September 23 – November 4, 2014
Out beyond ideas, Of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field. I’ll meet you there.Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th century
This quote from 13th century Persian jurist, theologian, Sufi and mystic poet Jelaluddin Rumi perhaps sums up best the thread tying the entire artistic repertoire of Alexandria-born, Cairo-based multi-media artist Moataz Nasr. Bringing forth engaging universal works, Nasr borrows and is deeply inspired by his native country, Egypt and by Sufism. Sufism, defined by scholars as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam, has always fascinated Nasr. This enduring attachment to Sufism is reflected in Nasr’s approach to and production of art. The spiritual and the worldly come into play at times forcefully, at others subtly, in his works, to help us search for the Alchemy of Happiness – alluding to one of the treatises of influential Persian Islamic thinker, Imam Al Ghazali.
“I am an optimist at heart and I seek the positive in my surrounding – be they people or the environment I live in. Hope is always reflected in my work, no matter how grim the situation may be.” While Nasr claims to provide hope through his work, he doesn’t believe in giving answers or providing solutions to achieve that happiness or peace of mind we all search for, because he is adamant that it is not the artist’s role. Instead he compares himself to a gadfly – a fly that bites animals to keep them awake or a person who annoys the status quo. The gadfly analogy was first used by Socrates, a classical Greek philosopher, to describe himself and by Plato, Socrates’ ‘best disciple’ to defend Socrates as “the gadfly of Athens; all day long and in all places, always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you.” Gadflies keep people awake, persistently stimulating and upsetting their thoughts to know more about themselves, to pursue goodness and to question things.
A self-taught artist, Nasr started in Egypt with a conventional media – painting – back in the early 1990s. After winning numerous local awards, his work soared dramatically in volume and international recognition and broadened to include video, performance art and installations. For over a decade, Nasr exhibited his versatile multi-media works across the four corners of the globe. The irony however is that this international recognition did not resonate in his native country, as Nasr remained absent from the local art scene for over a decade. Untitled, his upcoming exhibition at ArtTalks Gallery in Cairo, represents a milestone in the artist’s career – an impassionate desire to return as an artist to his native land, Egypt and a return to his artistic roots: abstract painting. Twenty-five new paintings will be exhibited in the upcoming solo show, deriving from years of subconscious accumulation of turmoil, revolutions, peace, wars, travels, international successes, homesickness and pent-up emotions.
Moataz Nasr compares abstract art with jazz improvisation. It starts randomly and spontaneously until you find harmony in the painting. Nasr intuitively starts with a line, a spot, a circle, a color, randomly spreading these across the wooden board. La pièce de résistance is when he seeks harmony amongst all these random elements. His starting point, be it a line or a dot, comes from a visual memory of a microscopic detail he saw in his surroundings. He compares all he sees to different walls. For example, a red dot in the middle of a myriad of grey buildings in a street catches his loop and turns out to be a red nightgown hanging to dry in a Cairo balcony. Cairo is full of such walls, rich with history, energy, and layers of colors. Many other cities give him that same inspiration given their unparalleled richness such as Aleppo, Damascus, Istanbul, Napoli, and Marseilles. Yet Cairo remains his main muse with its people, culture, flow of knowledge and chaos. It is the ultimate multi-layered city reflected in and imposing itself on his abstract paintings. And despite a hiatus of over a decade, his return to abstract painting interestingly continues to utilize that same earth colors palette that he kicked off his career with, reminiscent of the colors of Cairo, despite all that the victorious city has gone through.
Moataz Nasr was born in 1961 in Alexandria (Egypt). He lives and works in Cairo. After studying economics, he decided to change direction and take a studio in Old Cairo. This self-taught artist gained local recognition marked by many prizes before breaking into the international art scene in 2001, notably winning the Grand Prix at the 8th International Cairo Biennial and in 2002 winning the Biennale Prize of Dakar Biennale, Senegal.
The artist has participated in many important international art events, including the Venice Biennale (2003), the Seoul Biennale (2004), the Sao Paulo Biennale (2004), the Yokohama Triennale (2005), the Canarie Biennale (2008), the Lubumbashi Biennale (2010), the Thessaloniki Biennale (2011) and group events such as Arte all’Arte (San Gimignano, 2004), Africa Remix (Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf, 2004; Hayward Gallery, London, 2005; Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2005; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2006; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, 2007), Ghosts of Self and State (Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, 2006) and, last but not least, a solo exhibition at The Khalid Shoman Foundation, Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan, 2006. The most recent group shows to which he has contributed include: Machine-RAUM, Vejle Art Museum and Spinning Factory, Vejle, Denmark, 2007/2011; Traversées (Crossings), Grand Palais, Paris, France, 2008; Les Recanters Internationales de la Photo, Centre Cervantes, Fes, Morocco, 2008; MidEast Cut, The Danish Film Institute & Backyard Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark (2009); African contemporary art, Exhibition Center, Algiers, Algeria, 2008; Made in Afrika, National Museum, Nairobi, Kenya, 2008; Taswir, Islamische Bildwelten und moderne, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany, 2008; 21st Century: Art in the first Decade, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia, 2010; Time After Time: Actions and Interactions, Southern Exposure, San Francisco, USA, 2012.