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Nada Elkalaawy

My practice is informed by my personal history dealing with loss, traces of memories and fiction. I am predominantly a painter, however, I often incorporate drawing, animation and tapestry in conversation with the painterly medium. My work is an ongoing investigation on how to tackle the topic of longing, as I navigate through the in-between I inhabit growing up between different countries and cultures. The process of making becomes an introspective tool that allows me to tell stories about parting, belonging and attachment. The core of the work revolves around making pictures, the depiction of memories and the visualisation of mental images. During the process of making I question what we see as reality, and what makes an image slip from truth into fiction, and all the uncanny stages in-between.


I draw from photographs alongside recollections of places and people, then construct imagery that is partly remembered/partly imagined, shaping these scenes in my head. Painting becomes the main channel that shapes my depictions of memories I didn’t experience physically and only visually through pictures or stories, making the work an amalgamation of ideas, memory-aids and fantasies. The process therefore helps provide nuanced reflections, both from an autobiographical and a fictional perspective. I also work with ideas connected to the numerous possibilities of interpretation, the many variables of a single story and the subjectivity of storytelling in relation to our own experiences.


The individual components of the paintings may be realistically depicted, but the overall scenes are not plausible depictions of real moments, but rather situations that are manipulated; they can be lifelike, imagined or romanticised with a psychological insight into the subject matter. My subject’s identities may be depicted through a personal lens, but I want them to be relatable in order to invite the audience to question the work and challenge their interpretation regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances. My objective is to defy any definitive reading or understanding in the narrative and instead use painting as a site where knowledge and consciousness are in continuous motion, where elements are remembered, forgotten, edited and their location in time is never fixed, making the stories presented non-linear.


Fiction and reality are fused in the work through characters that could exist between life and death, as well as allegories and motifs that might have both literal and symbolic meanings. A concern of mine is social invisibility and how superiority seems invisible to those who hold it, and in contrast hyper-visible to those inferior. Fictional invisibility is thus often employed in my practice as a metaphor for social commentary and to navigate the feeling of neglect. My work in general seeks to depict feelings that we are familiar with but cannot always articulate like yearning, weakness and finding our place in society.


Courtesy of the artist’s website.