Latitude 53


Madhi Neamah | Rhythms Humanitarian

November 21, 2014– January 17, 2015

Madhi Neamah 1.jpg

Opening reception | Friday, November 21 at 7 pm

Iraqi painter Madhi Neamah came to Edmonton in 2011 and received the Edmonton Arts Council Cultural Diversity in the Arts award in 2013, after having worked and taught in Iraq and Libya for years. The paintings of Rhythms Humanitarian deal with the legacy of surrealism and the landscape, and comprise Neamah's first exhibition in Canada.

Omar Reyes on Madhi Neamah’s Rhythms Humanitarian: “Can we never truly leave the place we call home?”

Stepping into an artist’s world is an act of mutual trust. Both the viewer and the artist enter into a temporary relationship where both take turns in listening and sharing. Some might say it’s a conversation. My initial instinct when I walked into Madhi Neamah’s exhibit was to mute my analytical brain in order to hear what he was saying. The better I was able to silence the rational voice, the clearer I could interact honestly with the landscapes that were in front of me.

Snow has a way of putting a pause to everything. Trees, shrubs, land; they all lay covered by winter’s blanket. There is a type of stillness to this season that sometimes lulls our senses into a state of hibernation. You might call this liminality. We are neither here nor there; we are in between. It is precisely this sense that I felt when I progressed through each of Neamah’s paintings. It’s as if he’s home, but not quite home yet. Minarets that speckle all over the Middle East can be seen in the background of some of his art. What’s striking is that they overlook the rolling hills of the prairies. Is Neamah hinting that we can never truly leave the place we call “home”, no matter where we are geographically?

As much as each canvas captures a distinct place, I couldn’t help but feel as if Neamah is attempting to reconcile themes of isolation and belonging. One particular piece had a silhouette hidden amidst the splash of dazzling colours. Another one had a person’s body forming part of the landscape and extending beyond the confines of the canvas where a conscious cut is made on the matte to accommodate the head. Part of the aim of surrealism is to liberate that part of us that is often held hostage by the rational in order to reconcile reality with fantasy. The spheres that are present in a majority of the artwork seem at once ominous, but with time they appear in harmony to the surroundings they inhabit.

There is an attention to detail in his work that you cannot overlook. I’m not convinced everything is a representation of something specific. Instead, I think he takes in the new culture in which he finds himself and becomes familiar with it on the canvas. What might look like a golf course might not actually be that. Instead, he wants to give us new eyes to engage and experience the familiar.

Great art never resolves a question. Instead, it prompts us to ask deeper ones. Neamah does an exquisite job of disorienting us just enough to cause a ripple of wonder in an otherwise predictable existence. I kept revisiting several of his paintings because I couldn’t understand what I was seeing; yet I enjoyed the feeling of not knowing. Questions about my own identity as a foreigner in this country surfaced unexpectedly. The connection between land and identity seemed to resound with more clarity. Maybe, if for no other reason, I will return to this exhibit and explore further the implications of these questions.


Omar Reyes is a local writer, blogger, runner, and inner-city worker for the Bissell Centre.

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