“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.