The Art of Rajaa Gharbi
Moons, Desires and Rumi"s Mistresses"

Artist Statement

My paintings are surrealist intuitive expressions and visual commentaries. Their formal quality is influenced by all manifestations of nature, by poetry, Film, and linguistics, as parts of a multidisciplinary art practice that I have relied on for the development of a personal aesthetics for the last twenty years. Oral literature, music and Arabic calligraphy are intrinsic to what my paintings look like. My first inspirations and influences came from my mother’s passion for clothes design and my father’s inherited love of story telling- my paternal grand-mother was Tunisia’s last royal-court storyteller. My mother gave me her delight for colors and their nuances, and for texture. Both my parents gave me a passion for exploring visual (and other) narrative as multilayered constructions of meaning. The themes in my paintings are partly informed by my exploration of real or imagined, ancient or contemporary stories and myths that affect our individual and collective psyches. I use extensive layering and thick re-layering of acrylics or watercolor, gouache, ink and pencil, and a personal rendition of Arabic and other scripts- as a plastic art medium, in individual letters and single large diacritical signs (sound-making symbols) or minute brush strokes and traditional nib lines to construct spaces and forms.

 Reconsidering established stylistic norms in painting and calligraphy, I work to create compositions that mirror my interest in displacement of centrality and rethinking of space relationships. The fantastical and the realistic converge in liquid movements and miniaturized or sweeping contrasts of light and dark, small narratives come in confluence within the overall narrative of the painting- some of which are as minimalist as a proverb, shifting form of line works to take the written letter back to a primal and physiological origin. Particular letters like the Hamza,   the Alif, the Seen, or the diacritic stretch out in a variety of sizes to create overlapping imagery. This results in a viewing experience that investigates the power structure of visual narrative and causes a plurality of perspectives to emerge as the viewer frames small sections of the painting with her/his hands, looks at it from different lighting angles,  or even uses a magnifier or turns the painting upside down or sideways. The viewer’s interactivity with the painting creates a synthesis to reveal some of the painting’s interiority and a change in the viewer’s experience of it with his/her discovery of different images. Often times the viewer’s oral description of those emerging images is the beginning of a serendipitous poem.

I want my paintings to appeal to the abilities of the viewer’s eyes, as the natural origin of the camera lens, capable of shifting focus from the macrozoom to the widest angle possible, and to even shuttle a bit between hardly perceptible subject matter and the place/space where that and other subject matters are found in the same painting. Viewers and collectors have described my paintings as having an “auditory” quality.

I started painting when I was 6 years old and continued through elementary and secondary school. When I was sixteen, I became, and for many years remained, a practicing multidisciplinary puppet theatre artist with the OTEMA (Organization Nationale de Theatre de Marionnettes) at the Ibn Rachiq Arts Center in Tunis. Later I pursued undergraduate and graduate studies and degrees in fine arts, film and communications in the United States where my paintings have been shown in solo and group exhibitions since 1984. My work has also been shown in Tunisia, Egypt, Germany and Japan.

Rajaa Gharbi © 2011

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