, sculpture and video.

For more on Union Pacific: https://unionpacific.co.uk/

For more on Louise Benson: https://www.louisebenson.com/

To follow Nour Jaouda via Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nour.jaouda/

This article was first published circa July 2023

Mohamed Al Kharrubi – Nahla Ink Featured Artist (Spring 2022)

Nahla Ink is always that little bit extra proud to feature a Libyan artist, this time from my home city of Tripoli, Mohamed Khalifa Al Kharrubi (born in 1974), with a huge big thanks to art curator Najlaa El-Ageli, of Noon Arts Projects. 

El-Ageli first presented the artist in London as part of the collective exhibition ‘Retracing a Disappearing Landscape’ at P21 Gallery, which later travelled to Spain at the Casa Arabe in both Madrid and Cordoba. The show had explored the direct experience of and fascination with memory and personal history relating to modern day Libya.


Since I have been intrigued by Al Kharrubi’s distinct style of Arabic calligraphy with the detectable Sufi undertones in his brush movement and the reinterpretation of the Arabic alphabet with the deliberately chosen words and phrases, in which we almost feel his active meditation on the meaning and the spiritual power they hold.

Having grown up and studied in Tripoli, he most recently completed a Masters of Arts at the Libyan Academy of Postgraduate Studies. His work so far has been exhibited in Libya, and outside Libya, mainly through international art fairs in Tunisia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Austria, the UAE (Sharjah), Egypt (Cairo), Algeria, Spain, England and Italy. 

I recently connected with Al Kharrubi and asked some brief questions so I could share with Nahla Ink readers a little bit more about his artistic practice. As we communicated in Arabic, below is a rough translation!

Nahla: Why Arabic calligraphy?

Al Kharrubi: I am inspired by calligraphy because it has an amazing expressive ability in the diversity of its forms, with its flexibility, sequence and overlap. It is an authentic component of my identity and affiliation.

Nahla: What words or phrases do you use and play with and why?

Al Kharrubi: Often (no) is present in my paintings, perhaps to signify the rejection of the prevailing and opposition to the familiar, but the (no) form remains what attracts me to its distinction.

Nahla: What art materials and techniques do you use?

Al Kharrubi: I tend towards an abstract style using all materials, acrylic, oil, and offset printing inks by virtue of my first specialization in the art of gravure printing (graphics). Currently I have nothing but my tools and my drawings, technically branching out to them only.

Nahla: Is Libya, as an idea, related to your work?

Al Kharrubi: Yes, but through Tripoli, it bears the fragrance of history and the present.

Nahla: Being based in Libya, what are your hopes for the future?

Al Kharrubi: To stabilize the country, so that art can flourish and keep pace with the times.

Nahla: What do you most care about in life?

Al Kharrubi: Reconciliation with oneself.

Nahla: Give me five words that matter to you.

Al Kharrubi: Freedom then freedom, justice, art and knowledge. 

Nahla: Do you have a message to relay through your work?

Al Kharrubi: My message in general is that everyone finds his passion, to define his goal and strive for it with all seriousness. Art itself is a personal message. Above all I try to express myself through it. I do not seek to change the world through art because it is not an educational tool but an aesthetic value.

Nahla: Is there anything you would like to share with an international audience?

Al Kharrubi: I paint if I exist, access to the whole world has become available and easy thanks to technology. We only have to master what we do and do what we love, and the world will see us as we are.

To follow Mohamed Al Kharrubi on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mohamedalkharrubi/

On Noon Arts Projects, highlighting Libyan art: https://www.noonartsprojects.com/

Farah Beitelmal: The Libyan Fashion Designer Wowing Madrid!

Two years back I got a cute gift of a makeup purse made of the softest cream cotton, lined with a pretty white and red polka-dot material, with a memorable graphic design on the front. The  sketched image portrayed a young female DJ wearing a Libyan style furashia with a fuming Oud incense holder in one hand, as she mixes the music on the turntable  to get the invisible women to dance the night away. Reminiscent of a North African party scene, I loved it immediately and asked who made the purse. I got a name, but didn’t further investigate.

Fast forward a couple of months ago, my sister received a present delivered from Madrid, Spain that was of a babouche (North African style mule shoe) made of beautiful leather in metallic turquoise. When she tried it on, it looked good whether worn as a slipper with the heel flap down or as a shoe with the heel flap up. Again, I was intrigued by who made this and was informed it was by the same designer as the bag! Now I had to find out more of what was behind these Maghreb inspired collectables, as you would want them too! Fortunately, I got an Instagram account and made contact for a virtual interview.

Currently in Madrid, Farah Beitelmal was born in 1985 in Tripoli, Libya. Truly a global citizen, she has lived, studied and worked in many countries throughout her life, including in: Libya, Spain, France, the United States, Egypt and Tunisia. Now married with two young children, she is a traveller with a fearless nomadic spirit, who is fluent in four languages (French, Spanish, English and Arabic) and happens to be a qualified lawyer with 15 years of experience in the legal industry, being a member of the ICC International Court of Arbitration!

The fashion business is something new and exciting for her, but it fulfils a long-held dream. Beitelmal said: “Fashion has always been an important part of my life, as I have always had an interest in fabrics, styling and creating. My mother also was always stylish and I treasure her vintage pieces. For the longest time, I was told that unless you can sew, sketch and draw, you can’t be a fashion designer and I never really challenged that. 

“But, ten years ago, a friend of mine, who knew how passionate I am about fashion, took me to an event at a concept store somewhere in Madrid, where different entrepreneurs were giving a talk about their projects. Among them, there was a designer whom I approached at the end of his talk and told how much I love designing but that I could never pursue it since I can´t sketch and draw. He told me don’t’ worry if you can’t sew and draw, as long as you have the idea, you can get someone else to help you with the manifestation of it. That conversation impacted me and changed things.”

“So as often happens, it was during a crisis moment in 2013 that I thought to pursue the ambition; and, overnight, I got the idea to start with bags inspired by my Libyan homeland. I began with basic drawings with what I thought would look cool on a soft pouch. I then called my Spanish friend Jordi Machi who is a very talented painter and gave him the sketch, to say that I wanted to print it out on a bag and create a graphic design. He was happy to help until I was satisfied with a result.”

Beitmal didn’t’ just stop caring for the graphics, she also wanted the bags to be made of quality Egyptian cotton wool, be nicely lined and waterproof. In the end, she had one pouch model and another with a golden handle, using two slightly different designs. One was the Libyan furashia-clad DJ with the turntable and Oud holder, whilst the other image was inspired by old Algerian women riding scooters whilst wearing their hayek.


Bag with one of two original graphic designs

Beitelmal said: “These ladies are really an inspiration! They are proud of their traditions, but it doesn’t prevent them from doing other stuff. You can be anything you want to be… Libyan women especially are strong and the essence of the Farah Beitelmal brand is to show that I am a mother, wife, fashionista, Arab, European, lawyer and designer. Why do you need to put me in one box? I wish to transmit this mix of cultures and the idea that as a woman you can wear different hats, which is myself.” 

But as time went by, Beitelmal got married, had her first child and took a break from her legal career and put the design ideas to the side. It was while in Tunis, where she was going back and forth between 2017-2019, that she found two concept boutiques who were happy to stock and sell the bags; and, in total, 50 of these collector items were sold out! It would be in Tunis again, a few years later that she found her next inspiration, the babouches.

She said: “I really enjoy walking around the shops and noticed these pretty slippers in a few places. I asked about the makers and was led to Chahrazed Chaieb, a Tunisian designer who works with artisans in Tunisia. I bought two for myself to try out and absolutely loved them! I then contacted her and said I wanted the babouches to be made for my brand, for which she was happy to liaise. It took some time, but we started with a standard model in 2020 during lockdown.”

Babouche designed by Beitelmal

Using the beautifully soft recycled Tunisian leather preferred by luxury Italian brands, Beitelmal picks up the leather and local artisans in the atelier make the babouches. Currently it is a father and son team who make them; and, as they are handmade one by one, she orders small quantities, one size per each model, unless there is a request by a client. At the moment, there are ten models with selected leathers, including: serpent leather, hair leather, soft leather and metallic. Unlike traditional babouches that tend to be hard, these are pliable, comfortable and versatile, and you can wear them two ways.

To take shape as a viable business, Beitelmal first made a few pieces and held a sample sale in Madrid, where she is based. Even without promotion on social media, she met with a positive response in the Spanish market and among her friends who are based all around the world. She also reached out to one of the Zubizarreta sisters, founders of the Zubi Spanish handbag brand, who have a unique business model, whose advice was to begin with bags, shoes and accessories before turning to clothing.

Beitelmal is insistent: “I don’t do seasons, that is important to my brand because I want to appeal to a different market. When the babouches sample sale was good, I made a collection that is both classic and timeless. The plan now is the clothing range in which I introduce season-less garments. I always choose to create something that will be with you for life and not something you buy and throw away the next day.”

More babouche styles by Beitelmal

“For example, the babouches can be worn to work, whether that is to a law firm or fashion magazine, or simply to drop off the kids, meet with friends for drinks or for travel. You can wear them literally anywhere and they will add spark to any outfit and make you glamorous even with your jeans and T-shirt! As I look up to well-known women in history, as well as the woman next door, I can’t define my style as such but that I am an individual who doesn’t want to be defined!” 

The next big fashion move for this ever-so-resourceful Libyan woman is to launch her first ever clothing range, beginning with no more than three individual garments. She said to me: “These are chic pieces, with each telling a little more about what it means to be Farah Beitelmal!” Giving me a sneak preview, one clue is in the photo at the top of this article. In it, the designer is proudly dressed in her own creation, the ‘Lola’ coat, inspired by the legendary Spanish artist Lola Flores.

To find out more about Farah Beitelmal’s fashion brand on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/farahbeitelmal/

For the Farah Beitelmal’s sales website, from which items can be shipped to most European cities:https://farahbeitelmal.com/ 

Note: This article was first published on Nahla Ink circa November 2021

Alia Derouiche Cherif – Nahla Ink Artist of the Season (Autumn 2021)

Nahla Ink is so happy to feature the works of Alia Derouiche Cherif for the duration of the Autumn Season 2021. It has been a privilege to get to know the artist online and see her pieces digitally. The happy timing coincides with Cherif’s latest solo show at the Musk & Amber Gallery in the capital city of Tunis under the theme of ‘Tarab’, running from 14 October to 4 November, 2021.

Born and brought up in Tunisia, the 52-year-old versatile creative has several specialties under her belt, including: a Masters in Interior Design, a Masters in Sociology of Art and Doctorate in Science Techniques in the Arts (1997) from the Technological Institute of Art, Architecture and Urbanism of Tunis (ITAAUT). As a Professor of Fashion Design, she has been teaching at a training state college in the northern suburbs of Tunis for the past twenty years. She tells me this college is just a three-minute walk from the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Already exhibited widely in her home country, she even caused controversy at the Bardo National Museum back in 2019 when the Minister of Culture intervened to back and support her work to the surprise of the then Director who wanted to censor it! The image above was taken of the artist at the Bardo with the artwork in question behind her. It had led to the uproar because the text on it says: “The government does not like love”!

When it comes to her artwork, I was firstly drawn to Cherif’s project in relation to the depiction of Middle Eastern and North African women as found on old Colonial postcards. Originally taken by the colonisers during a certain time and age – when the art of Western photography was just blossoming and being experimented with – the shots portray the female subjects in a certain exoticized, romanticized and even fetishised way. A big question mark remains over how these individual women agreed to be pictured or how they were coerced into taking part.

Bint Abou Nawas (2018)

So Cherif took the photographic images she found of these women and gave them a new aesthetic, a fresh interpretation and a current dimension, so that the male Orientalist gaze of the photographer is interrupted and replaced by that of an Arab woman fully in possession of her identity, gender and core human being.

There is, of course, extensive analysis regarding these Colonial photographs, the cameramen behind them and the general treatment of the indigenous populations; as well as the fact that these images are still in popular circulation today, mainly through the purchase and exchange of postcards by avid collectors and others interested in their historical value. Still for others, these images are proof of the arrogant Colonialist and his abuse, that again pertains to much academic debate and robust discussion.

Dance with the moon (2021)

About the postcards’ project, Cherif has said: “I always wanted to explore personal themes and the original idea was to do something creative with photos of my grandmother, but somehow it felt too close to heart and mind and I was blocked! So I looked for her beauty in other women as I found them in the photographs of a similar time.”

In particular, Cherif researched the works of the French-Swiss photographer Jean Geiser (1848-1923), the photos developed by the Lehnert & Landrock Studio as well as those taken by Nathan Boumendi, who were all active in North Africa, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, roughly between the late 1850s to the late 1940s.

She said: “I was led to a new reading of these Orientalist portraits and began to make my version of the old postcards, blended with my memories and with a wink to the contemporary art sphere, so far removed from the universe of these women. I wanted to give the anonymous faces, who used to be photographed without informed consent, a new life that would allow them to proudly identify and become the beloved queens and shining icons that they truly are, whom I also cover with gold. Naming these women too who have no name is to revive them!”

A star is born (2021)

Based on photomontages printed on paper or canvas, Cherif usually employs a mixed technique with acrylics, felt pens, inks, watercolours, pencils and gold leaf for her paintings. Her dual training as an interior designer and stylist also allows her to incorporate draped zelliges, the colourful handcrafted clay tiles best known for their Moorish geometric patterns and found throughout North Africa. Added to this is use of Arabic calligraphy, that usually denotes words of love, though other times the words have no meaning, they just stand for the beauty of the letters as they flow.

Shine and blues (2021)

Cherif’s paintings are continuously evolving and her latest project ‘Tarab’ is truly to die for, as her figures embody heady feminine power and beauty with the light, the gold and shades of blue. In this she still draws upon her personal memories and reaches out to the collective female psyche, incorporating her Arab Islamic inheritance, as well as the local North African culture with its ornaments and motifs.

She explained to Nahla Ink: “The Tarab in Arabic means an aesthetic emotion of great intensity, an ecstasy caused by a dance, or to vocal and instrumental music. I wanted to find this emotion in my paintings, with the mix of some of the old work and current references. I also want to create the sense that space and time do not exist with the zelliges, as they remain the same from centuries ago, and finally there is a nod to celebrating love itself!”

Will you still love me tomorrow? (2019) 

Looking forward, Cherif is scheduled to take part in two exhibitions in 2022, one in  Paris, France and the other in London, UK. In Tunisia, her work has been shown at the Bardo National Museum (Tunis), Alain Nadaud Gallery (Gammarth, Tunis), the Musk & Amber Gallery (Tunis), Elbirou Gallery (Sousse) and the Efesto Salon des Artistes (La Marsa).

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

You may also be interested to read on Nahla Ink: https://www.nahlaink.com/making-the-postcard-womens-imaginarium/

Note: This article was first published on Nahla Ink circa October 2021

Joseph Tawadros & ‘Hope in An Empty City’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nahla: How has your life been impacted by Covid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nahla: Do you go back to Egypt?

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

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

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

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

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

Nahla: What inspires your compositions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was first published on Nahla Ink circa September 2021

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

Sondos Abdelmalak

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

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

Artist of the Month
Artwork: The Tulip Eater

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

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

Artist of the Month
Artwork: Words

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

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

Shaken Reflection, Acrylic on Canvas, Vienna 2020

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

Mother of Two, Acrylic on Canvas, Vienna 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Work originally published 11.06.2011

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

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

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

Work originally published 16.07.2010

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

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

Sketch of Libya

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

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

Pauline’s Place

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

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

Happy Ground

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

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

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

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

This article was first published circa August 2021

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

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

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

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



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


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

Biography: Courtesy of the Artist

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

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

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

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

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

Artist Of the Month

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

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

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



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

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

Ayasa has exhibited in Palestine, Italy and the UAE.

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


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

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