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

Calligraphies of the Desert: Hassan Massoudy

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

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

The Desert

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

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

Light Upon Light 

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

Man’s residence is the horizon. Arabic saying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hassan Massoudy: Artist in his studio

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

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

And ending with my favourite piece: The Oasis

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urinating on the Corpse – Dec 2019

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

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

To learn more about Mohammad Bin Lamin: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

She was kind enough to respond.

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

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

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

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Portions of Humanity: Essay on Ahmed Farid’s Artwork

Nahla Ink is happy to share this deep meditative essay on Ahmed Farid’s artwork by Diego Faa.

Ahmed Farid’s artwork is featured on Nahla Ink Online Journal throughout the month of April 2020.

Guest Post: Diego Faa

From his very first formulations of pictorial research, the art of Ahmed Farid has staged a closely-confined and relentless conflict between the attempt at complete elimination of the figurative and the symbolically fierce resistance of his own cultural roots of expressionist stamp. Nevertheless, this structural feature of much of his production should not be read as an unresolved issue within Farid’s universe: on the contrary it is the essence of the same, the generative thrust behind every single one of his artistic creations.

What we have then is not two different paths, but a differently parallel itinerary which can consistently open up towards multiple stylistic and technical possibilities. Moreover, being born in Egypt, growing up with American cultural mythology, travelling through the world and being penetrated by the explosion of avant-garde art history movements can plausibly lead to such a
confrontation-clash with one’s own nature.

Indeed, both as a man and as an artist, Ahmed Farid is influenced by this formative and chronologically dissociated melting-pot which manages to combine figurative echoes drawn from the experience of Gazebia Sirry with compositional reminiscences that look to Nicholas de Staël and explosions of gestural colour influenced by the work of de Kooning filtered through the itineraries of Adel el Siwi.

What Farid implements before the white canvas is a continual balancing of portions of cultural awareness. This is a staging of his entire experience – the life path first and art afterwards – that transcends technique to achieve a full and total personalisation of making art.

Within this dialectic the elimination of the figurative stroke is hence not experienced by Farid as a conquest connected with the indissoluble twentieth-century dichotomy between mimesis and reality, but as the assertion of a pictorial autonomy capable of projecting only itself, devoid of all belonging. This path, cleared of dogmatic obstacles, restores a strong sense of freedom to his art.

The absence of an immediate and univocal responsibility transforms reality into visual experience, into poetry balanced between the spiritual and material physicality. The dreamlike and sometimes disturbing quality of some of his works celebrates an excited creative debate within the artist. This may be resolved in an explosion of colour – or in the absence of it – which starts from a fixed point and is propagated, expanding to fill the entire canvas. In a chromatic courtship, the shades come close and reciprocally balance each other without ever overlapping.

The subject of the works is never a fixed image but a gestural automatism, an evolving flow that merely hints at reality. From this perspective, the sign becomes rational transcription in a succession of stains, clots of matter and emotional writing. Order makes way for an apparent disorder, pursuing a logic that is defined, within the compositional tangibility, in a stylistic deformation conceived to reflect a mood of absence and of the persistent meshing of distance from the figurative and its evocation in abstract terms.

The shapes, that are no more than sketched or even whispered, appear unstable as if awaiting a different dimension, an interior space devoid of narrative. The apparent anxieties make way for feverish explosions of inner peace in a physical world that is scarcely able to contain the imaginative enormity of Ahmed Farid’s work.

The large-scale works in particular impress on the observer a sense of sublime contemplation, an invitation to venture into the disturbing meanders of one’s own unconscious. Using grounds of variably even colour, the artist concentrates on a labour of fragmentary brushstrokes and material residues that emerge as symbolic hostages in the precarious tangle of the magmatic colourings.

This sort of stylistic metaphor yields canvases loaded with thick, at times almost creamy paint, where  the crowding of signs, shapes and colours tends to entrap figures and portions of humanity with an archaic flavour. These figures appear to be crushed and sorely tried: distraught and disintegrated souls in search of their space. It is, therefore, a strongly human situation, capable of evoking a primeval history of symbolic significance.

The identifying image is concealed and then proposed to the gaze, evading winking impositions to knit up a sort of metaphysical intimacy with what surrounds it and with the observer.

The slender non-figure figures, which appear to emerge from the depths of the canvas, the strong tonal nuances and a natural inclination towards the creation of layers of matter give rise to a transfigured consistency and a lacerated polyphony. The result is a type of expressivity which becomes possible only by arriving at a mediation between tangible perceived reality and a timeless space.

This geography – in which delicate figures hug masses of compact colour – is what makes up Farid’s art. Such a deeply consistent and solid equilibrium in chromatic terms is achieved through the juxtaposition of admirably balanced sections of colour and constant comparison with the intensity of the light which appears to orient the tesserae of shifting gradations.

In the process of creating the work the artist checks that every element tends to and generates unity, suspending all possibility of temporary solution. Even a faint brushstroke, a light touch, or the adjustment of a balancing of percentages of light can upset the overall vision.

The violence of the pictorial gesture, of expressionist stamp, appears to be guided by just a few decisive, confident gestures devoid of second thoughts; in actual fact, the final result of the work is the fruit of a very lengthy creative process. The artist indeed addresses the canvas again and again, correcting and retouching tiny parts of colour, adding or removing small units of matter, such as gold or silver leaf, and overlaying techniques and materials.

Watching Ahmed Farid at work, we have the chance to perceive the secular sacredness with which he approaches his concept of making art: the three steps backwards which he frequently takes to get a larger view of the work encapsulate the entire cosmos of imagination and instinctive creation that characterises his production. It is only by achieving this short distance that we – using his key – can see the asymmetrical totems in movement, continents adrift and figures in search of an impossible definition.

Diego Faa is a Professor of Art History, Management of the Art System and Communication for Cultural Promotion based in Florence, Italy. Faa is also an arts curator and organiser of temporary exhibitions in galleries and public spaces as well as being a reference point for some artists’ archives. 

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

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

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

Biography courtesy of the artist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/an_farid

Art And About Africa: Mapping the Contemporary African Art Scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nahla Ink: Tell me a bit about your background?

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

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

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

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

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

Nahla Ink: Why the AAAA platform?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nour Zantah – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (March 2020)

March 2020 brings the works of the talented Syrian artist Nour Zantah to Nahla Ink, to coincide with her latest solo exhibition titled ‘ATAX|A’ that will take place at the P21 Gallery in London from 12-21 March.

Biography courtesy of the artist.

Nour Zantah is a London-based artist who was born in Homs, Syria in 1989. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Damascus in 2011 and a Master’s in International Contemporary Art & Design Practice from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, Malaysia in 2014. Currently she is completing a PhD in Fine Arts at The University of Northampton, United Kingdom. She has exhibited widely in countries including Syria, Algeria, Jordan and the UK.

Following the start of the Syrian revolution, Zantah’s work came to focus on violence and war, with a particular interest in the aesthetic and expressive qualities that can be achieved while depicting aggression, as well as addressing the complex interactions and inspirations evident in how artists respond to modern media images of violence.

Referring to the medical term which means the loss of full control of bodily movements, ATAX|A will feature Zantah’s complex collages of images from the revolution, interspersed with her painting, offering an immersive and troubling experience that reveals the deep emotional and personal impacts of war. Transcending barriers of language, race, age and nationality, her work bears witness to the torments experienced by Syrians, both in war-torn Syria and in the diaspora.

Khan Shaykhun Chemical Attack (2017) Mixed Media on Canvas)

In reference to the painting named ‘Khan Shaykhun Chemical Attack’, Zantah has said: “The inspiration for this was a screenshot I took of a video that was published on YouTube on 4 April, 2017. The video showed sisters and brothers who had been killed in the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack that day. I incorporated a number of written statements into the painting’s over-arching composition which are related to the chaos of thoughts and imagination that was seething inside me. The flood of colours spills out onto the painting which begins with the word ‘war’ at the right-hand side and culminates with the word ‘theatre’ on the left-hand side of the painting.”

Untitled (2019) Mixed Media on Canvas

Sharing her thoughts also on the ‘Untitled’ piece above: “This painting represents the emotions associated with the revolutionary moment, reflecting its ups and downs, and growth and fading of enthusiasm. I sought to express the impact of the sounds of war on myself and other Syrians at the moment of isolation, loneliness, nostalgia, fear, loss of hope, despair. There is an expressive dimension that is almost akin to a musicality, both in terms of its composition and what it is seeking to communicate. There is also a harmony arising from the repetition of the parallel lines of the figures in this painting.”

The Echo (2019) Mixed Media on Canvas

Many more of Zantah’s pieces address further aspects of the Syrian war with telling names such as ‘Under the Rubble’, ‘The Echo’, ‘The Void’, ‘The Sniper’, ‘The Wounded’, ‘The Migrant’, ‘Siege of Homs’, ‘He’s Not Coming Back’ among others.

Solitude (2019) Mixed Media on Canvas
Under the Rubble (2019) Mixed Media on Canvas

To view Zantah’s powerful artworks in person, the ATAX|A exhibition, curated by Tarek Tuma, will be open from 12-21 March at the P21 Gallery.

For more on the exhibition: http://p21.gallery/exhibitions/exhibition-atax-a/

For more about the artist: https://www.nourzantah.com/

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

MULOSIGE: A New Approach to World Literature & Celebrating Multilingualism In London

Guest Post: Dr Itzea Goikolea-Amiano and Sneha Alexander (MULOSIGE Team Members)

Founded at SOAS University of London, the MULOSIGE (short for Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies) research project looks primarily at the experience of multilingual societies in the Horn of Africa, the Maghreb and North India. Instead of thinking about world literature as primarily written or translated into English, MULOSIGE looks at how written and oral literatures in different languages in these Global South regions interact with each other and circulate around the world.

Led by Professor Francesca Orsini and funded by the European Research Council, it began in 2017 and will run until December 2020.

A central part of the MULOSIGE project is the work done on the Maghreb region. The project emphasises the linguistic and cultural plurality of the North African region as informed by local forms and genres as well as the contacts with the Middle East, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. MULOSIGE proposes a new approach to apprehend and valorise Maghrebi cultural heterogeneity beyond Euro-centric and Mashreq-centric approaches.

As well as hosting talks by scholars and academics, MULOSIGE also works with the local communities in London around multilingual issues. Since 2017, for example, we have collaborated with the Council of Islington in a project to introduce an Arabic collection into the N4 Library. We engaged with the Arabic-speaking people in the borough, who filled in a survey about their literary taste and interests. The books then provided followed the feedback of the local community, and that’s why this is a project for the communities but also by them!

Dr Itzea Goikolea-Amiano opening the Arabic Collection at the N4 Library.

While we tend to think of research as the primary activity influencing society, the engagement with the public is a very valuable source of insight for researchers. In fact, building the Arabic collection at the N4 Library confirmed the importance of the research in the MULOSIGE Maghrebi strand! Whereas the specialised Arabic bookshops found it easy to get hold of books printed in Beirut or Cairo, they found it difficult to acquire Maghrebi books. Such difficulty partly reflected the ‘peripheral’ positionality of North African literature vis-a-vis the cultural-cum-political centre in the Arabic-speaking world constituted by the Egypt-Lebanon axis. It also showed the importance of shedding light into the richness of Maghrebi literatures, as MULOSIGE does.

Another aspect to MULOSIGE is that we co-host the Multilingual London Festival – a free one-day event showcasing London’s multilingual literary talent. This festival will take place on the 25th April 2020 in partnership with the Museum of London. Its goal is to celebrate the vibrant mix of languages London-based writers use to weave real and imagined worlds. There will be free family-friendly workshops, children’s trails, poetry performances and writer’s talks – so save the date!

With the N4 Library, MULOSIGE is also running the Scheherazade Cultural Events programme; a series of talks and workshops centred around Arabic culture and literature. With free discussions on the Tunisian Revolution, Libyan satirical cartoons and feminist literature in Libya and the diaspora, as well as the revolutionary power of love in contemporary Arabic novels, these events are not to be missed!

Ultimately our purpose is to celebrate multilingualism in its various forms and increase Londoners’ knowledge of and accessibility to literatures from the Global South, and in languages other than English. London itself is home to over 300 languages and we can hear and see this expressed through stories, poetry, songs and books. Below are all the relevant links to help you engage with the project and utilise our current resources.

If you’re an Arabic speaker based in London, you can help provide Arabic books to your library by answering a survey at: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd9h8sS2zmdZee3zHjrBy3_YncCJPf_KKNmWNMUoLPs3Ew_cQ/viewform

If you would like your local library to run a similar project, here’s a toolkit they can follow: http://mulosige.soas.ac.uk/activities/outreach/library-toolkit/

For more on Multilingual London Festival: http://mulosige.soas.ac.uk/multilingual-london-festival/

For more on the Scheherazade Cultural Events Programme: http://mulosige.soas.ac.uk/scheherezade-cultural-events-at-the-n4-library/

For more on the MULOSIGE project at SOAS: http://mulosige.soas.ac.uk/about/

‘Making The Postcard Women’s Imaginarium’: Subverting colonial depictions & Orientalist fantasies of women found circulating on old postcards

Guest Post: Salma Ahmad Caller

My curiosity was piqued on a summer’s day in 2018 when I was walking around Spitalfields Thursday Antiques market in London and my eye fell upon an old faded postcard on a stall amongst the bric-a-brac. When I picked it up and looked closer, it seemed to depict an Egyptian woman dating back to the early 1900s; and, on the back, it had a stamp with a note written in English about women like her being nice to look at but smelling bad!

Born in Iraq and growing up in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia before moving to the UK in 1990, I was always one with lots of questions and looking for answers. My Egyptian father and English mother have often been the starting point for my work as an artist exploring identity. Add to that my paternal grandmother was Ottoman Turkish whilst the Egyptian family possibly originated from Tunisia, and before that Islamic Spain.

With this background, I have for years been intrigued by the inherent relationships, power structures and connections that bind my past; and, importantly, the colonial link between Egypt and Britain that had a big impact on my parents’ lives and so on my life too. The bigger narratives always have deeply personal implications.

That day I didn’t know anything about the history of what I was holding, I simply assumed that the woman shown was Egyptian. But I began researching all I could about the ‘colonial postcard’ and was soon dismayed and horrified. The featured women could potentially be from anywhere, they may even have been European models dressed up; but, mostly, they were locals often coerced or paid to be draped in strange assemblages of clothing and jewellery, the stuff of Orientalist imaginings.

Worse was the discovery of the exploitation, subjugation and violence behind the constructed images of the women on these postcards from the Middle East and North Africa. Posted in the millions, possibly billions, images taken in the 1800s were still circulating around Europe into the1950s or even 1970s. I now have my own large collection of Egyptian colonial postcards of women that has led me to further explore the histories of the Nubians, the Ghawazee, Hungarian Egyptians, Turkish, Sudanese, Ethiopians, Armenians and Nigerians.

My search led me to learn more about what constructs the identity of these women and where they may have come from. I have now looked through hundreds of postcards from all over the MENA region as well as from Southwest Asia and accumulated a library of books relating to this troubling and fascinating historical document, which is not in fact showing any kind of truth.

I founded ‘Making The Postcard Women’s Imaginarium’ project in August 2018 and so began Phase I of the project. I got in touch with other women artists as well as writers, poets, academics and thinkers who were all exploring identity within the context of the complex relationship between the East and West. I was keen to meet people with backgrounds that connected them to Britain and Europe and also to those places with colonial histories. I wanted it to be passionate and personal for each member.

As a group we began to look for ways to interrogate the painful histories behind the postcard women, whilst finding ways to get beyond simply seeing them as subjugated victims of a vast colonial project based on constructing racial hierarchies and imaginary Oriental Others. We needed to avoid further misrepresentation if we were to publicly share these postcards and prevent viewers from falling into the trap of experiencing them yet again as a ‘type’ of Eastern female posing as simpering, demure, over-sexualised, ‘exotic’, ‘primitive’, trapped in a quaint time warp, or malleable and ‘giving’ herself over to her captor, the colonial photographer.

That is why we all decided not to show the postcard women directly in our work without some kind of artistic mediation or intervention. Each woman depicted on a postcard has an amazing presence that somehow reaches out beyond the attempts to portray her in a certain way and we were each responding to that in our own way.

Phase I ended with a successful exhibition at Willesden Gallery in North London in October 2019, a very multicultural place to start our journey. As curator I wanted to have the whispering and murmuring of women’s voices haunting our art works, the photographs and the display cases of research material and postcards; as well as a play of light and shadow, projections and sound overlaying the reception and experience of the installations.

This year is Phase II of the Imaginarium project and I am delighted to collaborate with the British-Libyan architect and Arts curator Najlaa El-Ageli and the well-known British-Iranian artist Afsoon, to bring forth another exhibition.

El-Ageli brings a wealth of experience as she has worked closely with many artists from Libya and the wider MENA region and hosted exhibitions with highly respected international arts institutions. Her extensive multifaceted knowledge and rigorous interrogation of what it means to live with a colonised past and its impact on the present and future will bring a rich added perspective.

Afsoon has been with me from the start, helping to mould and shape the project and has been collecting postcards for many years. She sees everything from a unique creative angle and has helped to develop ways to open up cross-cultural dialogue and understanding. Her wit and wisdom cut through bias and prejudice. London based, Afsoon has lived and travelled the world and brings a spirit of openness into her art practice and storytelling.

Phase II is very exciting as we now have quite a number of artists and thinkers from Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, possibly Sudan and Morocco, as well as some amazing people from Phase I, who are Turkish, Irish, Spanish, Iranian and Egyptian. Once we finalise the group we will be looking for suitable venues and hosts.

The key aims are the same but we are now delving more deeply into how personal cultural stories, memories and histories of women are handed down to us. It is within this space that we often find the most transgressive, contradictory and marginalised ways of being and seeing that have been left out of mainstream narratives. The lineages of women have the greatest power to disrupt both colonial and patriarchal strongholds of knowledge and meaning making.

Ultimately, we hope to open dialogue and ask difficult questions. An important part of the project is the discussion blog that I facilitate online via Facebook that ranges over topics of Orientalism, Colonialism, Empire, Race, Decolonisation and Representations of Others. This can help in understanding mechanisms of how we have been shaped and how women came to be trapped in a postcard. But those women were not theories or texts. We are not theories or texts.

Going into the future, the aim is to grow in reach and presence, with each stage having different curators exploring new directions and dimensions. I like the idea of building a web of women working to radically change the narratives, weaving living connections between the postcard women and the project women, and bringing the past into the present.

As for that original postcard, I made into an artwork and soaked the paper with my Oud perfume…

To connect with ‘Making The Postcard Women’s Imaginarium’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/476614479745226/

Salma Ahmad Caller is a British-Egyptian artist whose practice involves creating an imagery of the narratives of body that have shaped her own body and identity across profound cultural divides. It is an investigation of the painful and contradictory mythologies surrounding the female body, processes of exoticization, and the legacy of colonialism as a cross-generational transmission of ideas, traumas, bodies and misconceptions. Her work is informed by a Masters in Art History and Theory, having studied medicine, and teaching cross-cultural perspectives at Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

For more: https://www.salmaahmadcaller.com/