Emerging artist Mina Nasr (b. 1983) has become well known for his life-size drawings rendered directly on the walls of the exhibition space, depicting the struggles and hopes of Egyptian society in the artist’s trademark black and white palette.
A characteristic Nasr drawing was included in “Sixth Floor,” a group exhibit at the Viennoise Hotel in 2013 in which 22 Egyptian artists explored concepts of memory. Nasr participated with a work created in ink on a five-meter long wall. The work consisted of a row of men, crouching and pushing against each other. A mirror placed in the middle of the wall was intended to draw viewers into the drawing and encourage them to see themselves within the meaning of the work. To the artist, the crouching figures represented the constant struggle of daily life in Egypt, in which members of society push and fight with each other to gain their own self-interest. The artist put himself in the work by rendering the crouching figures in his own likeness. “I live the same struggle that they are experiencing,” Nasr explains. “I see myself as one of the people [in ordinary society], so I like to put myself in the work.”
Like the “Sixth Floor” installation, Nasr’s drawings are often charged with emotion. “Holy Heart,” exhibited at the 2012 Salon of Youth, shows the anguish of an Egyptian mother who is mourning the death of her son in the January 25 Revolution. Rendered on the wall in black pen and paint, the work showed a black clad woman in various postures of mourning, kneeling and reaching with her hands to the sky. Her dead son’s heart, encircled by sun-like rays, dominates the top of the drawing. Here, Nasr borrows from Coptic Christian symbolism, which often portrays the heart of Christ with rays emanating from it, to comment on society’s mourning of its martyrs.
The more mundane struggles of ordinary Egyptians are shown in “Shubra Line,” Nasr’s installation in collaboration with sound artist Yara Mekawei. Shown at Artellewa Space for Contemporary Art in Cairo in 2012, the installation transformed the narrow space of the Artellewa gallery into the interior of the Metro that travels from the Cairo district of Shubra. Nasr renders the travelers on the Metro in his simple black lines, drawing himself and Mekawei among the passengers. “Both Yara and I live in Shubra and we take the Metro a lot,” says the artist. Mekawei included recordings of the Metro sounds in the installation: the doors opening and closing, conversations, and vendors calling. Nasr says the idea for the installation came from the shape of the exhibition room itself. “I always begin with the place rather than the idea, especially with drawing installation, which needs me to take into consideration the height and width of the space,” he says.
The exhibition space was also a consideration for Nasr’s installation, “Egypt Elections” shown in “Visionary Africa: Art at Work,” a group exhibition at Cairo’s Al Azhar Park in 2012. Inspired by the long wall on which his installation was to be shown, Nasr created the artistic concept of a line of voters in Egypt’s parliamentary elections that had recently taken place. But instead of making separate men’s and women’s lines, replicating the real life voting process, Nasr drew the two genders in the same line. “My idea was to gather all the segments of society: men, women, young, old, Muslims and Christians. I drew myself in the middle of the line, holding a mobile. I wanted to have all the people standing together instead of what we actually have, which is a line for men and a line for women. It’s what I wanted to happen, to break down barriers between people,” says the artist.
Nasr trained as a sculptor at Helwan University’s Faculty of Applied Arts, but has always worked in drawing, which he says helps him convey his message faster. “Sculpture takes a long time in concept and preparation, and in that time I can put across messages quickly with drawing.” But his practice has been affected by his study of sculpture, since it’s a main reason why he draws in black and white: “In any sculpture there are two elements: white and black, light and shadow, and my drawing is influenced by this.” The artist also notes that a black and white palette is his way of expressing what he sees as a world of dualities and contrasts.
His current practice, focusing as it does on the community’s issues, is a departure from Nasr’s early career, from 2005 to 2009, when he produced drawings that reflected his inner state of mind. An untitled pencil drawing exhibited at the 2007 Salon of Youth shows a figure crouching with his wrist and ankle tied with ropes. This was Nasr’s depiction of a person’s inner struggle with the restrictions that society places on artists and the young.
“In 2010, I started to depict social issues and events. I started to enlarge my works and go beyond the canvas to draw on walls.” The artist says Egypt’s 2011 revolution “changed my thinking 360 degrees. It made me be aware of people’s struggles, what is concerning them. Instead of working introspectively in my closed room, now I go out to people,” he says.