Shifting sands: How rock patterns and grief inspired Miramar Al Nayyar's ethereal art

Iraqi artist’s works in debut UAE exhibition sprung from the patterns of sandstone

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Multi-disciplinary Iraqi artist Miramar Al Nayyar was mesmerised by the patterns of sandstone on a trip to Bayda, a Neolithic archaeological site in the south of Jordan, in 2022.

The sandstone formations date back to the Cambrian period, millions of years ago.

Organic and abstract, the patterns played on and communicated through her subconscious. Al Nayyar imagined things such as bodies, waves and animals out of the beautifully lined, layered stones.

“These are illusions but for me they felt real,” she tells The National. “They are movements frozen in time and from the moment I saw them the question came to me: what does my movement look like?”

This is the premise of Al Nayyar’s first solo exhibition in the UAE, entitled Moving Through the Ether, at Tabari Art Space in DIFC.

The artworks are her attempts to capture, recreate or even reimagine these natural formations on mostly 190cm x 120cm canvases and through her own movements. She uses a palette of soft pastel shades. They are light, airy and inviting.

And while the works are ethereal and uplifting, they came from a place of grief.

Al Nayyar’s father died in February last year. After his death, she went to the studio and found that she was painting in light colours, when previously she worked with a much darker, high-contrast toned palette.

“I never imagined I would paint something soft, gentle and light but after my father died I went to my studio and painted the lightest painting I've ever painted in my whole life,” she says.

I wasn’t happy. The painting looks happy, people perceived it as happy, but it has a lot to do with grief
Artist Miramar Al Nayyar

“People were asking me why my paintings look happy if my father had died. But I wasn’t happy. The paintings look happy, people perceived them as happy, but it has a lot to do with grief.”

This wasn't just from her personal life, but also from things happening around the world. Al Nayyar’s pent-up rage and frustration over what has been happening politically and socially, particularly the war in Gaza, was especially isolating.

She found she could calm herself through her work, creating beautiful forms to balance what was happening in the world with what she was feeling.

“My mum tells me that wars are meant to leave you with a low vibration, in a state of fear and, in this way, war wins,” she says.

“I felt anxious with what was happening in the world and that eventually leads to your heart closing up – at some point I felt so numb. So these works made me feel safe, my heart opened again.”

Creased bedsheets, semi-floral structures, morphed suggestions of anatomy (such as a heart emerging out of layers) – these organic shapes exist as stylised images, referencing a multitude of things.

From the soft, ambiguous, fragmented shapes to the flowing and seeping sense of movement, nothing is overworked.

“Movement is the base,” Al Nayyar says. “Thoughts get materialised, thoughts take shape and all of these natural formations took shape through movement. Movement shaped everything in nature over very long periods of time.”

The concept of movement is pivotal to her work, not only in theory but also in execution.

The paintings are recordings of her physical movements as she uses her arms and body as a tool, sprawling across the canvas, applying colours in layers until a feeling tells her to stop.

Al Nayyar works without conscious thought, in a semi-meditative state. She prepares intensely beforehand, ensuring all the tools she needs are close at hand so she is not distracted while working. It’s a purely intuitive process.

“I try as much as I can to avoid thinking during the process, because I want the feeling to come out as pure as possible,” she says.

“Once I start thinking, I feel like I'm putting effort into the painting. And as long as it's feeling effortless, then I'm good.”

Al Nayyar says that with the state of imbalance in the world, her work is also an attempt to heal and connect through the subconscious.

“It’s a contribution if not to the world, then it is to myself, because to me as an individual, I’m responsible to take care of my heart,” she says.

“Collectively we are all interconnected. If my friend is afraid, I will feel his fear. Each of us as individuals have to take care of ourselves because we are all connected.”

Miramar Al Nayyar’s solo exhibition Moving Through the Ether runs at Tabari Art Space in DIFC until Thursday

Updated: May 30, 2024, 8:46 AM