While I am was hanging my first paintings on the wall, I asked one of my colleagues to help me, which she did. We stretched the large paper on the wall and I started to nail it using my powerful German staple-gun.

“What I like about you is that you’re not precious about your work,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say at the time, though we talked awhile, for almost half an hour before she left.

But her comment didn’t leave me. What she likes about me is that I am “Not Precious” about my work.

I was troubled about that, because I, and every single person who really knows me, would know that there is nothing more precious to me than my work. But I understand what she meant, when she saw me hammering my painting with a big piece of German steel.

But let’s think about that for a minute. Painting was a spiritual, sacrificial act much earlier than recognising “art” as a concept. What we regard as “art” is a concept that more or less wasn’t really established before Aristotle. And if you look a the “primitive” practices in which art was rooted you will understand what I mean. Take for example something like the “voodoo-type” doll known in Egypt since the ancient Egyptians as “Fasokha.”

You’ll find that the creation of the fasokha doll is not any Aristotelian mimetic representation, nor is it a manifestation of beauty. The doll is always a representation of a negative, an evil eye, an evil person, evil spirits. And although making the doll involves effort and some level of craft, and takes place within ceremonies, yet it is not an object for preservation. It will be poked with pins and needles and set on fire. Because the whole ritual is about either healing the self or healing others. This includes both the process of making and the process of breaking.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to set my work on fire like a fasokha doll, or a Wicker Man. What I am saying is, that my work is often a representation of the dark corners of the soul, and for the soul to heal, this dark corner has got to be exposed to the light. And the evil or the negative elements that were once lurking within have got to come out into the light and like the ancient classic vampire story, by exposing it to the light you finish it, and then you get on with living.

That’s what I think Art was meant to do. But my dear colleague and most others in this contemporary art world, was talking about art as a commodity product and the artist as a commercial enterprise.

And so then I think that my answer would have to be, “No, I’m not precious.”


About nazirtanbouli

British-Egyptian artist Nazir Tanbouli works in drawing, painting, book art and mural. He is based in London.
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