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

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