Behind the scenes


Woman with Peony Flower,

Acrylic on canvas 30.0 × 40.0 cm

In light of the global escalation of racial discrimination against non-citizens and people of colour during the COVID-19 pandemic, the artist began pondering the relevance of revisiting the history of science and racism. During her initial exploration, she stumbled upon two poignant narratives: the story of Ota Benga and that of Saartjie Baartman, both emblematic of humanity’s cruelty. These encounters spurred the artist to delve deeper into the subjects of race and slavery. Through this project, Najd aspires to shed light on a topic often shrouded in silence, aiming to illuminate the global history of racial slavery, particularly the plight of people of colour, within their artwork.

In this piece, Nadj’s subject is adorned with a vibrant floral headpiece, juxtaposed against block colours and breaking out of the frame that holds her. A White hand pulls at the skin of a Black face as if removing a mask and revealing a White body under a Black skin. Najd’s figurative paintings demonstrate a reflective artistic process that simultaneously interweaves and unravels the social chasm, juxtaposing the Middle East’s oppressive and conflict-charged context with the West’s utopia of “freedom”, and in doing so creates an open, but critical discourse between two opposing worlds.

Maryam Najd

About the Artist

Maryam Najd (b. 1965, Tehran) lives and works in Antwerp. Her paintings bridge the gap between pure abstraction and thematic figuration, with reoccurring themes including the interplay between the corporeal and the spiritual, juxtaposing veiled femininity and nakedness, concealed beauty, and the visible and the invisible. Najd positions herself within the European tradition of portraiture and still life with an eastern perspective. Never far from her practice are the opposing forces of the conflict-laden context of the Middle East and the western ideal of freedom, and she fosters a critical discourse between these opposing worlds. Her empathetic portrayals of migrants and refugees transcend stereotypes, emphasising human dignity.

Maryam Najd left Tehran at the age of twenty-six to study and live in Belgium. Her work has been featured internationally, at institutions such as M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp and Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky.

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Other Works by Maryam Najd