Innerscapes: Portraits of women inside out

Deena Douara
4 Min Read

One often wonders what the bright palette, ambiguous landscape, or certain brushstroke express in a work of art.

Egyptian artist Nazli Madkour provides a simple answer. They express nothing more than her changing moods.

“Humans are not linear, she says. Her personality as an artist is made up of “different facets, some austere, and some lively, some intelligent and some less so.

But it’s not always that simple. She is also “combining the earth’s forces and forms with human quivers and pulses in an attempt to redefine figures, space and time.

This introspective journey into the depths of the earth and of the inner-self combining ethnic sensibility with contemporary aesthetics and intellectual concern, is easier to take in aesthetically than it is to understand.

In her current exhibit “Innerscapes Madkour includes landscapes and portraits, both of which have long enchanted the artist. Egyptian landscapes, especially the Siwa oasis, desert areas, and southern Egypt, did inspire earlier works but Madkour says that for her latest exhibit she was more concerned with the feel of a particular place and the emotions it stirred in her. She neither painted nor sketched any of those landscapes on location.

“They are a reflection of the landscape within me, she says.

While her first 10 years of painting were, as she describes it, “a contemplative period marked by lyrical serenity, these later, varied landscapes are hardly serene. Some paintings are muted and clearly representational while others are abstract and almost fluorescent.

Portraits, particularly of women, have always “haunted Madkour.

The women she chose to portray for “Innerscapes are not actual women. They are her interpretation of what lies beneath the surface of ordinary common women she encounters in the street. She believes that women, especially those on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder, are suppressed and treated unfairly, with nobody to defend them.

Indeed, the women and girls of her paintings all appear subdued. Their eyes – if they have any – are solemn, and their heads seem to float without continuation to their bodies or grounding. They seem to melt into their background with few markings to distinguish between the woman and her surroundings.

Madkour says she is neither admiring nor disparaging these women who are resigned to their lot. While she does not condone a culture of acceptance, she also believes society puts so much pressure on these women, it is impossible for them to revolt.

At the same time, she says women often acquire the point of view of their oppressors.

After her period of “serenity, Madkour says she reacted to the regressive trend which threatened the status of women, culture and national unity.

Though she claims to have moved on from that phase to a more introspective journey, the social commentary is clearly not far behind.

Originally a political economist, Madkour has had over 30 solo shows in the past 25 years. She has also participated in numerous group exhibits since leaving her post at the Arab League. She is the author of “Women and Art in Egypt and has illustrated the deluxe edition of Naguib Mahfouz’s “Arabian Days and Nights.

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