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Cities in the Heart

On view through September 25, 2021

Nazareth, Nawaf Soliman

About Nawaf Soliman

Displacement has challenged Nawaf Soliman to form a direct connection to the many cities he has inhabited. Despite the fact that he has developed a love for those cities, political upheavals repeatedly drove him to move from one city to the next in his formative years. 

Soliman left his home in Aqraba, Palestine after the Israeli occupation in 1967. He and his family then moved to a new place bearing the name Zarqa in Jordan. They were then uprooted from that city by Black September, also known as the Jordanian Civil War, which was fought primarily between 16 and 27 September 1970. Because of that war, Soliman left in 1970 and took refuge with his family in Kuwait where he lived as a student and a worker. He claims that when “you start your career early, your chance to build a memory with the place diminishes.

My personality developed, and my passion for photography, drawing, and calligraphy was ignited at age 30 while living in Kuwait. But then, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War (1990-1991) set in motion another move for me. I headed west to Washington, DC to begin again. DC requires effort, diligence, and hard work. It can drain one’s ability to engage in restoring an old memory or in building a new sense of place. The days are filled with work and congestion, children and duties. The ability to create art seems like a luxury and when I made that possible, I also had to consider how it could find its way to the market. Nevertheless, I made the time to develop artistic roots by foregoing sleep, reading poetry, and learning about the memories poets formed with the cities in which they lived and visited.” 

Soliman visited Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, Baghdad, Haifa, Jaffa, Akka, Nazareth, Ramallah, and Nablus. He studied and reflected upon the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, Tawfiq Ziyad, Ahmed Dahbour, Samih al-Qasim. He felt great gratitude for poetry and these poets. He also felt the emptiness of his own memories; they lack an intimate and deep relationship with places. Soliman tries to compensate for it by presenting related works of art, many of which depend on the vowel composition. In every city nameplate, its layout, design, and colors have no chance of error. The type of calligraphy, whether it is in the modified Thuluthy script, Sponge Pen (which he invented), Diwani, Kufi, Persian Nasta’liq, Andalusian script, or innovative letters inspired by other languages, has been modified to fit his interpretation of the history of each city. He enjoys learning the rules established by calligraphers and bringing his own contemporary twists to the works through the use of new materials and tools. “The curves are many in the names of these cities,” writes Soliman. “They are not curves imposed by the line, but by a feeling of nostalgia, and a longing for tender turns: curving pregnant bellies, feeding from the mother’s breast, curling in sleep in search of warmth, turning in joy. I’m preoccupied with the rounded details of the bodies, the curvature of prayer, the steadfastness and pride of the first letter in Arabic (Alif), the supplication in the letter (Yaa). Those curves found in letters are a praise of thanks to the creator and a marker for my memories, which have found a time and a place.”