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  • Writer's picturePaul G. Chandler

Baba’s Art School – 101: #10

“You can’t begin too soon to encourage an appreciation of art! And each artwork has a story.”



As 2024 gets underway, our attention continues to be drawn to the Middle East, due to the tragic ongoing war in Gaza. Also, this coming weekend is when Middle Easterners who are of Christian background celebrate Christmas. It is a celebration that has long been associated with the ancient story of the Middle Eastern magi following the star in the sky.


It seemed timely for this Baba to introduce his grandkids to an enchanted artwork titled “New Orientalism” that has been shown in historic cathedrals and premiere art venues around the world, with the goal of changing stereotypes of the Middle East. The work is by Mohamed Abou El Naga, a celebrated multidisciplinary Egyptian visual artist, art professor, and curator, who has curated numerous prestigious art biennales.


Reflecting on this work, Mohamed says, “In this work I am attempting to dismantle the collective and historical ‘Orientalism,’ the western view of the Middle East. . .such as in the traditional painting of the Orientalist period of art. When I view the Orientalist paintings of the 19th century [painted by Westerners] I feel like I am in a surreal world that has blended realistic elements with an imaginary world of fantasy. It is as if the paintings of Da Vinci or Michelangelo have been transported romantically to an Arab setting. . . these Western perceptions still exist. I am attempting to re-launch the aesthetic of Orientalism to reflect the reality of the today’s ‘Orient.’”



While this work is focused on changing stereotypes of the Middle East, it reminds us of the need to address any erroneous or negative perspectives we may hold of the “other” . . . whomever the “other” may be. How relevant this is for us all in the context of our world at this time. It is not just the Middle East that may be seen incorrectly, but how we see anyone who is from a different religious, cultural, societal or political background than our own.


This requires what might be called an “unlayering.” Interestingly, this beautiful artwork consists of 3 layers of tulle fabric on a canvas. The ultimate goal of the spiritual journey, regardless of one’s tradition, could perhaps be described as unlayering all that has built up and has covered the Creator’s beautiful image in which we were all created – both removing the layers on and around ourselves, as well as the layers that we have consciously or unconsciously put upon others.


PS: As this artwork toured the world, beginning in 2015, we nicknamed the woman in it “Leila,” never knowing that I would one day have a granddaughter named Leila. So, there are two Leilas in these photos!


About the artwork:

Mohamed Abou El Naga, "New Orientalism," 2015

Mixed media with photos on tulle (3 layers of tulle) on canvas, 60x80 cm


-For more info on the artist – see: www.nebetgallery.com/artists/mohamed-abouelnaga/

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