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

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

She was kind enough to respond.

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

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

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

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

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

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

Another Lover’s Discourse: Photo Credit Tara Rooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Audi currently lives and works in Montreal, Canada.

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

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

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

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

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

Biography courtesy of the artist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/an_farid

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

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

Biography courtesy of the artist.

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

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

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

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

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

Untitled (2019) Mixed Media on Canvas

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

The Echo (2019) Mixed Media on Canvas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: Salma Ahmad Caller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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:

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/

Arab Cinema Shines Bright

MENA Films at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival (LFF)

Guest Post: Dr Khalid Ali

Once again London succeeded in hosting a vibrant celebration of world cinema. From around the globe, filmmakers from 75 countries presented their works at this year’s BFI London Film Festival that took place 2-13 October. Bringing new voices beside auteur talent, the festival engaged as always with pressing universal themes. Tricia Tuttle, Director of the Festival commented: ‘’Like all good art, cinema helps us make sense of the world we live in’’.

The diversity of Arab cinema this year was utterly remarkable with seven films showing in the Debate, Laugh, Dare and Create sections of the festival, in addition to two Saudi films in competition. Most of the films came lauded with praise and accolades from previous film festivals; and, it was a great opportunity for Londoners to treat themselves to one, two or more films from the best of what is coming out of the MENA region.

It was heart-warming to see that from the nine films that two were Saudi productions made by women directors at the top of their game. The first was Haifa Al Mansour’s ‘The Perfect Candidate’ in the official competition, and Shahad Ameen’s debut film ‘Scales’ in the first feature competition. Both films featured strong female protagonists fighting entrenched prejudices in their society.

The Perfect Candidate (Haifaa Al Mansour)

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Maryam in the former is the strong-willed doctor practising in a local hospital who faces blatant gender-discrimination from an older male patient who prefers to see a male doctor. Stopped at the airport from travelling when her permit expired, starts a series of unusual events that lead to Maryam putting her name down as a candidate for the local council elections.

One fact however that Maryam tries to hide is that her deceased mother was a wedding singer; and, here, lovers of classic Egyptian cinema will spot a connection between Dr Maryam and Zuzu, the bright University student fighting off stigma and discrimination because of her mother’s profession as an entertainer in 1970s Cairo in Hassan Al Imam’s ‘Take Care of Zuzu’.

In ‘Scales’ Hayat is a 12-year old girl born in a mystical fishing village where families have to sacrifice one girl to the sea to appease the ‘sea monsters’. Shot in luminous monochrome as a magical fable, Ameen challenges established beliefs and practises treating women as second-class citizens. Winning the ‘Verona Award’ for films with innovative vision, Ameen is an emerging talent to look out for.

Scales (Shahad Ameen)

Tunisia led with no less than three films. Hinde Boujemaa’s debut feature ‘Noura’s Dream’ stars Hend Sabri as a mother standing up to her husband’s oppression. Noura is neither presented as a victim nor as an angel; she is a human being struggling with raising three children as a single mother, and a woman with a desire for love and kindness. Sabri won the best actress award for her performance at El Gouna Film Festival.

Addressing women’s status in Tunisian law and social standing, Boujemaa skilfully analyses through Noura’s dilemma the choice between life as an obedient wife or as an independent but tarnished woman. She touches upon double standards, the moral decline of those in public office and prevalent corruption with a clear vision. Bearing in mind that Tunisian law treats women and men equally when it comes to sentencing in crimes of passion.

Noura’s Dream (Hinde Boujemaa)

‘Tlamess’ by Ala Eddine Slim offers an enigmatic story that is described by the director as a tale of “a man and a woman living in symbiosis with nature”. ‘S’ is a soldier running away from the army when he meets a mysterious woman called ‘F’ in a woodland. They come to bond through unspoken language and fight off forces of nature including a baby dinosaur. Perplexing as it seems, this film is a visually rewarding extravaganza pulsating to the beat of a haunting musical score from Oiseaux Tempete.

The third Tunisian offering was ‘A Son’ by Mehdi M Barsaoui that won its lead actor Sami Bouajila the best actor award at the Venice Film Festival. It follows a family’s worst nightmare after their son is shot and left seriously ill in hospital in desperate need for an urgent liver transplant. Finding a liver donor with a matching blood group becomes a fateful event as it unravels long hidden secrets about the son’s identity.

A Son (Mehdi M Barsaoui)

The victory of the recent Sudanese revolution and overturning of the military regime is echoed in Suhaib Gasemelbari’s documentary film ‘Talking About Trees’ which won the Berlin Film Festival Best Documentary and Audience Awards. Gasemelbari follows four veteran Sudanese filmmakers (Manar Al Hiloo, Ibrahim Shaddad, El Tayeb Mahdi, and Suleiman El Nour) in their attempts to reopen a cinema and restore film-viewing culture in a hostile political environment. All four are cinephiles bound by long-term friendship and hope that one day Sudan will pack cinemas as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s.

Talking About Trees (Suhaib Gasmelbari)

‘The Cave’ by Feras Fayyad was Syria’s entry this year. It is a follow up to his 2017 award winning film ‘Last Men In Aleppo’. Set in a secret hospital in Ghouta, the film champions defiant doctors led by Dr Amani and hospital staff in saving the lives of wounded civilians while surviving the most dangerous of chemical attacks and bombings. Set in a claustrophobic underground setting, the film compels the viewer to denounce the humanitarian crisis facing the country.

Elia Suleiman returns to his favourite subject of exploring Palestinian refugees’ plight in his latest film ‘It Must Be Heaven’. In this follow up to ‘The Time That Remains’ (2009), Suleiman sets the scene in Paris and New York analysing themes of displacement and alienation.

Last but not least, ‘The Unknown Saint’ by Alaa Eddine Aljem represented Moroccan cinema; a black comedy where a criminal is trying to recover a hidden loot now buried under a holy temple. The village people seek ‘cure, happiness and wish-fulfilment’ by offering money and prayers to the holy saint. While the village doctor – who is infuriated by the people’s ignorance and simplistic belief in the power of an unknown’ person – soon despairs and becomes one of the believers.

The Unknown Saint (Alaa Eddine Aljem)

Watching the diversity of Arab cinema at the LFF, I was reassured that Arab voices and stories are no longer marginalised or forgotten. From women fighting against oppression, to film veterans trying to revive a nation’s love for film, to ordinary people affected by violent extremist practices, Arabs are well and truly represented when it comes to the big silver screen in 2019.

Dr Khalid Ali is a Senior Lecturer in Geriatrics and Stroke Medicine at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, a Film and Media correspondent for Medical Humanities Journal, author of ‘The Cinema Clinic: Reflections on Film and Medicine’ and Co-Founder of Egypt Medfest, an artistic, cultural, humanitarian and medically themed educational film forum.