Hany Rashed – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (September 2020)

It is with great pleasure that Nahla Ink features some of the works of the contemporary Egyptian artist Hany Rashed. At the top of his game, Rashed is in his element challenging both current Egyptian socio-political and individual concerns in a colourful, subversive, creative and prolific way from his base in Cairo.

Born in 1975, Rashed is mostly self-taught although significantly he studied under the well known and highly respected Egyptian painter Mohamed Abla for a number of years. Utilising various artistic tools and methods, Rashed’s expressive creations and interpretations tend to excite, delight and invite viewers to think for themselves as to his underlying messages.

Over the years, Rashed’s paintings have used popular imagery and cultural icons which draw upon social trends that affect young people in Egypt, such as exaggerated materialism, issues of sexuality and state control over rights and freedoms. Whenever he creates, he brings a dose of irony to the different sides to Egyptian life and his generation.

From the beginning of the 2011 Revolution, Rashed visually documented the historical uprisings and their impact on the local Cairenes through his work. For example, he brought the comic character ‘Asa7by’ (2012) to make fun of the abuse of Internet memes whilst his ‘Bulldozer’ series (2015) was a playful deconstruction and repositioning affecting the people and society. On a more personal level, his ‘The Last Farewell’ (2017) expressed feelings about a real family tragedy.

Artist Of The Month
Abstract Stage – 90 Days in the Studio

Most recently and as featured on Nahla Ink, Rashed has produced a new series of paintings under the title of ’90 Days in the Studio’, a reference to the imposed global quarantine due to the Corona virus; when he was stuck in his studio for three months and didn’t go out except for food. The project was done in four developmental stages.

Artist Of The Month
Stage I – 90 Days In the Studio, Hany Rashed

Explaining to Nahla Ink, he offered insight into the thought processes behind this incredible series that took him altogether 90 days to complete.

Rashed: “The first stage was depicting in the abstract which gave me a sense of freedom and yet there was also a hint to a bit of violence with reference to the pressures of quarantine, being stuck at home and the feeling of suppression. The abstraction came from being stuck, but it then transformed into liberation through colour and the bursts of energy. I was producing action through abstraction rather than thinking.

“The second stage became about drawing and including myself in the visual narrative. Normally my work is about people and going out; but, now, I was all alone. So I drew myself with the abstract background, like being isolated in a world of my own. The work reflects that.

Artist Of The Month
Stage II – 90 Days in the Studio, Hany Rashed

“Whist in the third stage I introduced the image of an airplane, taking into account that there were no airplanes flying during this period and little travel. I tried to show the airplane as inflated and changed its appearance because it is not able to move. Again, I put the airplane with the abstract background to put a focus on what is currently happening and things being stationary.

Stage III – 90 Days in the Studio, Hany Rashed

“Lastly, the fourth stage was about the concept of a room and enclosed space. I tried to use different rooms to show a connection between the quietness or stillness of a room with the explosion of colour – from the abstract stage – to show again an element of the violence and the movement through sports, like riding a horse.

Stage IV – 90 Days in the Studio, Hany Rashed

“This 2020 period has had its challenges for sure and I am an artist who has been very influenced by time, history and current affairs. With every canvass the aim is to archive time, space and what is happening during lockdown. In general, I wanted to direct attention to the silence of a room, the idea of explosion and violence in the abstract, and then again movement like with the airplane or with the sports.”

Some of Rashed’s work forms a part of the private collection of the Tate Modern Gallery in London, UK. He has also been exhibited in many solo and collective shows in Egyptian galleries and in Europe.

For more information and to follow Hany Rashed on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hanyrashed_/

Shayma Kamel – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (August 2020)

The month of August 2020 has arrived with the easing of lockdown, at least in London, allowing us all to get back to a new kind of normal. During these strange times of Corona, artists from across the globe still need to function; and, critically, to share their work with potential audiences not just physically but online too. Nahla Ink is therefore so glad to be able to highlight the paintings and mixed media works of the Egyptian artist Shayma Kamel for this month’s duration.

Biography courtesy of the artist.

Shayma Kamel is an Egyptian painter and mixed media artist, born in 1980 in Giza City, Egypt. She lives between Cairo and Beirut, Lebanon. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Ain Shams University in 2002. It was there, whilst studying, that she began to pursue her passion for painting without a formal arts education.

Shayma Kamel Artwork

Kamel’s first solo exhibition was held in 2004 with a body of work focused on personal and family issues. Afterwards, her art developed quickly to highlight issues of politics and society, as well as centring around women and the challenges they face within Arab culture. Some of her pieces also capture the essence of the Egyptian persona and juxtapose reality with fantasy to point out the inherent contradictions in the contemporary Middle Eastern setting.

Shayma Kamel Artwork

Her latest exhibition was held at Mission Art in July 2020 in Beirut. She has, over time, also exhibited in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Egypt, France and The Netherlands.

Shayma Kamel Artwork

Below are some of her more recent artworks from sketches series.

Shayma Kamel Sketch
Shayma Kamel Sketch

To follow Shayma Kamel on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kamelshayma/

To follow Shayma Kamel on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shayma.kamel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urinating on the Corpse – Dec 2019

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

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

To learn more about Mohammad Bin Lamin: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

She was kind enough to respond.

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

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

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

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Audi currently lives and works in Montreal, Canada.

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

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

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

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

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

Biography courtesy of the artist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/an_farid

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/