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

Art And About Africa: Mapping the Contemporary African Art Scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nahla Ink: Tell me a bit about your background?

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

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

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

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

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

Nahla Ink: Why the AAAA platform?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biography courtesy of the artist.

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

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

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

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

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

Untitled (2019) Mixed Media on Canvas

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

The Echo (2019) Mixed Media on Canvas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houda Terjuman – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (February 2020)

Nahla Ink is super proud to feature the stunning artworks of the visual artist Houda Terjuman for the month of February 2020.

Born in Tangier, Morocco to a Syrian father and Swiss mother, Terjuman’s parents had embarked on a new life in the 1970s after having lived in Italy and Mali. Whilst growing up in Tangier, Terjuman was exposed to a diverse environment with people belonging to different cultures, languages and religions living side by side in peace and mutual tolerance.

Self taught as an artist – because her parents had preferred for her to do a BA in Management at the American College of Switzerland in Leysin – her signature materials are sponge cardboard, wire and wood plaster for her delicate sculptures and oil on canvas for her paintings. For the artist, each piece is a little tale about the themes closest to her heart, be they of migration, resilience, open-mindedness, roots or a flip side of anxiety and insecurities.

Terjuman has had solo shows in Madrid (Spain) at the Casa Árabe, Paris (France) at the Institut du Monde Arabe, London with Arts Cabinet Research, Lisbon (Portugal), Dubai (UAE), Tunis (Tunisia) and extensively in Morocco; whilst participating in international group exhibitions in more European cities and being represented in contemporary art fairs, including the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in Marrakesh.

A big highlight of her career is being part of the current touring exhibition organised by the Aga Khan Museum in collaboration with the Italian Imago Mundi, which addresses the subject of identity for migrant art practitioners and cross-cultural artistic realities. Bringing the works of 15 artists whose backgrounds involve 25 different countries, it is a travelling project that started in Italy and will continue by visiting Canada, the United States, Europe and the MENA region.

Terjuman has provided an artist statement: “The history of my practice is overwhelmingly informed by my status as hybrid migrant, a condition associated to second generation migrants. The transient nature of my evolution as a person and as an artist opened up fascinating ways of playing with representation in art. My father as a first generation migrant used to tell us that we had no safety net and the integration in another country was necessary. However, I chose to refuse the concept and the practice of assimilation and instead, I cherished the status of hybridity which to me, offers a rich mix of backgrounds, voices, and belongings.

“Even though I will eternally feel foreign and possibly always displaced, I have earned through my experience an incredible strength which comes from the power of mobility, and the sense of freedom brought to me through the multitude of roots, languages and cultures I have grown up with. It is precisely in this fine space between the ideal that a new life in a new place can offer, mixed with the regret of loss and nostalgia that is carried through the process of migration, that I have chosen to situate my practice and through which I work to represented feelings of floating freedom, but also of fear and insecurity.

“My sculptures and paintings are little familiar objects that weave stories. These small objects act as bearers of hope and bridges making the link between cultures. An empty chair symbolises what we left behind and keeps us connected to our roots. A lonely boat, is a bearer of hope. A floating bridge invites us to build connections and empathy towards the unknown.”

For more on the artist Houda Terjuman: https://www.houdaterjuman.com

For more on Social Media:

https://www.instagram.com/houdaterjuman/

https://twitter.com/HTerjuman

Nadia Osi – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (January 2020)

Nahla Ink is super thrilled to begin the New Year 2020 by featuring the works of the Iraqi artist Nadia Osi.

Biography courtesy of the artist. 

Born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, Nadia Osi currently lives and works as an artist in London. From early childhood, she was fond of drawing; and, her passion for the human figure and attention to detail gradually became the basis for her future creative career.

In 1988, Osi studied Graphic Design at the Academy of Fine Arts, Baghdad University. She later moved to London and studied at the American College where she got her BA in Commercial Art in 1995. She spent the next ten years working as a Graphic Designer and Illustrator in several design companies, when her illustrations and drawings featured in ‘Al Jameela Magazine’ at the Arab Press House in London and several other magazines.

Nadia Osi

Since 2007, Nadia has participated in several art shows and exhibited in the UK, Belgium, USA, Jordan and UAE. Her distinctive painting style is highly sought after by private art galleries and art collectors. She also does commissions for clients around the Middle East, USA and Europe. She paints in oil, acrylic on canvas and sometimes in watercolour. She finds the painting experience to be “a total immersion in a sea of lush paint and colour which hopefully evolves into a pleasurable and meaningful experience for the viewer”.

Inspired by her hometown of Baghdad, Osi’s work explores Iraqi heritage, culture and traditions. One finds the old streets, the urban life, the coffee shops and the people in her paintings, in addition to her joyous use of colour and attention to detail.

Nadia Osi

She said: “The concepts behind my work come from the memory of my hometown Baghdad. Like most of my paintings, I pick subjects that are bright and beautiful and which reflect the good times of my country decades ago; where and when love, peace, beauty and colours existed. As a society or way of life this is now becoming extinct. My paintings express the nostalgia and archive the Iraqi legacy of the social life and its beautiful human values, true friendships and warm neighbourhoods.”

Nadia Osi

Although her focus has been on this journey connected with Iraq, Osi also loves to paint other subjects, as well as mastering landscape, portraits and still life. Recently her corporate and individual art collectors’ base has increased due to positive social media exposure and online coverage.

For more on Nadia Osi on Social Media:

In Conversation With Patrick Altes: The French-Algerian Artist Advocates‘Tolerance’ In His Latest UK Solo

Patrick Altes is a UK-based French-Algerian artist with a highly nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the word ‘Tolerance’, the title for his latest solo exhibition currently taking place at Gerald Moore Gallery in South East London. Mostly, he uses the word in the geopolitical context to refer to the types of relationships that can be forged between different peoples, nations and civilisations; and, also, looking at the concept as an ethical value to be cultivated, akin to compassion and empathy or the golden rule to treat others as one would wish to be treated.

Advocating and rooting for tolerance Altes challenges narratives that demean, debase or dehumanise ‘the other’ and bravely calls out some of the underlying racism, bigotry, resentment and intolerance that exist in our splintered world today. In so doing, he questions Eurocentric post-colonial discourse, feuding between religions, the worrying current trends towards far right politics and nationalism in Europe and the United States, the deep divisions that have been created by Brexit in the UK as well as tackling the negative attitudes towards migrants.

Born in Oran, Algeria in 1957 into a family of French-Spanish descent – they had lived in Algeria for three generations before leaving just prior to independence in 1962 – Altes was always keen to examine the complex and sensitive relationship between the country of his birth and that of France, the country in which he grew up. Not content with the view that excused French dominance and didn’t acknowledge the wrongs that were wrought upon the colonised people, he points out that there are consequences to that historical chapter that need heeding in order to mitigate the existing tensions between the two people.

In conversation with Nahla Ink, Altes said: “The French invaded Algeria for 130 years and did some pretty terrible things there, that were definitely not right; but, at the end of the day, we share a common history and common language that can be used to bring the countries together. It is important to me that this kind of antagonism between France and Algeria stops; and I quite like the idea of mending the links and building bridges between them.”

Another life experience that hugely influenced Altes was his stay in South Africa between 1981-1983. It was at the height of apartheid and he was teaching French in the University of Fort Hare, where a number of African National Congress members had gone to do their studies, including Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.

Altes: “It was a hot place of radicalism and an eye opener. I was a bit of a political person before, but this experience was something that showed me that politics really is the fabric of society and the fabric of life that you can’t live without. It is why I became interested in the plight of people. I also met many artists in SA and realised I enjoyed being in their company.”

Originally self-taught as an artist Altes then spent six years in Ecuador before returning to France and taking his training further. He enrolled in external life drawing classes of the Beaux Arts in Toulouse and undertook etching workshops for a couple of years, before coming to the UK in 2006 to take an MA in Fine Arts at the University of Brighton. Most recently, in 2012, Altes completed an Leverhulme Trust Arts residency at the University of Portsmouth. He is now based in St Leonards-on-Sea in Hastings where he has been living for the past seven years.

Typically exploring themes of identity, history and politics, Altes said: “You always put something of yourself in your work, it is about you and how you relate to the world. To me, art is a dialogue with people and a way of talking about identity, in the sense that it gives me an idea of where I stand in terms of my work and position in life, society, my political ideas and social ideas. It is almost like a manifesto all the time but not really at the same time.”

‘Tolerance’ Paintings & Signature Technique

Truly a grand solo show, there are altogether 70-plus pieces displayed on the walls over the two floors at the gallery. Some works date back to 2004, whilst others have been newly created, many specifically for the exhibition. They have been organised so that the ground level gallery features paintings and the top level holds the digital prints and collages.

One set of paintings that stands out due to their dark-heavy tones and disturbing imagery, tackles the subject of the Second Gulf War in 2003 and how the US channelled cleverly edited news commercials that became “almost pleasurable to watch” but completely covered up the cost of war on the Iraqis and the horrors they endured. One sees soldiers near to skulls and defaced humans coming out of TV monitors, relaying the artist’s take on the dangers of American war propaganda.

Coming close up to the works, one also discovers Altes’s signature layering technique. Beginning with the notion that the canvas is more like a wall, he can then write on it, scratch it, blend it with paper or paint over it. One good example is ‘The Hanging Gardens of England’, a three piece set where one can decipher the graffiti in the background- with the words ‘democracy’, ‘tolerance’, ‘freedom’ and ‘Stephen Lawrence’ – in contrast to the top painted image of pretty little flowers in the British flag colours of white, red and blue.

About these, Altes said: “I created something similar to an earlier work called ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon’ that first challenged post-colonial narratives with a bit of irony. In this set you start with the graffiti that refers to Stephen Lawrence who was murdered in nearby Eltham in 1993 and then you see the overlaid pictures with the flowers. It is a way to express how sometimes you can hide underneath beauty and you can hide the reality that is a bit less beautiful.”

He also explained: “We live in polarised times where nationalism is becoming   strong again and I believe it is time for people to take a step back and realise that we are all living on one planet and that the main problems are maybe not between nations but at the global level and our survival on the planet. We need to talk to each other regardless of differences of opinion.

“We have seen this with Brexit too, as the Brexiteers hate the Remainers and vice versa. At the end of the day, England will go one way or another but we will still be living in the same country. The idea is not to agree on everything but to listen to the other person, agree to disagree but have both opinions expressed. If we then go beyond that, the highest form of tolerance is love!”

Distinctive of the artist’s practice too are his roughly drawn figures that represent human beings and other recurring shapes like that of fish, pelicans and snakes. About these playful bodies and the animals, he said: “These are my way of representing people in all their quirks and differences, and yet showing we are all the same. They relate to the archetypical shapes that I have in my mind and conscience.”

Another significant group of paintings have been inspired by the hopscotch children’s game, offering a message about destiny. With a reference to the artist’s Catholic upbringing – the state of always being between earth, heaven and purgatory – and a line that signifies a mysterious link between the conscious and the unconscious, fate is seen to be beyond one’s power and control; wherein the weight of one’s family and country of birth, for example, influence who we become and what we might believe in.

 

On the other hand, the hopscotch works as a metaphor for the cultivation of higher values and the potential to evolve beyond basic human instincts – that are usually tribal, hating, distrustful of others and seeing the world as the enemy to be feared – to acquire a higher state of being.

Digital Prints & ‘The Ultimate Mediation’

Upstairs the digital prints and collages reflect a unity in terms of colours and many seem to elaborate on the theme of the futility of conflict or the uselessness of holding grudges and resentments, as humanity must change and progress over the millennia. It is to point out also that empires, no matter how powerful or menacing, must all come and go or rise and then fall.

In ‘Ultimate Mediation’, for example, Altes makes a reference to the Mexican and Druid tradition of the ‘Day of the Dead’ and employs the icons of the three Abrahamic faiths of the cross, star of David and Muslim crescent. He said: “I quite like the idea that for one day, the spiritual world and the real world mix together. So whilst we think about the conflict of religions, this kind of succession of life and death or the cycle of life and death from the beginning of time is probably something more important.

“I am trying to also talk about how these conflicts are actually not that important if you look at the bigger picture. Monotheistic religions -whether Catholic, Jewish or Muslim – are a relatively recent phenomenon and in view of what humanity has been through, they are not insignificant, but they don’t deserve to be fought over; in the sense that they should be bringing love and harmony rather than anything else.”

Another wall considers the concept of ‘fundamental British values’ with the display of colourful amateur drawings made – not by Altes but by vocational students at the East Sussex College in Eastbourne and the East Sussex College in Hastings. These were the interesting result of workshops recently conducted by Altes to help the schools fulfil their Ofsted obligations to familiarise the students with the meaning of these terms.

 

He said: “These values for me mean the respect for democracy, respect for personal freedom, right to your own sexuality, right to your own religion or absence of religion, and tolerance. I would in fact rather have them be called fundamental human values.”

The Installations: On Migration & Crossings

Last but not least, two powerful installations deal with the current plight of the African migrants who have been crossing the seas and enduring suicidal journeys in the faint hope of landing on European shores. One is set up poignantly with uprooted dead trees, blood stained trunks and broken branches coming out of travel cases, with little delicate potted green palms trees placed nearby.

On this piece, Altes said: “Behind the word ‘migrants’ are real people who often don’t want to come to England or France, but have been driven by circumstances beyond their decision level. If anything they have been cut off from their environment and the uprooting is a bloody and dangerous process. Whilst the little plants here symbolise that once people have moved to a new place, they try to recreate, however fragile this is, a life of their own; and that, by so doing, they contribute to their host country.”

Whilst the second installation called ‘The Crossing’ features a rudderless wooden boat that looks more like a raft made out of driftwood. Placed in the middle of an Africa (that is represented by a wooden statue) and a Britain (represented by a teapot painted with the Union Jack), it seems to be lost at sea and unable to move in any one direction. And around this too are little clay pots filled with different coloured soils which Altes has collected throughout his travels.

Altes: “I’ve tried to show that the people on these boats don’t choose the trip in the way that you might choose to go to France tomorrow for a visit. There is something a bit more primal and more difficult for them, as they can end up as floating and drowning bodies. Again the clay pots show how easily things can break and crumble whereas the soil represents the little something that one may find essential to take on a long journey as a reminder of home.”

In terms of the wider conversation on migration, Altes pointed out: “The world is founded on migration as we can trace the origin of humanity to Eastern Africa. Migration I believe can be seen either as a threat to identity or as a way to enrich identity; and, actually, you fear what you don’t know. So once you are exposed to the other, the fear disappears and you realise you are not that different; and, indeed, that the real differences that exist are quite interesting and make life better.”

The Fragile Flower

Marking the end of our interview, I asked Altes what would be the main message he would like for people to take with them when they come and visit. He robustly replied: “Tolerance to me is a fragile flower that has to be tended, cherished and exercised; in the sense that you have to be tolerant, otherwise there is the danger that it can decrease or even disappear. So we have to be vigilant about that.

“Also, I have created works that are ambiguous in nature so that people can superimpose their own narrative on the one I intended, either very consciously or not so consciously!”

Curated by Janet Rady Fine Art and supported by the Arts Council, ‘Tolerance’ is on until 25 January, 2020 at Gerald Moore Gallery, Mottingham Lane, London SE9 4RW.

Encompassing outreach and public engagement activities, school pupils and the public will be encouraged to reflect on values and ideas, bringing concepts such as the rule of law, diversity, democracy and individual liberty into the conversation.

There will also be a free panel discussion on 11 January 2020 at 2pm on ‘Tolerance, Migration and Identity’ with the artist Patrick Altes, writer and broadcaster Nadene Ghouri and writer and black British historian S I Martin.

For more on Patrick Altes: http://patrickaltes.com/

For more on Janet Rady Fine Art: https://www.janetradyfineart.com/

For more on Gerald Moore Gallery: https://geraldmooregallery.org/

Ahmed Lesi – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (November 2019)

 

November month on Nahla Ink features the works of the Egyptian artist Ahmed Lesi, to coincide with his first sole exhibition at the Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art in Cairo, Egypt.

A visual artist, Lesi is interested in pop art and describing daily Egyptian life in his paintings from a satirical viewpoint. About his solo show titled ‘Please Enter My Inner Space’, Lesi has provided the following statement, published with kind permission from the gallery.

 

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“The place is not the place where I live, but it is the soul of the people I meet, as if it were a real reservoir of thoughts, emotions, and intuition, and I interacted with them to leave a mark or to make them affect me. Gaston Bachelard says: ‘The place that attracts imagination cannot be an apathetic place with its geometrical dimensions, but a place where people have lived not only objectively but with all their personal imagination, which is what attracts us to it’.

 

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“In this project I took up this concept to create a space that connects me with where I work and the events that affect me during my work.  The scenes that I produced are based upon photographs of social events, which are part of a personal archive of photos that I collected myself, and which directly affected me visually. I worked to reproduce them anew in the form of commemorative paintings, all linked to each other as they are pictures of friends, families, and quasi-familiar spaces of this kind, which occurred in Ard El Lewa. By doing this, I was able to tell my experience or impressions of the place, whose dimensions I deal with the most, in the attempt of highlighting the visual point of view of this place”.

 

 

The Mashrabia Gallery is a contemporary art space that was established in Cairo in the mid-1970s. Since the 1990s and under the management of Stefania Angarano, the gallery has played a pioneering role in the diffusion of Plastic Arts through the presentation of non-Egyptian artists in Egypt and the promotion of young Egyptian talents on both the local and the foreign scene.

Breaking with the dominant artistic tradition, the preference for innovative languages free from any decorative components as well as originality and power of the art pieces have always been the criteria for the rigorous selection of the artists and their works. The continuous promotion of established artists and the search for new talents has enabled the creation of a rich and diversified permanent collection.

The gallery organises temporary exhibitions on a monthly basis, both at the gallery and in other venues in Egypt and abroad. Acting as a vibrant cultural incubator, the gallery also regularly hosts various artistic performances, lectures and discussions.

For more on Mashrabia: http://www.mashrabiagallery.com/

To follow Ahmed Lesi on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ahmed.lesi95/

BFI London Film Festival 2019 – The List of MENA-Inspired Films!

Get your popcorn ready! It is that time of year again, when one happily turns to the big silver screen for the celebration of the newest and most exciting films sourced from across the globe, and presented to a London audience. It is of course the BFI London Film Festival 2019!

Taking place 2-13 October in cinema venues across the capital, this year there will be in total 345 films (including features, shorts and documentaries), with much to explore, discover and to simply enjoy. Categorised as always under Strands, I searched the comprehensive programme to identify the films relevant to the MENA region.

Of this year’s selection, BFI Curator for MENA Elhum Shakerifar said to Nahla Ink:

“I am delighted that this year sees a notable number of Arab films in the LFF programme, particularly because two thirds of these are are by first and second time filmmakers – directors whose bold, distinctive and boundary pushing cinema are set to make significant waves.

“I look forward to seeing London audiences meeting such brilliant talents, on screen and for many in person through the many Q+As that will run throughout the festival”.

Without further ado, here they are listed, with the BFI blurbs provided.

For the link to the BFI website and tickets, just tap or click on the images provided for each film.

The Cave (Syria-Denmark) 

Oscar-nominated Feras Fayyad’s (Last Men in Aleppo) essential film tells the harrowing story of an underground Syrian hospital and its extraordinary staff.

Showing: Monday 07 October 2019 18:00

BFI Southbank, NFT1

Showing: Tuesday 08 October 2019 17:50

Vue West End, Screen 6

More information and tickets:

The Perfect Candidate (Saudi Arabia-Germany)

Celebrated Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda, LFF 2012) returns to the Festival with an inspiring drama about a young doctor unexpectedly becoming an electoral candidate.

Showing: Monday 07 October 2019 20:30

Vue West End, Screen 7

Showing: Monday 07 October 2019 21:00

Vue West End, Screen 5

Showing; Tuesday 08 October 2019 12:30

Vue West End, Screen 7

Showing; Tuesday 08 October 2019 13:00

Vue West End, Screen 5

Scales (Saudi Arabia-UAE- Iraq)

The story of a fishing village in thrall to mysterious sea creatures makes for a spellbinding feature debut from Shahad Ameen.

Showing: Wednesday 09 October 2019 18:30

Curzon Soho Cinema, Screen 1

Showing: Thursday 10 October 2019 13:00

ICA Cinema, Screen 1

Showing: Saturday 12 October 2019 18:45

Prince Charles Cinema, Downstairs ScreenBottom of Form

Noura’s Dream (Tunisia-Belgium-France-Qatar) 

Directed by Hinde Boujemaa: Noura and Lassad’s delicate love story turns into a nightmare when Noura’s husband Sofiane is unexpectedly released from prison, days before their divorce is finalised.

Showing: Friday 04 October 2019 20:45

ICA Cinema, Screen 1

Showing: Monday 07 October 2019 18:15

Vue West End, Screen 4

A Son (Tunisia-France-Lebanon-Qatar)

Challenging your emotions at every turn, Mehdi M Barsaoui’s debut is a riveting ride in which the euphoria of a family trip quickly turns into a nightmare.

Showing; Saturday 05 October 2019 15:30

Empire Haymarket, Screen 1

Showing: Sunday 06 October 2019 18:00

Cine Lumiere

Arab Blues (France):

Directed by Manele Labidi Labbé. In this provocative culture clash comedy, Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly, Paterson) plays a Parisian psychoanalyst attempting to set up a practice in a post-Arab Spring Tunis.

Showing: Sunday 06 October 2019 12:30

Vue West End, Screen 4

It Must Be Heaven (Palestine-France-Qatar-Germany-Canada-Turkey)

 

Acclaimed Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman returns with another deadpan take on life in exile, typically assured and moving.

Showing:  Wednesday 09 October 2019 18:15

Curzon Mayfair Cinema, Screen 1

Showing: Thursday 10 October 2019 18:00

Curzon Soho Cinema, Screen 1

The Unknown Saint (Morocco-France)

Alaa Eddine Aljem’s darkly comic feature debut is smart, refreshing, original and an astute reflection on the human need to believe in something.

Showing: Friday 04 October 2019 15:20

BFI Southbank, NFT2

Tlamess (Tunisia)

Ala Eddine Slim’s mesmerising second feature is as bold in its audio-visual wonder as it is audacious in its challenge to conventional narratives.

Showing: Wednesday 09 October 2019 20:35

BFI Southbank, NFT3

Showing: Friday 11 October 2019 15:00

ICA Cinema, Screen 1

Talking About Trees (Sudan)

Directed by Suhaib Gasmelbari. A beautifully shot feature debut, winner of the Berlinale Best Documentary Award, that couldn’t be timelier for Sudan.

Showing: Tuesday 08 October 2019 20:45

ICA Cinema, Screen 1

Showing; Wednesday 09 October 2019 15:40

BFI Southbank, NFT2

White Girl (Palestine)

Directed by British-Palestinian Omar El-Khairy, this short film will be screened as part of the ‘When You Think You Know How It Ends’ segment.

Sold Out!

Mother of Fire (UAE)

Directed by Farah Al Qasimi, this short film will be screened as part of the ‘New World Order’ segment. A confessional TV documentary, it follows an ancient Jinn called ‘Mother of Fire’ and her ruminations on the history of the UAE, colonial meddling and contemporary Eurocentric museum display practice.

In Vitro (Palestine-UK-Denmark)

Another short film, directed by Larissa Sansour. Decades after an eco-disaster engulfs the biblical city of Bethlehem, two scientists from different generations discuss memory, exile and nostalgia in this symbolic speculative fiction. This will be screened as part of the ‘New World Order’ shorts programme.

Sold Out!