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Women as Symbols of Hope

| Helene Aecherli | Blog
Women as Symbols of Hope


"Motherland Yemen" by Mazher Nizar

That art catches my attention and stirs emotions I cannot really grasp, happens rarely to me. It is like falling in love: You cannot explain it, but you know when it is there. And then it makes you dizzy, it moves you and doesn’t get off your mind.

Such were my reactions when I discovered the paintings of India-born Yemeni artist Mazher Nizar - will say, his paintings of women. 

To be clear: I hardly know anything about the theories or history of art, I can’t give an academic interpretation of what I see. For me art is purely emotional. And part of my art experience is to find out what evokes these emotions.

I immediately noticed that Mazher Nizar’s women move me. He paints them as colorful mythical, almost spiritual figures often with wings or birds or historical symbols that seem to amalgamate the different entities of magic, romance and faith. From an article on I learnt that Nizar combines fragments of traditional Yemeni art and Indian culture which refers to his childhood and college years in India, where he was born in a Yemeni family. He returned to the Yemeni capital shortly after graduating from the Government College of Art and Craft in Kolkata. Two years later, in 1986, he had his first solo exhibition in Sana’a.


Mazher Nizar tells me that by focusing on women as protagonists of his paintings he aims at reviving the history of Yemen, the era when the country was ruled by queens, and at the same time strives to catch what he sees in his current everyday life. Thus almost all of Nizar’s women are veiled, covered with the traditional Yemeni sitara. “Women”, he says, “are in business and government, but mostly Yemeni women are housewives. They are the pillars of the house, the hope and prosperity of the family. I admire them through my works as queens and always paint them as symbols of ‘Hope' that keep us alive in our present situation at war too.” In this sense Nizar’s women struggle to survive and to grasp peace as well as the beauty of life. “Without women”, Nizar says, “life would be meaningless.”

Now you could argue that Mazher Nizar has a romanticized view of women, something that is often seen and heard of whenever men as well as women justify women’s traditionally subordinate position in a patriarchal society. But you could also argue that I read too much into the paintings that aim at celebrating Yemeni history and above all -  the strenght of its women. And I guess, the latter hits the point.
Asking him about his stand concerning gender equality, Nizar answers immediately: “I fully support equal rights for women and men. Women and men should have the right of freedom of expression, the right to work and to be paid equal salaries - and they should have the right to live without fear. “

"Woman in Composition" 

And when I ask him if he could imagine a woman being the president of Yemen one day, he seems to smile: “I hope”, he answers simply.

Maybe Mazher Nizar’s paintings can be understood as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yemeni artist Mazher Nizar (59). He paints on canvas as well as on paper. "Buying my work is possible", he says. "I am selling my works by sending them with Yemenis who travel abroad."