Maryam Najd

° 1969

Born in Teheran (IR), works in Antwerp (BE).

Maryam Najd's (°1969) has roots in Tehran, but for the past several years Antwerp has been both her home and workplace. She works both purely abstract – using subtle colour gradations –  and thematically figurative. What appear to be diverging concerns at first sight, turn out to be two sides of the same coin. Her figurative paintings are the most accessible to viewers; they demonstrate a reflective artistic process that simultaneously interweaves and unravels the social chasm dividing the two cultures. Najd juxtaposes the Middle East's oppressive and conflict-charged context with the West's utopia of “freedom”, and in doing so creates an open, but critical discourse between two opposing worlds.

Her work draws on a number of recurring themes: the corporeal versus the spiritual, Western women's freedom as expressed in the issue of naked versus veiled femininity, and the visible versus the invisible, for example the mysterious existence of anonymous refugees, migrants and world travellers. In her paintings Najd uses images that in their essence evoke the most pressing and frequently asked existential questions. Maryam Najd persistently seeks the point at which extremes intersect. Two people at sunset walk casually beside the ocean surf, while in the painting's foreground, a man lays stretched out on the beach; he's been wrapped in a sinister looking thermal shroud of shiny foil.

Painting with an overwhelming sense of empathy, and yet without drifting into the melodramatic, Maryam Najd portrays characters with exacting clarity that do full justice to their human dignity. Her portraits convey a sense of the artist's ability to position herself within the European tradition, while not sacrificing her “Eastern” perspective. The migrants depicted are not impoverished beggars, but instead elegant characters, heads held high under ill-fated circumstances.

The connections she makes in her pieces are always unexpected, for instance between origin and yearning, between utopia and ideology, or between individuality and concealed beauty. In the end, it all revolves around the concept of freedom, not just as a goal in and of itself, but also as a philosophical concept and eternal point of enquiry. Is freedom a right or a gift? Is it a challenge or a trial? And what about the freedom to commit transgressions?

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