Nouhra’s universe of movement and stasis

FURN AL-SHUBBAK, Lebanon: It’s difficult to appreciate the qualities of light without experiencing dark. The pleasures of sobriety are never more obvious than when drunk – and vice versa. In order to comprehend motion, you must know stillness. To evoke existence, you must depict absence. Cynthia Nouhra has followed a similar line of thinking in creating the 16 acrylic-on-canvas works now on display in her exhibition “La Volonte de n’Etre” (The Will to Exist), now up at CNAG, the artist-gallerist’s eponymous art gallery.

She founded the space in 2011 with the mission of providing a platform for works addressing themes of spiritualism and humanism, transcending mundane facets of existence to represent the human condition through aesthetics.

The title of Nouhra’s show houses a French-language pun – in its pronunciation, “n’Etre” (existence) echoes the verb “naître” (born).

The wordplay is presumably inspired by the work itself – comprised completely of non-figurative evocations of themes that might be read as astral, floral and maritime. Human figures are not depicted in these abstracts, but their position within is implicit. The onlooker is meant to “stand in” for this figurative absence, to be immersed in Nouhra’s vortices of hue and texture.

These are most obviously works of color. Individual works represent explosions of primary hue – red, blue, yellow – in each case highlighted by touches of gold, to give additional depth to each piece.

Although Nouhra’s works are not “sculptural” – they are not landscapes of color applied with a palette knife, so layers of paint don’t protrude from the canvas – onlookers will readily notice the multitude of layers, juxtaposed one atop the other. It is the give and take of these colors that the artist instills with movement.

Like artistic puzzles, these works suggest that their abstraction cannot be summarized as color randomly applied to canvas. Nor are the puzzles easily decoded.

True, without the exhibition title in hand, onlookers might have a hard time grasping Nouhra’s intent. At first blush, viewers could be forgiven for assuming that in these works they are gazing upon representations of fields of stars, or other extraterrestrial phenomena, rendered in monochrome tones.

Nouhra’s brand of abstraction can be rewarding for the way it allows the viewer to project any number of scenarios upon each work and to discern any number of interpretations from them.

In some cases, it appears butterflies can be seen to fly from a tree. Alternatively, waves crash violently upon a shore, as if in a storm. Or perhaps it is an unconventional sunset.

In the end, it is possible to read Nouhra’s concern with the opposition of stasis and motion in terms of the relationship between the observer and the work. To stand still, open-minded, before the canvasses is to provide a focal point for the movement she has so skillfully rendered.

“La Volonte de n’Etre” is on show at Cynthia Nouhra Art Gallery, Furn al-Shubbak, until Feb. 19. For more information, please call 03-186-294.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 06, 2014, on page 16.




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