San Gimignano

Moataz Nasr

Two video projectors transmit different scenes onto opposite sides of a screen: On one side, a group of youths struggle to put on T-shirts despite each garment’s hole for the head having been sewn shut; on the other side, a young man with a tattooed torso frantically scales a rocky desert peak and cries out skyward. These are the subjects of Two Faces of a Coin, 2008, by Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr. Three other likeminded works were included in “A Memory Fills with Holes,” the artist’s fourth solo show in Italy: Propaganda, 2008, a series of naive-looking embroideries showing scenes of modern desert warfare; Under Fire, 2008, a map of Iraq created with thousands of matches, ready to be lit; and Fiat Nasr, 2002–2008, a gigantic sectional puzzle whose completed images depict a truck tire worn out with use.

The intention was clear: to convey a sense of danger and instability, accentuated by a desperation that comes from seeing no way out. Of course, one interpreted the works in this manner because of the geopolitical situation of the places where they were produced; we expect artists to convey and interpret and universalize the state of mind and of the world that they (but we too) are experiencing. In this sense, Nasr’s rhetoric is so naked, so literal, that it would be intolerable if it did not come from a context of tension and conflict. In a society at peace, both artists and their public would tend to reject this type of visual rhetoric, but somehow we feel that when there is a war going on, one shouldn’t go for subtlety, and that even the simplest metaphor is sufficient—indeed, it is best!—to denounce such states of affairs; we expect such a conflict-ridden situation to be able to produce only declarations as strong as they are simple. And so we accept the easy clichés of a man who “cries out in the desert” while others “cannot even find a way out” of their T-shirts, or the metaphor of a place that is at the point of “catching fire” because it is literally made of highly inflammable materials. The message arrives and, in the end, engenders in its audience a touch of condescension that masks a sense of superiority, like that which the ancient Romans must have felt toward the barbarians at the gates. For most advanced art criticism, cushioned in sites of political stability, Nasr’s art of conviction would seem too straightforward or trite. But perhaps an injection of the healthy directness of allegorical simplicity that is closer to things and to states of mind—our memory is truly “full of holes”—cannot help but do some good. In this sense, Nasr’s works succeed in finding the point of equilibrium between the immediacy of the message and its sublimation.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.