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

Fathi Hassan – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (December 2020)

Nahla Ink is chuffed to bits to feature the Nubian (Egyptian-Sudanese) Fathi Hassan as Artist of the Month of December, 2020. Thanks to the Sulger Buel Gallery and arts curator Najlaa El-Ageli for giving Nahla Ink the opportunity to share his artwork to coincide with a current online exhibition. His solo show, titled ‘Soul Taming’ will be virtually accessible until the end of the year. All the images below are works by the artist that form part of the gallery display.

Fathi Hassan & Soul Taming (Text Courtesy of Sulger-Bulger Gallery)

Fathi Hassan is an artist, a poet, a dreamer; but, most of all, he is a dynamic creative set on taming his wild spirit and wandering soul through his art, meditations and poetry. Hassan’s visual work pulls the viewer firstly with its bold lines, then the floating texts, figures and symbols. Once that information and layer is absorbed, his pieces translate into a higher level of alchemical synthesis. His articulation unto the canvas is a deep form of poetry.

Fathi Hassan, Crossing, 2020, Mixed media on paper, 189x139cm

Essential to his work is the exploration of identity, as he constantly challenges, superimposes, writes and links events, past and present, to contemplate possible futures and potentialities. Hassan’s diasporic adventure for almost four decades reflects the displacement and the journey between the different spaces, times, perspectives and memories. His creations also reveal a love and passion for classical music and Opera, wherein his lines translate into visual melodies of emotions. His attention to numbers, codes, letters and musical notes are also weaved back into his compositions reflecting a multidimensional orientation.

Fathi Hassan, Burhan, 2020, Mixed media on paper, 74x98cm

His tapestries can also be experienced as archival material containing delicate traces of his Nubian culture and its place in the Arab world, wherein the Arabic calligraphy intersects and blends into symbols. In some instances the letters and the words sharply cut through the Nubian-African heritage to suggest a struggle and the fight for domination and survival. This suspended state is a powerful reminder of not only the past, but also inherently of what is happening today politically, socially and culturally.

Fathi Hassan, Magic Window, 2014, Mixed media on paper, 150x100cm

Ultimately Hassan’ work is to record, store, archive and tame the memories of dreams, souls, life and desire. His quest to pin down a hybrid-cultural form of self and identity continues and is ever so resonant with what is happening now. His utilising of the desert and forest imagery is a tool to reflect upon the injustices and inequalities of the human condition and existential state of being. He also does a brilliant job in bringing forward a Sufi elemental landscape as well as responding to the more recent crisis relating to Covid-19, referring to the traumatic post-Arab Spring period, the rise of the conservative right in the West and the deconstruction of democracy.

Fathi Hassan, Polyphemus Foot, 2020, Mixed media on paper, 99x147cm

Artist Biography (Courtesy of Sulger-Buel Gallery)

Fathi Hassan (aka Akkij Fathi) was born in Cairo in 1957 to Nubian-Egyptian parents. His family were forced to leave their homeland of Nubia when the Aswan High Dam was built in 1952, flooding a vast area now under Lake Nasser. Whether in photographs, paintings, installations, drawings or, often, directly on walls, his texts are deliberately illegible intended to highlight the plight of lost languages and oral history as a result of colonial domination.

In 1979, Hassan had received a grant from the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo and moved to Naples, Italy where he enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti and graduated with a thesis on the influence of African art in Cubism.

Fathi Hassan, Middle East, 2012, Mixed media on paper, 186x149cm

He was one of the first African and Arab artists to exhibit in the Venice Biennial in 1988; and, over the past 40 years, participated in numerous solo and group shows in Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Egypt, the United Kingdom and New York. For many years he has worked productively with renowned curator Rose Issa and currently lives and works between Edinburgh, Scotland and Italy.

Fathi-Hassan-Starway-to-the-Unknown-2020-Mixed-media-on-paper-190x149cm

Some of Hassan’s work is in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum, London and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC and Farjam Collections among many others. He is the subject of numerous publications and writings by major critics, curators and experts, from Rose Issa, Achille Bonito Oliva, Maurita Poole and Liliane Karnouk to Kathleen Goncharov, Francesca Petracci, Elizabeth Harney and Enrico Crispolti. He also features in the recent book ‘Lumieres Africaines’ published by Langages du Sud (2018).

About the Sulger-Buel Gallery

Sulger-Buel Gallery is an art gallery specialising in the contemporary art of Africa and its diaspora. Founded in 2014 by Christian Sulger-Buel, the gallery provides a focus for those wanting to explore one of the fastest developing, ground-breaking and important areas in contemporary practices — Modern & Contemporary African Art.

Whilst addressing a variety of artistic mediums including drawing, painting, sculpture and photography, the gallery is led by a diverse and international team of specialists. Sulger-Buel presents a dynamic exhibition program, produces innovative publications and offers consultancy services; visitors, curators and collectors alike can experience its cutting-edge shows at the London space a stones throw away from the Tate Modern as well as at international art fairs across the globe.

About the curator Najlaa El-Ageli

The ‘Soul Taming’ exhibition has been curated by Najlaa El-Ageli of Noon Arts Projects. She is a British-Libyan architect who in 2012 founded Noon Arts, a small private foundation, to explore the newly burgeoning Libyan arts scene and creative movement that had followed the 2011 Revolution. Its aim was to spot and nurture the work of talented local artists and bring it to the international stage.

After curating a number of successful exhibitions featuring contemporary Libyan art in the
UK, Libya and Malta, another big project came in 2015 when Noon Arts was commissioned
to curate the Imago Mundi Libya catalogue for the Benetton Foundation based in Italy. This
led to the publication of a substantial art book that travelled the world. And, soon after this, she began to liaise with other artists from the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that led to more shows exploring newer themes and turning to work as a freelance curator from a London base.

She has gone on to curate exceptionally well-received exhibitions, including: ‘Textural
Threads’ (done in collaboration with Arts Canteen in London), ‘Jewelled Tales of Libya’
(held at The Arab British Centre in London), ‘Pop Art from North Africa’ (held at the P21
Gallery in London and Casa Arabe in Madrid), ‘Waves’ (at Sulger-Buel Gallery) and ‘Retracing A Disappearing Landscape’ (this showed at the P21 Gallery in London, Casa Arabe in Madrid and Cordoba).

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For more on Soul Taming: https://www.sulger-buel-gallery.com/exhibitions/21-soul-taming-fathi-hassan/

To follow Fathi Hassan on social media: https://www.instagram.com/fathihassanartist/

For the artist’s website: http://www.fathihassan.com/

For more on the Sulger-Buel Gallery: https://www.sulger-buel-gallery.com/

For more on Noon Arts Projects: https://www.noonartsprojects.com/

Artist of the Month

Mohammed Joha – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (November 2020)

Nahla Ink is thrilled to share the artworks of one of my favourite Gazan-Palestinian artists, Mohammed Joha. I first came across Joha’s work when he exhibited at the Rich Mix venue in East London circa February 2016. I was then introduced to him by Arts Canteen director Aser El Saqqa who curated that show titled ‘Joha – The Journey’. And so ever since I have been following his artistic development.

Featured this November are Joha’s works that belong to his most recent project, entitled ‘Fabric of Memory’, that sees his focus return to his home town of Gaza. He has been developing this idea since 2017 and is still ongoing. The pieces here are all textile and paper collages on canvas. They have already been exhibited in Dubai at the Tabari Artspace Gallery (January 2019), then at Art Abu Dhabi (November 2019), followed by a show in Kuwait at CAP and they will again be the basis of a solo show at Beirout Contemporary in Lisbon, Portugal (January 2021).

Fabric of Memory #04: Textile and Paper Collage on Canvas. 100x75cm (2019)

Artist Statement on ‘Fabric of Memory’:

Mohammed Joha: “How many times are we supposed to rebuild Gaza? How often are we supposed to memorise a new geography? How many new geographies will Gaza ‘wear’ each year? Nobody knows the answer to these questions, and it’s not even necessary, because these intuitive questions will find the many possible answers by themselves and raise many other questions about the reasons of what is happening in Gaza.

Fabric of Memory #14: Textile and paper collage on canvas. 70x50vm (2020)

“The imposed, hated ‘renewal’ is a perpetual story with ongoing wars that affect everyone and everything alike – human beings, creatures, and things. Every two years, Gaza is forced to take off its old robe and put on a new architectural dress; the clothes-changing and the adaptation to it are exhausting and impoverishing Gaza every time more. Instead, it is longing for stability and continuity on the map.

Fabric of Memory #11: Textile and Paper Collage on Canvas. 140x140cm (2019)

“Gaza has become a space that has no routine at all: when it’s war, it’s difficult to call it war, and living repeatedly through such radical transformation makes it almost impossible to cope, every time again, with a profoundly altered geography. The course of the streets, the shape of the houses, everything is different now. Here was a street surrounding a public park, and there was a hotel next to a tower, and an apartment building hosting a grocery store on its ground floor. Everything has changed!

‘A few years ago, there had also been a hospital, a government department, an institution, and a branch street open to another street… none of it is left.”

Indeed, Gaza is in all of our hearts, that will never change!

Fabric of Memory #02: Textile and Paper Collage on Canvas. 140x110cm (2019)

Biography courtesy of the artist:

‏Mohammed Joha was born in Gaza, Palestine in 1978 and currently lives and works between Paris and Italy. He graduated in Art Education from Al-Aqsa University inGaza in 2003, the same year he participated in a workshop residency in Darat Al Funun, Khalid Shoman Foundation in Amman-Jordan, supervised by artist Marwan Kassab Bacchi.

In 2004, Joha was the winner of the A M Qattan Foundation’s ‘Hassan Al Hourani Young Artist Award’, when he was elected Artist of the Year 2004. This allowed him to reside in the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2005, 2008 and 2017-2018, where he developed and strengthened his artistic personality.

Besides being selected for international workshops and residencies, Joha has participated in exhibitions worldwide. He has been working in the field of painting and has gathered a remarkable artistic experience. He is one of the most interesting artists from Gaza,Palestine who stands out by a very elaborate personal style of painting, a masterly combination of various artistic elements in his compositions, and most sophisticated messages. Through mixed techniques of painting, collages, installation, together with a most spontaneous, expressive style, much of his work has explored the questions and conditions of childhood and the loss of innocence and freedom experienced by generations of children in Palestine.

‏The overcoming of physical and psychological barriers imposed by conflict; revolutionary social and political events; resilience and identity are recurrent themes. The closer his works are examined, the more complex they become, in texture, content, and narrative. These multilayered, transformed representations of reality leave room for imagination and interpretation, because they are inspired by universal values and reflect the memory of a collective entity, without being bound to cultural restrictions or temporary or local individualistic gestures.

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_/

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.”

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/

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/