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Connecting with Ghadeer Hafez

Jeddah Blog met artist Ghadeer Hafez for a little chat about what it was, after all, that kept her coming back to humans.

Ghadeer, man is a fascinating and inexhaustible subject, obviously. But what was your personal reason for choosing it? What excites you about it?

Everything. What he looks like, how deep he runs inside. How the face shows and hides at the same time. See, the face is supposed to be a ‘window to the soul’ but it is actually used as a mask, it hides more than it reveals. As such, it is no indicator of truth, or a very imperfect one at that. The ‘reality’ of each person is not the calm mask he dons to show the world, but the conflict he lives inside him, minute to minute. I’m interested in groups of humans from that perspective, in the energy and commotion of their inner lives. And of course, ways of resolving it.

The face is an ocean unto itself. The possibilities of what it hides and what it reveals are limitless.

Ah, so there is a solution? That’s a relief.

Solution…it’s not a quick fix or anything, it’s more like a lifelong consciousness that you have to cultivate. A purification is needed at both levels – internally and externally/socially. If we’re all cleansed within, at ease with ourselves and our emotions, human contact is the ultimate balm. If we’re all like vessels of internalized stress, time-bombs ready to explode, then human contact is just about as soothing as an electric jolt or a flash of lightning! Which is why self-cleansing should precede social cleansing.

I take it landscapes are not quite your cup of tea.

Not by a wide margin! I mean, nature is beautiful and all, but it is nowhere even close to the shifting energies of the chapter of man. I think that’s one chapter I’m going to be stuck at for awhile. I doubt if I’ll be ready to move on any time soon.

You sound very convinced. Any particular threads of thought you’ll be looking to develop?

Mostly, contact between humans, its need, its nature, the bond between man and woman. And of course, with all this, there will be search for resolutions, how to find inner peace.

More or less a continuation of what you did just now.

Yes, as you can see, I’ve been hovering around the same theme since like forever. And happily, too. In no hurry to move on.

Ghadeer, I’m excited at the possibility of resolving the conflicts in my head. Tell me, the cleansing that you prescribe, the connection with the self, how do you practically implement it in your daily life?

It’s quite simple, really. What I prescribe, ‘prescribe’ is a strong word, what I envision as the ideal solution to live with a clear heart and a clear mind, since it’s quite ambitious, I run a daily check.

Elaborate, please…

It sounds really childish, but every night before I go to bed, I do a sort of self-accounting, I list my mistakes, my ‘achievements’ for the day…As childish as it sounds, it’s a great self-check and a great reminder of direction. I go to bed with a clear conscience. I don’t keep IOUs with myself. I highly recommend it, by the way.

Something tells me it’s been working out very well for you. My conscience is probably much more muddier than yours, but on your recommendation, let me see if I can get myself to do that two nights in a row.

Not two nights, every night!!

I’m setting out with reasonable expectations, Ghadeer!

You haven’t got forever. See, life is too much random clutter. The essential and important things aren’t always displayed out front, like items in a shop window. The crystal is somewhere in the warehouse, along with all items which are defected, damaged, broken, or downright toxic. You have to rummage through this morass for gold. It’s a long process of sifting, so if you don’t run a periodic check, you might end up feeling overwhelmed by all the junk that surrounds you.  And when that happens, you might be too tempted to give up, hence my cry of caution. Daily catharsis is a better idea than one that happens once a lifetime.

Yes, I guess none of us have any time to waste. It’s now or never.

You can say that again! You see that picture over there, the one with the death scene. It illustrates my sense of urgency. I’ve tried to recreate the finality of the post-death scenario. You’ve got a houseful of mourners, you’ve got the bodies all tied up, and a head full of regrets. Why be stupid and do that? Why not remedy it today? Right now? This very moment? Pick up the phone now, and call the uncle you’ve been meaning to, ring the bell now, and introduce yourself to the neighbor who moved in months ago. Don’t keep meaning to, just get on your feet and do it. Now!

Too stark a reminder? Ghadeer wouldn’t agree. “A house full of mourners, and a head full of regrets. Why live to see that day? Why not do something about it now?”

I want to talk about the actual works now. Some of your pictures have a cartoon-like, comic-like quality. Is that deliberate?

I do that sometimes. In the world of cartoons, there is a departure from reality that is very liberating. It allows one to focus on one particular quality and accentuate it, sometimes at the cost of others. Sometimes, as an artist, you’re actually looking for that kind of imbalance and exaggeration.

You pay a lot of attention to hair, don’t you? It comes in all colours, all shapes, it’s got more energy than the face sometimes. Am I right, or is it my own hair complex talking?

You’re right. Hair is a great carrier of emotions. Look at that girl over there, she’s actually carrying rebellion in her hair. Hair is a vehicle for attitude. Notice how hers just swells up with a life of its own. She’s using it to express what she has been forbidden to with her body or her tongue. Similarly, in other pictures, the hair is almost rainbow-coloured, that is my way of showing peace. In another picture, where the person’s hair is literally standing, it looks skeletal and malnourished,  just like the soul of the person it tops. He has reached the end of his patience, and, like Christ, has been shorn of his spiritual energy and vigor. The thorn-like scraggy hair is a clue to that. Hair is very emotive, I like to use it in all its drama.

Hair is a halo of its own. This girl carries rebellion in her hair,
almost like an electric charge. She’s probably using it to express
things she has otherwise been forbidden to.

The African face is a great page both to read from, and to draw on. “In its simplicity and expressiveness, it is unparalleled.”

I see visible African influences. Any special affinity?

Yes, I have a special affinity for the tribal way of being and living. It’s very unpolluted, very simple, and very close to nature. Because of their closeness to nature, they exist at a level of emotional purity and simplicity which is completely unknown to us cityfolk. Their needs are so basic that they’re far from the ills of civilization. I love their strength of spirit and the character of their simplicity. And then, the African face, it’s like a canvas……so natural, so transparent. All the urban attitudes of hypocrisy, pretending to be what one is not, putting on a new face for every occasion, it is so not in their grain, they’re so in synch with their emotional core and so at ease with themselves that their face is like an open book.  It just offers emotion on a platter, no dirty trickery, no guessing games, no urban masquerade.

If you notice, tribal culture is based on a culture of contact – contact with one’s natural instincts, contact with one’s nature, one’s neighbor, one’s clan. I’m almost convinced that this closeness is therapeutic, it’s a cleanser in itself. The self-loss and corruption sets in only when one strays away. In straying away from each other, we stray away from ourselves.

In that order?

Not necessarily. I just wish to stress that they’re interconnected and feed on each other. Once the loss sets in, the order is inconsequential.

Ghadeer, writing the review for your work, I felt like I was harping on the same chord over and over again. Connect, connect with yourself, connect with others. Writing it, I felt like it was too self-evident a truth to need so much explanation and so much repetition. I have the same feeling now. We’re talking about the same thing over and over again. Could it really be that hard to understand?!

Look around you, what do you think? Look at the way people seem to exist in their self-created mini-worlds, their cocoons, both physically and mentally, look at how they co-exist in the same room without as much as feeling the need to say hello to each other, to smile, to connect. I’m not saying it’s their fault. Something about the way we’re forced to live just brings us to this point. We become conscious of the disconnect only when we’re in the thick of it. It’s not their fault yet, but it will begin to be their fault if they don’t pay heed to my message, or any other message that brings their attention to this point. I disagree with you completely there. I don’t think you fathom even remotely the extent of this disconnect and cold-heartedness. It wouldn’t be excessive if the message was screamed through loudspeakers all over the world every hour, trust me!

I stand corrected. Before we part, pick a favourite painting, then I’ll pick mine.

Hmm, mine will have to be this one right behind.


Because it represents the man-woman relationship in a light of tenderness, passion, and as one of co-dependence.

Yes, the way they form a circle with the forms of their limbs suggests that they complete each other.

Like two halves of an apple. I’m quite sick of the way the man-woman relationship has been clichéd and impoverished by excessive mediatization. The fact of the matter is that they exist in peaceful interdependence. They need each other by way of completion, in a non-egoistic way, a need which is devoid of any shame, quite unlike anything in the media. The whole talk about rights, exploitation, demands and such is a turn-off. They complete each other, so they seek other, and are whole together. It’s simple, it’s natural. You can complicate it endlessly and falsify it so much that at the end of the day, you no longer know what you’re looking for in ‘the other half’.
So, which is your favourite?

This one.  


Firstly, because I can relate to his hair situation! On a serious note, I like how you portray his agony, and how his spirit is drained, and how his body is limp, Christ-like.

He is drained, as you say, because he is trying to fulfill the demands of those around him. There are so many people who have a claim on his time, his energy, his finances, that at the end, he’s nailed to the cross of their expectations, sacrificed at the altar of greed, like a Christ, indeed.

Spent like Christ, hair standing out like thorns.

Any concluding words, Ghadeer?

Ahem, yes, but I don’t want to hear you say that I’m repeating myself.

Oh, is it that again?

You bet it is! As I said, I can’t stress that enough. Let me hear you say it though, just to make sure you were listening…

One word: contact, connection. Contact with yourself and with others.

Good. I hope you’ll spread the message. You’re a link in the chain. We’re all links in the chain, so between all of us, let’s keep the flame of human warmth burning.

– Naima Rashid

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