Nada Mobarak developed a passion for art early on at school, but really met with her creative persona 25 years later, years which she concentrated on International Development. She had the chance of traveling to every corner of Egypt, financing community projects in health, education, sanitation, micro-credit and so much more, learning about the remotest and most desolate of places in Egypt, a country she had spent most of her childhood away from.
Her activities also included laying the foundations of Alfanar, the region’s first venture philanthropy organization, supporting the human rights movement in Egypt with Fund for Global Human Rights, and projects in mental health across the Arab region with Kamynu Trust.
But art always had a special spot in her heart, so she continued to hone artistic skills whenever possible including, for several years, with the late Magd El Sigini. Since holding an exhibition in Eklego in 2017, she has been increasingly devoting time to numerous corporate commissions for private homes and offices, and fulltime as of 2020. A prevalent theme in her art is represented by bulls, due to their significance in Ancient Egypt as symbols of strength and fertility.
WHAT WOULD MAKE YOUR SOUL SING? WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?
Making someone laugh from their heart. The right song playing at the right time. My 7 year-old’s groovy dancing. Moments of sheer gratitude for my family, husband, friends. Cheesy, I know, but so true.
A CHILDHOOD STORY THAT ANNOUNCED THE CREATIVE PERSON YOU ARE TODAY
I did a 5-minute pencil sketch of an anemic-looking plant at school when I was 15 and my art teacher put down what she was doing, took the sketch and went into the art faculty room. She came back with a very serious and intent look on her face and said “you have got to go to art school”. I didn’t. I went down completely different academic and career paths, studying Political Science and Theatre as an undergraduate and even doing a Master’s in Development Management several years after that. I’m still grateful for those choices because I loved and continue to be passionate about these fields, particularly human rights, which I went on to do later. But I kept having flashbacks of that day. Twenty-five years later I shifted my focus to art. I’m a firm believer that everything happens at the right time.
BEST CONTEXT EVER FOR INSPIRATION WAS
The January 2011 uprising. Being surrounded by thousands of people from all walks of life, chanting in unison, making the air around us shake, feeling terrified but hopeful that a different life was within reach. But also, a walk into any temple in Egypt will literally take your breath away. No matter how many temples, artifacts or sculptures I see, I’m in awe every single time that after thousands of years, their beauty is timeless and mostly intact. I try to emulate those slightly worn-out textures in my paintings.
THE PROJECT YOU LOVED MOST
A small exhibition I had in 2017 called “Look Me in the Eye”. I’ve never had a particularly special connection to animals of any kind, but when I accidently drew a bull one day, it was as if I had discovered a long lost relationship. One of my best friends, Heba El Gabaly, asked me to develop a series that she could showcase at Eklego and most of the pieces sold before opening. I’m forever grateful for that opportunity because it was the springboard into many commissions afterwards. The bulls are my muses to this day and it’s their significance in Ancient Egypt as symbols of strength and fertility, together with their golden horns that resemble crescent moons that draw me to them even more.
THE PROJECT OTHERS LOVED MOST
Clearly others have discovered they also have a long lost relationship with bulls. But I’m also blessed to have been commissioned by people who like what I do, who tell me they have spaces in which they’d like to put artworks of mine, and who ask me to just paint anything I want for them. This is an incredible leap of faith on their part and a huge responsibility for me and has been some of the most difficult work I have ever had to do because for weeks, sometimes months, I grapple with doing something that I love that will also mean something particular to them.
THE BEST THING ABOUT EGYPTIAN CREATIVITY IS
You find it where you least expect it.
BEST STATEMENT OF EGYPTIAN HUMOR
The backs of carts, taxis and trucks where there’s always some handwritten rhyming words of wisdom painted on them with a twist of humor or sarcasm. These are complemented by expressions of faith, names of children, drawings and amulets to dispel the evil eye. Chances are, if you’re in Cairo you will be stuck in traffic. Reading these messages is great entertainment.
ADVICE FOR INTERNATIONAL HEADHUNTERS, RELATED TO EGYPTIAN CREATIVES
Dig deep. Look beyond the usual suspects. There are literally millions of creatives waiting for an opportunity.
BEST PLACE IN CAIRO
Qasr el Nil Bridge; scene of dainty wedding pictures, violent scenes of revolution and everything in between. My favorite time is during twilight.
BEST PLACE IN EGYPT
The raw untouched landscapes of Sohag in Upper Egypt where the Nile, still electric blue, meets the rocky hills on one side and bright green fields on the other. Specifically, the tiny mudbrick village of Elgrewh where the kindest people live in abject poverty, surrounded by stunning beauty.
MOST DISTURBING CLICHÉ ABOUT EGYPT, IN THE MEDIA OUTLETS OF THE WORLD IS
That Egypt is one thing or the other. It’s so vast and diverse and nothing about it can be encapsulated in one description. Like everywhere else in the world, the truth is far more nuanced. And camels. Camels are a rare sight.
EGYPT SHOULD BE KNOWN FOR
The incredible generosity of the Egyptians who can least afford it. Right after I graduated in 1995 I started working for the Canadian International Development Agency in a program in which we provided funding for small community projects. I was in North Sinai visiting a Bedouin tribe in the middle of the desert which we had helped build a water cistern to collect rainwater.
We sat to have lunch under a tent with the tribe’s chiefs discussing how the scarce rainfall that year had meant very little rainwater was collected, and how the children walked for kilometers every day to buy jerry cans of fresh water for the community.
After eating a sun-cooked meal with our hands, as is custom, the young men of the tribe poured fresh water out of the jerry cans onto our hands with such generosity – the very resource that was so scarce, expensive and hard-sought – making sure we were fully satisfied with our handwashing. It was so humbling. That’s true of Egyptians across Egypt who will give you generously of the little they have.
YOUR VIEWS ON SPIRITUALITY
In my books, if you’re constantly and consciously trying to be a good person, then you are already far down the spiritual path.
YOUR VIEWS ON MONEY
If I get started on this subject, I may never stop. The short version of my thoughts is that far too many people don’t have enough of it and the inequalities are staggering. I would love to claim that money isn’t important but the reality is it’s vital. In many places having money determines whether you get decent health care, decent education, decent housing – which should be universal rights but in reality are not. And these things make or break people’s lives.
We need to do so much more individually but more importantly as a society to change the systems that create these inequalities and to become conscious of how our own privileges are actually part of the problem.
AN INSPIRATION SOURCE YOU RECOMMEND FOR A YOUNG CREATIVE
If you can go to Italy, go. Go again. Go as many times as you can. Italians have an innate skill that makes them able to make everything around them beautiful, and most of the time effortlessly. Their food, their homes, their sense of style and design is inspiring and beauty is found almost everywhere you look, even accidentally.
Also read Jerry Saltz’s 33 Rules for Being an Artist. In one section he talks about the need to belong to a community of creatives, people who will critique your work honesty but with kindness, and help you broaden your audiences and networks. Hedayat Islam, founder of JAM by Hedayat, is all those things in one person for me.
AN EGYPT BASED FEMALE TALENT THAT DESERVES TO BE PROMOTED AT INTERNATIONAL LEVEL, AS EXPONENT OF LOCAL CREATIVE SPIRIT
Shahira Mohsen Fahmy who’s an interior and fashion designer. Shahira is my second cousin and one of the constant reference points in my head since I was little. She has the same love for both Egypt and Italy that I do and is very much innately talented in seeing and creating beauty, much like the Italians. To say the homes she has designed are unique is an understatement.
She is lead designer and the creative brain behind family-owned and all-Egyptian brand Mix and Match. Her ability to see the beauty in everything Egypt and in the old and discarded, and marry them seamlessly with functionality and form (hence ‘mixing and matching’) is another place where I constantly draw inspiration.
Thank you for reading our interview. If you are interested in getting in contact with Nada, click here.