Youssef Nabil’s solo exhibition in Dubai is a serene journey through a dreamlike landscape

It is impossible to forget the work of Youssef Nabil.

Between memory and imagination, film and photography, monochrome and bold colours, to experience an exhibition of Nabil’s work is to enter the dreamlike landscape of a considerate and vulnerable artist.

Nabil’s latest solo exhibition, titled The Beautiful Voyage, currently on view at The Third Line Gallery on Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, is a curated selection of the work of the internationally acclaimed artist, photographer and filmmaker that draws the viewer and holds him in suspense.

The selection of works, from 2016 to the present day, includes 15 photographs and the regional debut of Nabil’s fourth video, also called The beautiful journey.

Photographic works in the exhibition include beach views with silhouettes of birds flying against a blazing sky and horizon; winding roads without cars; swaying, double-exposed palm trees against a picturesque backdrop of a sunset on a beach; or self-portraits of Nabil facing mountainous terrain, cityscapes and starry skies, reclining as he floats above a shimmering sea.

“These are all the questions I’ve been asking myself recently about our journey in life,” says Nabil. The National.

“It’s about all of us and our fragility in the face of time and death. It’s a reminder of our surreal nature living life, knowing that we’re all here for a limited time.

The images vary from light touches of Nabil’s hand and color manipulation to others with a silkscreen or painterly quality. Although diverse in subject matter, the works are brought together by Nabil’s cinematic perspective and his ability to translate the monumental and the delicate in a subliminal and sensitive way.

The text appears on a number of self-portraits. Statements, prompts, or parts of poems act as subtitles or credits at the end of a movie. Nabil references cinema, contemporary culture and art history and combines these influences to shape his own visual vocabulary that feels cinematic, nostalgic and symbolic.

“I grew up in Egypt watching a lot of movies, mostly on TV,” says Nabil.

“I loved those old Egyptian films because they introduced me to the idea of ​​the camera and its power, being the first and only invention that can hold time and an image that we can watch for years to come. late.”

Nabil first became known for his unique portraits of Egyptian and Western film stars and artists. This has included Egyptian actors such as Omar Sharif and Faten Hamama, belly dancer and actress Fifi Abdou, renowned Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat, legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve, concept and performance artist Marina Abramovic, the actor Robert De Niro and singer Alicia Keys. Nabil’s portraits are fascinating not only for the way he captures his sitters, but also for his distinct technique of hand coloring on gelatin silver prints.

Like the rest of Nabil’s work, whether self-portraits or imaginary landscapes, they reveal through technique, composition and thoughtful use of color how we romanticize memories in beautiful images imbued with melancholy.

“I admired all these beautiful Egyptian actors, and to my surprise as a child, they were all dead,” says Nabil when asked about the influence of Egyptian cinema on his work.

“It was a shock to me to find out that I had been in love with all these beautiful but dead people. I wanted to work with the camera later in life, I wanted to be an artist.

Nabil’s latest video The beautiful journey (2021) stars his muse, actress Charlotte Rampling. The eight-minute autobiographical video is a portrait of the relationship between mother and son, childhood, longing and loss.

This is the first film that Nabil has made and in which he appears and it opens with his mother reciting Ithaca, the poem by CP Cavafy that she had read to him as a child in Cairo. The film continues with superb intimate scenes of Rampling reciting Nabil’s story, written by him.

“This project is my most personal project,” says Nabil.

“I asked my mother to recite my favorite poem… and I’m also in front of my camera on film for the first time. It’s very emotional for me on all levels, from writing it to editing, passing by looking at it in exhibitions.

The film is an extension of Nabil’s photographic work. It also seems like a natural step for Nabil in his artistic practice.

“Photography is what films are all about, and as an artist working with photography and inspired by cinema, making films came very naturally to me,” he says.

“I can’t say what cinema brings that photography doesn’t, or the opposite. For me, these are two different mediums and two different modes of expression.

Through his sensitive way of thinking and feeling, whether in photography or film, Nabil’s ability, unrelated to the subject, to imbue an ethereal quality into his work is unparalleled.

Youssef Nabil’s personal exhibition is presented at The Third Line on Alserkal Avenue until next Friday

Updated: October 22, 2022, 04:11

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