Maie Yanni in conversation with artist Nazli Madkour


“Heralding Spring” is the title of Nazli Madkour’s current show at the Horizon Gallery in Cairo.Our conversation took place in the expansive setting of this airy gallery while Madkour and I walked through and discussed art,life,womanhood and the Egyptian revolution.


Maie Yanni: Here we are at the dawn of a new beginning in post-revolution Cairo, a country that was turned topsy-turvy when the world at large least expected it.How can you think of “Foliage” at a time like this ?

Nazli Madkour: This entire show has been two years in the making and was meant to take place on  this date as scheduled.

However, that being said and without meaning to be prophetic , we all had an uneasy feeling about the state of affairs in the country and felt that an uprising of some sort was  imminent.

A lot of the paintings in this show may first appear like a literal translation of flowers and foliage onto canvas whereas they are actually an expression of my inner feelings; joy, sadness,doubt, elation and reflection.

As for the choice of title , it is really meant to celebrate the euphoria that people felt after the revolution and the hope of better things to come.

M.Y: Why “foliage” ? What sparked this idea and what is the springboard to your creativity ?

N.M: I consider myself primarily an abstract painter although I have previously depicted adobe houses, palm trees and plants in my work. In my last show two years ago I had incorporated a lot of organic and plant-like forms as a backdrop to women’s faces . Slowly and as time went by I started focusing and reworking the flora which took precedence over the human form .

In “foliage” I also allowed myself to  transgress with colour ; where I would normally lean towards earth-tones and autumnal hues this body of work has an infusion of colour that I never used before.

I also worked in layers, revisiting and reworking each painting at intervals over a period of time.

Another important factor is the liberty of movement  and brushstrokes  on big format canvases (some 200x200cm) which is a reflection of a certain maturity over a thirty-year work period of making art , an acquired freedom and hard-earned self-confidence.

M.Y: Do you make sketches or studies before the definitive work ?, Are these depictions stylized or abstracted, imagined or real ? And what is your relationship with color ?

N.M: No, I don’t make any studies, there is no preliminary or premeditated preparation at all ; I work immediately on the canvas and the process is often that of experiment and discovery  as the work progresses.

Subject matter is definitely abstracted and imagined. I do not have a visual memory at all but most certainly a sensory one.

Regarding colour, I used to think green was a colour I didn’t like and here we are with an outburst of lush greens everywhere.

My attitude with colour has become more daring with maturity although it is still subject to moods and emotions.

M.Y: The sizes of some the works are quite big and the composition overall seems to be of close-up weightless organic forms without any  shadows. There is no hint of a horizon anywhere, no butterflies, no stars and no trace of man-made human activity.

Would you qualify  them more as  “mood” landscapes ?

N.M: Certainly there is no intentional narrative element here and yes to a large extent there is a measure of self-reflective introspection.

The big-sized canvas gave me a lot of freedom to move around and express myself, also of note is that they are all “Untitled” in order to give the viewers the freedom to interpret the works anyway they felt .

“Untitled #1”:- 50x50cm-Acrylic on canvas- is an ode to Spring,it is a jubilation of colours all presented in one “bouquet” that vibrates like the energy of Nature in full bloom.

In “Untitled #2”-85x115cm-Mixed Media on canvas- I used a mixture of acrylic paints, water-soluble pastels and a “sgraffito” technique over the dark-coloured brushstrokes.The element of death versus regeneration, dark versus light contrasts signals growth and change and the perenniality of nature.

“Untitled #3”-150x200cm-Mixed media on canvas- is personally a very special painting. The acrylic brushstrokes are very bold , some are evocative of the lotus flower which has a special place in our own subconscious as Egyptians, but it is mostly about water and our relationship with the Nile.

There is also a single fish that I drew over in pastel which looks like it is desperately trying to swim upstream in an effort of survival; this adds an element of playfulness  but also touches on the contrast between the mortality of living things and the immense proportion of nature that dwarfs us in comparison.

“Untitled #4”-148x147cm-Mixed media on canvas- has been interpreted by many as a fluid waterfall crashing on rocks. Some found it reminiscent of Japanese waterscapes. Here too the diluted paint moves effortlessly on the surface of the canvas and gives it the overall feel of the sinuous motion of crystal-clear water.

M.Y: I personally have a special interest in the “P & D” Movement * which started in the mid-seventies and spilled over into the eighties and its strong links with the Feminist Movement.

Here in the Middle East , no more than in the Indian, Celtic or Asian cultures, we are surrounded by pattern and seeped in ornament, has your work at any point been berated as “decorative” or “ornamental” because of what looks like floral renderings on your canvas ?

N.M: This is the Middle East; people would never come up to you and say this so candidly and straight to your face .

M.Y: On a final note: You are a Middle-Eastern woman trying to fit in all aspects of your life and a career as an artist…… in tandem

N.M: Naturally we assume our roles as multi-tasking mothers, professionals, wives and daughters . Thirty years ago I “jumped horses” and decided to leave a career in Political Economy for a fulltime life in Art and I juggled house chores with painting and the daily school-run. I am now at a point in life  where my family commitments have eased and I can  dedicate more structured time to the creative process.

M.Y: Is art a fundamental necessity of life or a trivial luxury ?

N.M: Art is what is most deeply human about us and must never be treated as a luxury or an elitist acquisition. In many aspects I think art is our way of “making communion” with our fellow men.

M.Y: What hopes for the future ?

N.M: I think a lot of good things will come out of this revolution and a lot of good art that went so far unnoticed will come to light.

Ultimately, “Heralding Spring” is an unapologetic celebration of beauty and hope in spite of the geo-political confusion that Madkour’s country is grappling with.

It is also the expression of meditative contemplation on the idea of nature as a cyclical process of never-ending growth and in the face of all adversities ,  be they revolutions or tsunamis , this millennia-old land will always rise from the ashes and the cherry-blossoms will soon bloom once again.

*P&D movement:Pattern and Decoration movement

See more work by Nazli here…


Nazli Madkour graduated from Cairo University with a Masters degree in Political Economy.Thirty years ago  she gave up a career as an Economic Expert with the Arab League to concentrate fully on art.Her work is showcased locally and internationally and has been acquired by the Museum of modern Art in Egypt, The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts,The Sharjah Museum in the UAE and the Mitzuta Museum in Japan.Madkour illustrated a deluxe edition of Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s book “Arabian Days and Nights” and is the author of  “Egyptian Women and Artistic Creativity” published in Arabic in 1989 by the Association of Arab Women Solidarity, and published in English under the title « Women and Art in Egypt ».She lives and works in Cairo.

Maie Yanni is a Medical Doctor graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and specialized in Anaesthesia,Intensive Care and High-Risk Obstetric Anaesthesia .  In 2000 , she took a sabbatical from medical practice and has since been managing art ventures on a project-management basis. She is also an artist and has a special interest in Sudanese Art and Art Brut. She is based in Cairo.



  1. Patrick Durston says:

    Their beautifully extravagant, I could become completely lost in those worlds that are captured. They convey so much mood.

  2. Sam Berbatov says:

    Exasperating article Maie and a brilliant artist !

  3. Sam Berbatov says:

    Forgive my Russian ! I meant Exhilarating article and a brilliant artist !

  4. Mehri Foda says:

    Very exciting work, great energy ,colour , great art by a highly respected artist…


  5. a great article and a Great Artist!

  6. mohamed salem says:

    I felt that I visited the show myself, wish I were in Cairo.

  7. Munir Soliman says:

    Very perceptive conversation!

  8. Seif Salmawy says:

    excellent interview

  9. Thank you Maie,
    Very good interview . You stressed on the main issues in a seemingly simple, yet sophisticated manner. The questions were pertinent in reaching to the art, the artist and the country. Clear, well developed and insightful. Thanks.

  10. Beautiful explorations and experimental work , such a treat to look at!

  11. I have been knowing Nazli MADKOUR for many many years, I have followed her work and her evolution for over twenty years, and I recognized Nazli in her sincere answers to the intelligent questions of the interviewer. I knew that she has worked to this new cycle of paintings for about two years, and when I saw the reproductions of her new canvasses I was much impressed by their coloured violence and their variety notwithstanding the uniformity of the subject. Her works do not depict flowers but feelings and emotions, and are not decorative at all, if we want to give to the term “decorative” the bad meaning that today the contemporary art has given to it. Let’s not forget, however, that the great masterpieces of the past were ordered by popes and princes to “decorate” churches and palaces…….Nazli’s works deserve our appreciation not because her flowers look beautiful and coloured but because they invite us to meditation about life, and they help us to understand the intense spiritual life of the artist.

  12. John Rula says:

    As usual Maie your words are like a cool breeze in a stifling heatwave of confusion, I found the article to be very informative and insightful, the Art work is Beautiful and full of LIFE and POSSITIVE ENERGY. Work like this is VERY MUCH needed at this time of great upheaval and Social change, thank-you for bringing a ray of light into a otherwise dismal world picture. I feel we need MORE art like this and alot less art based on the negative depressing aspects of our very stressful and strife filled information overload…MORE PICTURES OF LIFE AND FLOWERS to remind us that life is an amazingly WONDEROUS Experience…thank-you again for a wonderful article and sharing this powerful and talented Artist with us …peace

  13. Nazli, it is very nice indeed.

  14. Nimet Naguib says:

    I was very much impressed by Nazli’s exhibit where I felt that the works spoke directly to the heart and the senses in a fantastic and unexpected burst of color and impression. This new and marvelous body of work was surprising and refreshing (as has been the Egyptian revolution and the Arab Spring). Thank you for a very interesting article that has allowed us insight into the workings of a thoughtful artist’s mind and feelings.

  15. Ibrahim M Fahmy says:

    Love the work, the colors,great Artist

  16. laila badawi says:

    I loved the exhibition so engaging and lots of movement…vibrant I can say

  17. Said Zulficar says:

    I am greatly impressed by these paintings; they are indeed dazzling and so vivid ! Also congratulations on the most interesting interview and the pertinence of Nazli’s commentary. High quality all in all.

  18. Shahira Doss says:

    Very insightful interview with a truly great artist!

  19. Bassna Sadek says:

    I am not at all surprised by this new development in Nazli’s latest collection of paintings, some time or other it had to come out in splashes of colour! Exhilarating to say the least.


    Great Article and Impressive explanation of the paintings ! Congratulations !!

  21. Hala Fahmy says:

    Congratulations!! Great interview and brilliant collection :)

  22. Shahira Sakib says:

    What a vibrant and uplifting collection of paintings. The interview gives us a peak into the creative and artistic mind. Great work Nazli, wish I were in Cairo to see it. Congratulations

  23. Mehri Khalil says:

    Great interview, insightful questions. I enjoyed the description of the paintings themselves and the process of making them. Interesting questions regarding post revolutionary Egypt, being a woman in this industry and in this part of the world. Congratulations Maie, and Nazli Madkour for this vibrant exhibition !

  24. kate coleman says:

    Beauty and Hope, the world needs More more more!
    From Ireland, with gratitude

  25. Murad Mohsen says:

    Foliage: Fragility of life inspires arts’ great expressions…Nazli, you’ve captured it with Strokes of artistic genius and expressed it beautifully….Congratulations!
    In this interview, it is inspiring to sense the pride and humility in your responses to Maie’s very smart questions….

  26. A O'Carroll says:

    Very interesting work, I wish I could see them full sized, they must be very impressive. Thanks for reminding us that art is as Nazli says “our way of “making communion” with our fellow men” and that continues to be even in a nation in turmoil.

  27. Bruce Harris says:

    Fantastic article !

  28. Nazli, c’est simplement éblouissant. L’entrevue est raffinée, intelligente, sincère surtout.
    Quand au travail artistique de ces tableaux-là, il y a, selon moi, une apogée dans l’expression poétique, onirique et spirituelle, réelle et sauvage.
    C’est une splendeur.

  29. A brilliant interview. I visited the show at the opening and was very intregued and impressed. This interview adds a new light to undertanding the artisits feelings and expressions in the artwork. I hade to take a second look at the show to understand it better. Fantastic work and interview

  30. cathy hayes says:

    i found the interview refreshingly honest from a female point of view

    i felt the artists sense of personal freedom came across as much as the connection with the countries struggle

    i love the blues….

  31. Jenny Page says:

    Congratulations Nazli on this fantastic article!!!! All my best to you ~Jenny

  32. Thank you guys for all your great comments!
    Truly appreciate it!

  33. mira shihadeh says:

    Very inspiring article, thanks!

  34. cherine badrawi says:

    I love the show and really enjoyed the interview, so refreshing !

  35. Gonzalo Pierez says:

    Maie, you continue suprising us with excellent reviews on very interesting artists..keep it up amiga.

  36. Alia Ramez says:

    Another informative, beautifully written article by Maie Yanni. Really enjoyed reading it!

  37. juan martin nero says:

    Estimada Maie, Que buen trabajo! Mantenerlo y buena suerte con sus proyectos futuros. Saludos, JM

  38. MAY GRACE says:


  39. Shahira Leemans says:

    As always Maie!! Thank you for an interesting interview with an interesting artist!!

  40. may abboud says:

    Tant de beaute et d’equilibre prouvent que la femme orientale est bien la, et gagne de jour en jour en valeur artistique et intellectuelle…Mme Nazli Madkour est une de ces femmes qui donnent espoir en un avenir meilleur.
    Merci Dr. Yanni encore une fois de nous la faire decouvrir ! Vos articles sont toujours tres enrichissants. Merci de tout coeur,
    May Abboud

  41. Houda N. Abboud says:

    Well once again we discover a “new” ( for me at least) and brilliant artist…
    So refreshing and full of “joie de vivre”; in fact this is what it’s all about in
    this rich country named Egypt !!
    Thank you Nazli Madkour and thank you Maie Yanni .

  42. Philippa Allen says:

    Thank you for sharing this exquisite artwork. Maie, you never disappoint with your efforts to share art excellence. Beautiful colours and astute words, a true pleasure.

  43. Shamin Mahabeer says:

    Insifghtful interview.
    The art is indeed “an unapologetic celebration of beauty and hope.”

  44. Geoff Haederle says:

    Maie, thank you yet again, for a wonderful dissertation , insightful views and displaying the artist, Nazli. Her work is exquisite and reminds me of the power, grace and use of colour of Monet. My Apologies, I know I shouldn’t be comparative. I really look forward to seeing some of her work next time we are in Cairo — hopefully soon, Inshallah as they say :)

  45. Betsy Ditto says:

    Nazli’s paintings are wonderful – so alive and expressive. I loved having the insightful, beautifully composed interview to go along with them. If only I could see them in person. I will hope that this possible in the future!

  46. I just love thise paintings. They areso full of life and hope. I have always loved ‘abstract’ which to me is really a stream of consciousness. In these works I see works that are so full of soul, vision and colour. I would love see them in there original state so as to better appreciate the colour, composition and brushwork.

  47. moushira aboul dahab (hafez) says:

    great great paintings, loved colors very much, lots of soft hidden feelings, very cleverly expressed, sorry i’ve missed it. professional article, congratulations for both of u.

  48. Nazli and Maie ,
    First time for me to see Nazli`s artwork .Very inspiring and beautiful . Insightful questions that brought out the essence of the art and the artist .

  49. Tim Nolan says:

    Outstanding , brilliant , first-class and magnificent ,superb art and reporting, thank you both for such a refreshing account !


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