Interview with Noor Bahjat Al Masri – By Peter Si

Noor Bahjat Al Masri SAFIRNoor’s camera comes online with a blink, and I find myself in front of a face covered by a huge smile and sparkling eyes. Her dark hair is flowing with unruliness, akin to her workspace visible on the side of the frame: tidy, but with droplets of paint here and there on the floor. Upon request, she gives me a quick virtual tour of her studio, which is full of paintings everywhere—four, five on each wall, one on a big easel in the middle of the room, a couple on the desk, yet more just on the floor, leaning against the walls. Most of the paintings are portraits, with different faces of different hues and shapes.

Noor understands what she wants to show. The way she depicts the intention behind a painting is like watching a mother talk about her child; she seems very proud, yet nervous and worried about how others might take it.

 

I was asked by SAFIR to interview Noor about her experience as the pilot artist for the SAFIR Artist Program. Ofcourse, I had heard about Noor before. I had looked into her work, her philosophy, and her education. However, I didn’t know quite what to expect from the person herself. Barely 10 minutes into the conversation, I began to realize that Noor is something of a peculiarity. She was relaxed but pensive, taking bites out of her nail and lips as she thought through the questions. The way her easygoing sense of humor turned into fierceness and passion when she talked about certain things made me wonder if there were two separate people inside her. For instance, most questions she would answer with a smile. A few words. A few “yanni”s. A thought or two weaved together. But when I asked about what it meant to be a Syrian artist, she would suddenly have so much to say, and with such force.

Noor Bahjat Al Masri SAFIR 2“When you say that you’re a Syrian artist, yanni, they always ask about the war. I think it’s a very stupid question. They always want you to tell them that you’re sad. Of course I’m influenced by the war. Of course it’s something deep in me. But it’s really bad, they always try to see only the war.”

For Noor, her days in Syria are the days she started her path as an artist. As far as she can remember, she was always drawing. It wasn’t as much of a routine as her 10 AM to 7 PM work these days, of course, but she went to University of Arts in Damascus, and grew up in Syria until she moved to Dubai in her 3rd year at college. She smiled shyly when asked about her favorite moments as a child. “You can’t really put a finger on it,” she said, “it’s the moments here and there, not a single story.”

While painting, Noor likes playing around with the texture. In fact, one of her favorite pieces was formed while experimenting with different textures. It is through these ongoing modifications and communication with the piece that she creates her work, and she keeps at it until she is satisfied with what she has at the end. But her work is not mere unplanned dabbling on the easel. Noor understands what she wants to show. The way she depicts the intention behind a painting is like watching a mother talk about her child; she seems very proud, yet nervous and worried about how others might take it.

Whenever Noor has wanted to try something out, Hala has always had suggestions, sometimes bringing up other artists who had previously used such a method, adding maturity to Noor’s final work. “It’s a good chance for artists who don’t know about concepts,” she said.

“I’m still practicing, yanni, I’m trying to put those ideas, although not in a direct way. Mostly, people see things, but they have different personal histories.”

Having heard so far, I became curious—what had it been like for Noor to be with SAFIR? She seemed like such a free soul; had it been difficult for her to work with a mentor? Her response was different. For her, SAFIR had been a guidance towards professionalism. From it she learned how to present herself professionally, was prepped like a gallery would do, and was offered websites through which she could publicize her art. As for the mentorship, she seemed like she couldn’t be happier.Noor Bahjat Al Masri SAFIR 3

“My dreams are step by step. When I reach next step, I’ll think of the next ones.”

“Sometimes, yanni, when I get the structures, how to hang them, I just become so happy and call her,” she said, referring to her SAFIR assigned mentor, Hala. When asked about the role of mentorship in her work, Noor sparkled up. “In Middle East, at least in Syria, we learn the academics of arts, the colors and their combinations, and how to paint in academic ways” she said, “but yanni, we don’t do research. We can’t expand our minds more than what we’ve done.” To use a peace sign in her work, she explained, she needs research to know where the sign came from, and what it really means as the art piece will expand the meaning of the sign. For her, SAFIR and Hala have been of great help in the aspect; whenever Noor has wanted to try something out, Hala has always had suggestions, sometimes bringing up other artists who had previously used such a method, adding maturity to Noor’s final work. “It’s a good chance for artists who don’t know about concepts,” she said.

           However, research is not the only skill that Noor has honed during her time with SAFIR. During her program, she found out that there were many more ways to express herself, especially in transforming her ideas and thoughts into organized form, in sketching and drawing them. Noor recalled a conversation she had with Hala, “I wanted painting to be more installation than just painting, and yanni, Hala recommended this” She said, picking out what she described as one of her favorite pieces of work so far. The painting seemed simple at first. On closer inspection, I realized that what looked like a rope on the painting was not painted, but cleverly attached to the painting, breaking the wall of 2nd dimension. “It’s not just the work itself, but also how to structure it, how to hang them.”

            Her final advice to future SAFIR artists was simple. “Learn as much as you can from the curators. Take the criticizing in a good way because SAFIR, it’s a temporary thing. You need to learn how to do these things, learn how to describe and present the paintings you make.”

When asked about her dreams, Noor laughed and said, “My dreams are step by step. When I reach next step, I’ll think of the next ones.” The next step in her dream is to study expressionism in Germany. And yanni, what lies beyond that is for the rest of the world to find out soon.

Noor Bahjat Al Masri SAFIR 4


Peter Si

Peter Si is the project assistant at SAFIR. He is a student at NYU Abu Dhabi, majoring in Computer Science. He is an avid traveler and lover of books. (Email: ss8355@nyu.edu)

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed