Heir to the Tragic throne

Ahmed Nosseir’s paintings are deeply rooted in twentieth-century and contemporary Egyptian art. He is the heir of painters like Abdel Hadi El Gazzar, Hamed Nada, or Maher Raïf, whom the Egyptian art critic Aimé Azar called the ‘Tragic Painters’ for the social critique behind their art works. Alongside his modern predecessors, Nosseir brings into his art work the influence of other traditions, from Christian icons to Pacific Indian totems, which reflect a world of imagination uniquely his own.

Nosseir stands out from his contemporaries for the psychological power of his paintings. The painter wishes to hide nothing with his images, but express the most fantastic flights of his imagination. Popular superstitions and religious traditions that mix the divine with evil inspire many of his pictures with the ambience of Egyptian Zar, a kind of exorcism ritual with roots in sub-Saharan Africa. Out of this personal psychology comes the universality of his art, unveiling the inward drama of every life—between good and evil, between morality and the absence of any such code—that such fantasies express.

These paintings, with their strange portraits of beasts and predatory figures, hold a distant mirror to society, not unlike the art works of El Gazzar. But rather than portray the exterior scenes of poverty or social conditions, Nosseir’s pictures stand as allegories of society’s corruption and hypocrisy, and the effects these have on our imaginative life. Yet this spirit of social criticism is balanced a spirit of ironical ambiguity, and a darkly humorous touch. In many of these menacing pictures, it is not clear who is the victim or who is the perpetrator, as both grin in an embrace.

Nosseir’s technique superbly expresses the psychological nature of his paintings. His dark and suffused backgrounds contrast with brighter colors and the energy in his violent brush strokes. Out of this tension, however, comes a painterly harmony in the contrast between colors, fractured lines and thickly laid upon paints.

Written for Nosseir solo show at Karim Francis Gallery

Winter 2019, Cairo, Egypt