Fractals: Themes of gender,
identity prevail Nada Baraka’s first solo exhibition
Painter Nada Baraka triggers emotions at the Mashrabia gallery in downtown Cairo
by Soha Elsirgany
Nada Baraka’s work deals with the perception of the female body and its subjection to changes within today’s society, tackling themes of gender, identity and the body’s relationship with its surroundings.
In multiple shapes and sizes, the artist displays large paintings on canvas taking up entire walls at the Mashrabia's gallery in her first solo exhibition, which opened on 18 January. Yet the display also includes her smaller and irregularly shaped works, canvas mounted on laser-cut wood boards displayed as a fragmented installation on the wall.
The title provides the first insight into the exhibition, and a quick Google search brings up the definition of word fractals as "never ending complex patterns where, if scaled, smaller parts of it would repeat elements of the larger structure." Moreover, the etymology of the word takes us to Latin where the adjective fractus translates to broken and irregular.
The large pieces are a dense, elaborate blend of the images that the artist draws inspiration from: fashion magazines, science-fiction novels, and Internet images.
In Baraka’s studio, the walls are scattered with cut-outs, as patterns are recognized, created and modified by the artist, who then allows them to translate unto the canvas in spontaneity.
“It started with my interest in collage, when I once gathered lots of cut-outs and placed them in a transparent folder. I liked how they merged together to create a new whole and ended up gluing them to the folder,” Baraka tells Ahram Online.
Like a little stone that can resemble the massive mountain it originated from, Baraka’s smaller, irregular-shaped pieces echo her larger works, as if they were scenes from the same abstract world of vivid colors.
At first sight, the paintings look almost happy, inviting, drawing you in until a closer look makes you realize the overtone of a somewhat disturbing, gruesome theme running through the shapes.
Baraka’s abstract figuration never directly portrays objects as they are. What one gets instead is a feeling, or emotions that are triggered by her colors and shrewd suggestions of relatable images.
Although the paintings in Fractals have a hypnotic quality, there is something slightly unsettling in the work, with a contrast present in organic versus structural, fluidity against rigidness.
The paintings don’t explicitly depict body parts, but there is a prevailing impression of flesh. There are no industrial parts, yet the grey sharp lines suggest an alien material among the soft pinks and reds.
“I see this relationship everywhere, sitting on this bench here, with its sharp edges in contrast with my body,” says Baraka. She is very inspired by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s work. Neto merges biology with the experience of space in his sensory installations.
After studying art at the American University in Cairo, Baraka pursued a master’s degree in fine art at London’s Central Saint Martins, an experience that greatly shaped and developed her work.
In her time in London, Baraka was exposed to a wide range of art that inspired her, like extensive visual research.
“My imagery used to depict floating abstract shapes; now I’ve grounded them within spaces,” the artist says.
Although this helped her master her technique and refine her concepts, Baraka recounts that she felt trapped in the strictness of the British environment, where established schools of thought sat rigidly in the art scene and everything was done the way it should be.
“I wanted to escape the limits of the squared and rectangular frames,” she says.
This challenge resulted in her irregular-shaped pieces, which are cutouts of canvas. For her final degree show, Baraka grouped the pieces together again, bearing little resemblance to the initial images, reaching what could be taken as a collage of a collage.
Baraka’s paintings offer mystery, a maze inspired from everyday pictures we are bombarded with, as one looks for hints in her warped depictions of them.
THE SECRET PLAYLIST
Selections explores the way in which music influences 10 contemporary
artists’ studio practices in a special series curated by Danna Lorch
RIFFS AND RECORDS: MUSIC’S ROLE IN REGIONAL ART
ARTIST: NADA BARAKA
MUSIC: JANGO RADIO
Nada Baraka sometimes plays the same song over and over as she sits on the floor of her Cairo studio, piecing together painting and collage onto canvas. “Certain lyrics keep me in a melancholy mood,” she explains, “which is necessary to create work that is at times bloody and grotesque. Songs left on repeat help me to work faster and remain in an uncurious state, without breaking the energy and movement around a painting.”
Earlier this year, Mashrabia Gallery in Cairo presented Fractals, Baraka’s first solo show, to what she characterised as an enthusiastic yet largely puzzled audience, still unacquainted with contemporary art, particularly abstraction concerning sexuality. Baraka remembers, “listening to an Indie online radio station called Jango with a lot of Bon Iver and Sigur Ros” while she wrestled to give life to Emancipation, the largest work in the show. She created a female form from individual paintings and collages then reassembled the fractals like joints, muscle, hair and bone onto one uneven canvas.
In spite of the political turmoil in Egypt, she says there is more support for a young artist in Cairo than in London and she is glad she returned after graduating from Central St. Martins in 2014. “In Egypt, the art scene isn’t huge but it is blooming,” she notes. “There are a lot of workshops, foundations opening and NGOs operating arts initiatives.”
Baraka’s fluid work, which sometimes references science fiction, orbits the female form. Her practice largely examines “the female body and how it continues to change, evolve – what comes out of it and how it lives in society.”
THE LIFESTYLE JOURNAL
Nada Baraka’s Idiosyncratic Art
Young, bubbly and ridiculously warm, Nada Baraka’s personality is the furthest thing from her art. Full of life, this aspiring artist has made quite a name for herself in the art world.
The surprising thing however is the artwork she produces.
At first glance, her work seems colorful, abstract and the sort of modern art you would want hanging on the statement wall in your living room. But once you take a closer look, the truth isn’t so pretty. The somewhat disturbing images embody people, society and one’s self but they’re utterly distorted. But let’s face it, that’s the reality of the world we live in today. So to say Baraka’s work is honest is only the least of the accolades it deserves. For such a young soul to be able to flawlessly portray pain, loneliness and a sense of loss in her artwork is stupefying, and to be able to do it in a place like Egypt where beauty in art is a prerequisite makes it all the more special.
Born in 1990, the award winning artist completed a BA degree in both Fine Arts and Communication Media Art at The American University in Cairo then went on to receive her Master Degree in Fine Arts at Central Saint Martins in London.
Do you work on your art as a profession or is it a passion? I work on my art as a profession. I currently work as a full-time artist in my private studio in Cairo as well as working part-time at the American University in Cairo as a teaching assistant for art classes.
Are there certain artists you look up to? I look up to artists such as Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Philip Gaston, Frieda Kahlo and Ernesto Neto. They have some similarities in which their main subjects are always related to the body one way or another but some of them have very political messages, while others experience the ‘Act of being’.
What would you consider your artistic style to be? My artistic style is more or less abstract figurative and surreal art. It combines the visual effects of something that is familiar yet it’s abstracted in an almost unidentified form that leaves the viewer to question how it was before it was deformed and re- constructed. I am attracted to this style because I think it best represents an ongoing revolution of the human body as it changes and evolves depending on society, climate change and trends. It started with my cousin being diagnosed with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy, where the body deteriorates by age; my research then continued till I focused on how people go under the knife and change themselves and their appearances through plastic surgery until they fail to recognize the person that once existed. That’s how I reached the final stage: I paint hollow spaces of forms changing to the unknown; it’s a moving image but it’s unfinished.
What galleries have you showcased your work with? Have you done both local and international? I have showcased in several group exhibitions in London such as V22 Gallery, Lethaby Gallery and Lion x Lamb. I’ve also been showcased in Shanynay in Paris, Mostra Gallery in Lisbon and have been featured online in Artebella in the U.S.
In Egypt, I’ve exhibited in Gypsum Gallery, Mashrabia Gallery, Darb 1718, Tache, Artsmart, the Opera Annual Youth Salon, Medrar and in the Darb 1718 Contemporary Art & Culture event Something Else – OFF Biennale.
What inspires you?I am inspired by societies needs and wants and by science, especially biology. Sea creatures and animals also fascinate me; I am frequently amazed by the different forms and structures of creatures and how we are all so different yet similar in hunting, sexual desires, giving birth and the ongoing cycle of life.
When it comes to your craft, what do you hope to accomplish? My hope is to become an international artist, where my work gets to be exhibited in biennales and museums worldwide
Nada Baraka Expresses the Suffering of the Body Through Art
Written by Nada Kabil
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself what art really is? Most of the time, art is perceived as something beautiful, a pretty picture, a portrait that looks so real or a breathtaking landscape, but what is art really? And is it fair to only classify those eye-friendly pieces as art?
A young talented Egyptian artist, Nada Baraka, tackles art from a completely different perspective. And though her work is widely misunderstood and misinterpreted, only those who really appreciate real forms of art will appreciate her brush strokes of acrylic paint on canvas that make an incredible statement. Baraka’s work tackles issues such as gender, identity and the constant inner struggles our bodies face.
Ever since she was young, Baraka was interested in biology and was fascinated with the human body. As she got older, her artwork started to show this fascination, as her work revolves around the different organs and portrays the inner struggle and constant explosions that happen within our systems. Baraka protests against the use of the human body as a seductive tool or the constant transformations and manipulation our bodies undergo in her artwork, while other times her work shows the inner struggle of what she feels is happening in her body or in a body that is suffering, screaming, wanting to explode.
Upon seeing Baraka’s artwork for the first time, it makes you stop and think; your brain will be rattled, trying to make sense and understand what the painting is all about. In Egypt, most people are unfamiliar with the style of art Baraka is undertaking. Her artwork, classified under abstract figurative art, depicts a concept she has been working on for a few years now.
“The body is a living, floating space that changes as it is constantly affected by our actions, therefore altering its wholeness. The body is understood as a battlefield of gender representation and loaded with deep and complex socio-political values. The subject/object of a ‘never ending and always becoming’ process is configured as a map of reality: indeed, everything happens on the skin, causing tension and fusion internally and externally,” Baraka explained.
The evolution of art throughout different movements show that art isn’t just about painting, but about having a concept that is well researched and expressed in a unique style. Baraka’s statement is a strong one and is constantly developing with her ongoing research and search for new inspirations.
“My paintings have different shades of skin tones and hues of red as it is constantly trying to show an emotion or an explosion of a tiresome body that is always on the verge on discharge. The colors are fused together forming new organic shapes and body parts of humans and unidentified creatures.
Although they are abstract my choice of color, helps one to identify it to a body-specifically that of a female-because it consists of pink tones scattered around the painting,” Baraka told us.
Baraka’s love for art grew stronger while studying under one of her greatest mentors, Dr. Shady El Noshokaty at the American University in Cairo, but even though she graduated with a BA in Fine Arts, there were still lots of room for her skills to grow and manifest into those of a professional artist. Baraka then decided to move forwards and study fine arts at Central Saint Martins for her masters degree, While studying abroad, Baraka learnt how to be an independent artist, developed her skills and experienced a great deal from the surrounding artists working with her in the studio. “Even though I was an Art Major at AUC, we didn’t have our own studio space on campus. We would just go to classes and then continue creating art at home.” Baraka goes on to explain that working with different artists coming from different backgrounds teaches you different techniques and constantly inspires and motivates you.
After returning to Egypt, Baraka was sponsored by Mashrabiya Gallery and had her first solo art exhibition, Fractals, in January 2015. A simple Google search explains that a fractal is a never-ending pattern, or infinite-complex patterns that repeat themselves over and over again. Taking inspiration from science fiction and Internet images, Baraka morphs them in her paintings to depict how the human body is conceived. With bits and pieces coming together, Baraka repeats the same concept with different techniques that look quite inviting at first, until you realize the struggle and even gruesome scenes within her art.
In January 2016, Baraka took part in Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla‘s art competition alongside 300 other artists and was awarded first prize. “When I won the prize, apart from the fact that it was great, it was an accomplishment in itself to see that the art scene was not only evolving in Egypt, but contemporary art was also being appreciated,”
Although being a professional artist in Egypt is not an easy mission, especially with no organizations offering financial support, Baraka is still standing on both feet, striving to continue working as visual artist.
5 minutes with artist Nada Baraka
By: Nizar Ahmed
Nada Baraka, a contemporary Egyptian artist whose work deals with surreal abstract themes, recently spoke with Egypt Today on the various aspects of her artwork and what she explores with it.
ET: Your work tends to deal with the surreal and abstract. Why do you choose this theme?
NB: Surreal means something that is real and imaginative, and abstract is something that is unknown, distorted. And the combination of both causes a sense of sensuality and mystery. Those keywords make my artwork. And since my themes are always related to the body, and what better way for me to express my views of the body and space than in creating something that is obvious but unclear, aiming to show something but at the same time, leaves you to wonder or continue the dots.
ET: Do you have a routine while Painting?
NB: My routine is quite simple I collect philosophical quotes, fictional books, movies and images and then bring together several canvases around me and I start painting on the spot coherently in series of work, I do not sketch, but there is usually a vision in my mind, yet I let the canvas direct me. I start with a background and use multi-layering technique. The painting process is intuitive, unplanned, and fed by inspiration from many different sources, like Japanese anime, sci-fi novels and philosophical texts on the notions of body and absurdity of life.
ET: What themes do you hope to express with your artwork?
NB: My themes are usually related to the body inside out and its relation to the world, but it keeps developing throughout the years. My work explores the dynamics between interior and exterior spaces through series of abstract-surreal paintings. The body’s relationship with its surrounding and its inner process. I also look particularly into three spaces; factories, hospitals and bedrooms, as reflections of the body’s interior processes, or contradictions to it. Factories as functional spaces of production are in constant motion, obsessed with repetition, copies and perfecting mass produced molds. Even as they produce textures to imitate life – slimy, malleable, soft – the results remain soulless. Hospitals are like cold laboratories, realms of maintenance, regeneration, and where the body is deconstructed, and the severity of sterilization clashes with tender and fragile biological entities. Bedrooms, then, are spaces of intimacy, and also clutter and chaos, where there is a kind of naked truthfulness only found within a private space. Elements from these spaces are condensed, combined, scattered and dissected, to try and express relationships I see everywhere between the organic and the structural, fluidity against rigidness. As an undercurrent, I am concerned with how we experience extreme emotions, and how the discharge of endorphins has a way of plunging us into reality because of how they disturb it. The paintings seek to portray these explosive instances that occur in these spaces, to capture this extremity of emotions.
ET: How has your art been received, both here and abroad?
NB: My art has been received better abroad because of people’s experience towards art in general, the contemporary art scene is much broader and bigger. There are artists who also use the same language and art is generally largely appreciated, however, in Egypt the contemporary art-scene is growing and more people are interested in learning and understanding art that there are more art institutions and galleries opening. The positive part is that because the scene is so small, I receive adequate criticism from internationally renowned Egyptian artists that are usually hard to reach if they were not from Egypt and viewers are more accepting to my art than for example four years ago.
ET: Who are your biggest inspirations?
NB: My biggest inspirations are artists who managed to pull a chord at people's emotions, artists who affected people with their work, artists who are constantly passionate about their work and always aiming for more developments. Artists, philosophers, writers, filmmakers and scientists inspire me to create and to believe that there is no end to creation .The person who inspired me in my journey in art, is Shady El-Noshokaty because he chose to be an Art pioneer in Egypt. He refused to live abroad and changed the understanding of art education in Egypt and from his teachings a lot of artists and professors came to be, so I owe him a alot since he always inspired me to be selfless when it comes to art.
ET: Where do you see yourself in the future, where would you like to be?
NB: I see myself as an international artists exhibiting worldwide, one day having my own retrospective. It is a wonderful feeling while you are still alive for your art to be studied academically, as an inspiration for future students. And I hope one day if I succeed I am able to give back, and help emerging artists in their journey.
ET: Finally, what advice can you give to artists who are just starting out?
NB: I advise artists to be patient and never give up because although it is a long journey it is worth the wait. And very rarely do people know from the start what they want to do with their lives, and are given with such a gift so we should not take it for granted and make use of it. Be thirsty for art, research the art world because it is so diverse and large, you can create endless projects and works, All you need to do is concentrate, be passionate and believe in yourself and enjoy the journey.
© 2019 Nada Baraka