Land of Sequels

A solo exhibition by emerging artist Nada Baraka

Dream-like figures and distorted structures morph into one another in the work of young artist Nada Baraka, inviting the viewer to open up the parameters of what the imagination allows. Seemingly familiar objects float between beautifully deviant configurations. Her hallucinatory landscapes invoke hauntingly seductive manipulations of acrylic and oils, manufacturing forms that twist restrictions on the possibilities of movement and liquify the distinction between memories and fantastical constructions. Land of Sequels is Baraka’s second solo at Gypsum Gallery and builds on her first show Cosmic Truths and Tales to be Told. SOUTH SOUTH interviewed the artist to unpack the inspiration for her recent body of work.

Nada Baraka, To Make Emptiness Less Empty, 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas.
Image courtesy of Gypsum Gallery and the artist.

Nada Baraka, Overflowing with Pots and Pans, 2021, acrylic and oil on cardboard.
Image courtesy of Gypsum Gallery and the artist.

SOUTH SOUTH (SS): What drew you to art as a practice?

Nada Baraka (NB): Since childhood I’ve always been fascinated by art. I just didn’t know how to move forward with it until I stumbled on to the visual arts program at the American University in Cairo where I was also studying Mass Communication. There I learnt about art as a skill and a practice beyond talent. But because I joined in my junior year I felt I was still lacking in knowledge, so I decided to do my Master’s degree at Central Saint Martins in London to build on my studies, learn more about the international art scene, and more about my own voice as a full time practicing artist. What drew me into arts practice is how, depending on the direction of your research, you get to learn about science, philosophy, fiction and combine them into something different. It was intriguing, challenging and always changing, like a world of its own.

SS: How do you like to describe your work? What are the key thematic concerns for your practice?

NB: I describe my work as abstract surreal. My practice pulls from memories, fiction novels, philosophy, personal events and films. I feed on experiences and spontaneity, every moment in my life is a chance to create and change my perspective. I am mainly interested in the body, be it human, animal, creatures, any living species and how it evolves and changes depending on the surrounding it inhabits. I love re-creating already existing spaces and deforming, deconstructing and reconstructing them. The process in my work is the most important key as my experience and relationship with the canvas is ever evolving.

Installation view. Land of Sequels, 2021
Photography by Moustafa Abdel Aty. Courtesy of Gypsum Gallery and the artist.

My practice pulls from memories, fiction novels,
philosophy, personal events and films.
I feed on experiences and spontaneity,
every moment in my life is a chance
to create and change my perspective.

SS: You have stated that your paintings are an illustration of her subjective relationship with physical surroundings; a spontaneous process is key to the deconstruction and building of your absurdist narratives. Could you unpack this further?

NB: My work is a collective of readings, novels, movies, and my thoughts and reflections on life. I turn all of my experiences into data. I print out some references, highlight others, and then in my studio I unpack all the collected material. From this point on my work is formed like a collage, my eyes and mind are filled with all the data hung around my studio walls, and I start creating subconsciously. The result is always unknown and because of that my work is always in a series or collection as several pieces evolve in parallel. In that sense the work is a combination of how I felt at the moment physically in the studio, and my personal research and archiving of data, which is ongoing through all the stages of a painting. So I don’t make sketches, but rather experiment with different backgrounds on different materials such as canvas, paper, cardboard etc.

SS: The connection between memory, fantasy and reality can be quite a blurry and extraordinary one. How do you think through this in your work?

NB: Usually when I start a painting it comes from a point of reference and evolves. There are moments when I let my subconscious brain take over the canvas and others where I have to make careful decisions, especially if I’m building a room with sharp lines and interiors. So the work grows organically between both, and it has its highs and lows because the decision to continue or stop is never a simple equation.

SS: Who do you see as the audience for your work? Is this an important factor for you?

NB: I don’t have a particular type of audience in mind when I work and in a sense I’m not creating for the audience. I do think about people’s experience and interaction with the painting, although this may come at a later stage in my process. My work is really about building multilayered broken narratives, where a viewer cannot really grasp what is happening on the canvas, as the eyes keep moving and feeling from one spot to the other trying to link the pieces or figure out the relations. I would love for the viewer to truly give each painting the time it needs. To indulge in the discovery of details and layers over time, and engage with the different narratives and emotions between one work and the other. It makes for an experience close to a moving image that each viewer can see differently. I’d feel like I succeeded if the audience had feelings about the work that are difficult to identify. Some people felt heavy, scared, happy, curious. I had all sorts of feedback and it brings me such joy, since the work is all of those, and none of them.

Installation view. Land of Sequels, 2021
Photography by Moustafa Abdel Aty. Courtesy of Gypsum Gallery and the artist.

Installation view. Land of Sequels, 2021
Photography by Moustafa Abdel Aty. Courtesy of Gypsum and the artist.

SS: How do you think your medium of choice and your abstract surrealist techniques assist in your explorations of these themes?

NB: Painting is one of oldest mediums in art history, so using it in a contemporary manner is always exciting. I keep trying to redefine painting as a medium by using different framing methods, textures, materials but still sticking to painting because it is my strongest asset, and also because with technology you can use found data and turn it into painting. The usage of a projector, collage, stretching, distortions, printing, etc. are some tools that have assisted me in refining my themes and helped my work develop as they form new possibilities, especially because my work is mainly about recreating a space and transforming it into an unknown yet familiar one.

SS: Land of Sequels is your second solo exhibition at Gypsum, and follows on from your first show titled Cosmic Truths and Tales to be Told. Could you share more about this first show and how you have pulled thematic and artistic threads into your current show?

NB: The content of my last solo Cosmic Truths and Tales to be Told was more abstract and less direct somehow. The creatures and spaces weren’t as obvious, and the research was derived from several references so it wasn’t as direct. In Land of Sequels I was directly inspired from animation movies, experiences and childhood memories, resulting in a collection that is more surreal but less abstract in my opinion.

SS: What inspired this body of work?

NB: I try to find inspiration from my surroundings and since the coronavirus happened, everyone has been wanting to forget the world’s troubles and recharge. My escapism was through animation movies. The happy endings, the colors and simplicity, yet morbid hidden truths in some scenes were in line with my feelings; it was beautiful and sad in the right way. I would take shots from my phone, the more glitches the better because it meant I could create my own idea of the image used.

Installation view. Land of Sequels, 2021
Photography by Moustafa Abdel Aty. Courtesy of Gypsum Gallery and the artist.

Nada Baraka, Overflowing with Pots and Pans, 2021, acrylic and oil on cardboard.
Image courtesy of Gypsum Gallery and the artist

Mus re officillupta non preri ut oditibere, quaecab orerum remod ut essequis antia
quaeperumqui officiet earum res

CREDITS

Images courtesy of Gypsum Gallery and the artist. Installation images by Moustafa Abdel Aty.

Click here to view the Land of Sequels online viewing room.

Click here to visit Nada Baraka’s website.

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