Fractals: Themes of gender, identity prevail Nada Baraka’s first solo exhibition

Soha Elsirgany, Sunday 25 Jan 2015

Painter Nada Baraka triggers emotions at the Mashrabia gallery in downtown Cairo

Fractals, Nada Baraka
Fractals at Mashrabia by Nada Baraka (Photo: 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 recognised, 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 glueing 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 colours.

At first sight, the paintings look almost happy, inviting, drawing you in until a closer look makes you realise the overtone of a somewhat disturbing, gruesome theme running through the shapes.

Fractals, Nada Baraka
Fractals by Nada Baraka at Mashrabia gallery (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

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 colours 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 cut-outs 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.

Fractals, Nada Baraka
Fractals by Nada Baraka at Mashrabia gallery (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The exhibition runs until 12 February
Mashrabia gallery, 8 Champollion St., Downtown Cairo



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