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Internationally-acclaimed artist Thajba Mohamed Afdhal Najeeb has poured her heart and soul in her upcoming series of colourful canvases in a bid to pay homage to a Persian poem and honour her beloved brother.
In October last year, the Najeeb family suffered a tragic loss when 38-year old Ali, suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack. It left everyone who knew him in a state of despair, shock and disbelief.
His sister Thajba, a 40-year-old Ibn Khuldoon National School (IKNS) IB art teacher and head of the visual arts department for the high school, started developing a sketchbook aimed at honouring her younger brother’s memory.
“I started the sketchbook in November because I wanted to document stories about him,” said the mother-of-two, known for her vibrant art featured on canvases, abayas, perspex boxes and other materials.
“I collected pictures of him on his own as well as with family members and friends and asked different people to write their stories about him. I wanted this to be like a memoir about him for future generations.
“However, I felt the sketchbook wasn’t enough. Also, every time I opened the book and saw the pictures, I’d cry. I had so many things going on in my head and I knew the only place to take it out on positively would be in my paintings.”
In January, Thajba decided to challenge herself artistically by stepping out of her comfort zone and painting something completely different.
The Bahraini, with Pakistani roots, explained: “You know I’ve always been inspired by my love for Lahore. My collection called My love affair with Lahore has been ongoing for seven years now. But this time, I wanted to challenge myself with something that’s so out-of-the-box that it terrifies me.
“The Love Affair collection is a longing for my identity but this series is a longing for my brother because I miss him so much. It’s the only way I could express my emotions.”
The concept for her expressive series was developed even further when she decided to use Farid ud-Din Attar’s poem for inspiration. The Conference of the Birds or Speech of the Birds is a Persian poetry book created by the Sufi poet. The title is taken directly from the holy Quran where Suleiman (Solomon) and Dāwūd (David) are said to have been taught the language or speech, of the birds.
In the book, the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their sovereign, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simurgh (which is a benevolent, mythical bird in Persian mythology and literature). The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represents a human fault which prevents human kind from attaining enlightenment.
Thajba, a co-founder for Artology Bahrain art studio in Saar, said: “So the series is called 12. I kept it simple. I just thought 12 hours, 12 months so 12 paintings.
“And, I love the Sufi poetry book and birds. In my first painting, you will see one bird and one woman. Then in the second there will be two birds and two women and so on it goes until it reaches 12. And of course, all the birds are different in each painting and my number one painting features the wisest of them all- the hoopoe.
“The birds and women are all interconnected through a single line as they are all single line drawings. Also, it’s not just the same brush strokes, there are details and layering involved as I use mixed mediums such as acrylic, paper and acrylic markers.
“I have scribbles and words on paper that I’ve torn up and added to my pieces such as saying ‘miss you Ali’. The art has been very therapeutic and it’s coming out as a beautiful expression.
“They aren’t cohesive right now but I think what makes them cohesive are the colours I’ve used, the scribbles, name and words.”
Artist Jamil Naqsh inspired the birds and artist Janet Skates motivated the chaotic background of colours and patterns.
Thajba also added slogans from Pakistan’s Women’s Day march like ‘Warm your own food’ on the side of one of her canvases. Not wanting to limit her art either, she did not stick to a one-size-fits-all canvas.
“I didn’t inhibit myself with sizes this time,” she added. “I wanted the chaos in my head on canvas. Even if smaller paintings have more birds; who cares? I will make them fit. My paintings boast bold lines, bright colours and motivational words.”
With four paintings at Artology pretty much done, two still in progress in IKNS and six more to go, Thajba hopes to be ready to exhibit by the end of the year. Her curator in Pakistan has already slotted her in for December but she hopes to showcase her work in Bahrain first.
“This series has been fuelled by my love for my brother and I’d like to share it with family and friends, and others that have been sharing their love for Ali, in Bahrain first,” she said.
“This series has been off the charts for me and truly challenging. I can’t wait to see how it will all end. Only the paintings will let me know when they are done.”
For details, follow @tnajeeb on Instagram.