Growing up in Algeria, Nathaly's love of art came from her father, who was a patron of the arts, supporting Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian artists. They would visit art galleries together, and admire the work of local artists who would often pass by their house to show their latest work. Her passion for embroidery also started very young, when she used to watch her mother and grandmother embroider her dolls' dresses, and every Easter, Nathaly and her family would visit the nuns from the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of La Salette in the Algerian Sahara, who taught embroidery to the women of remote villages across the region.
It seemed that art was such a big part of my life every since a young child. I loved sharing my father's excitement about art and artists, and listening to endless conversations about where they got their inspiration, and what they had planned for their next exhibition. Alongside this, there was also my love for the Arabic language, which I never really mastered but I always took delight in writing in Arabic and playing with the shape of the beautiful letters.
I left North Africa in the late '80s and moved to Paris for my studies. I was always attracted to fashion and history so, when I got the opportunity to work with a costume designer on Period movies for French TV, I immediately dropped my initial career path as an interpreter to become her assistant.
After working with her for a few years I moved to set design before deciding to start my own company and moved to Australia. I had always had a passion for Aboriginal Art, where every painting can be 'read,' as it is full of symbolic meaning. In Australia, I created the Funkin’ Bridge; promoting upcoming French designers, jewellers and artists. I was lucky to meet galleries supporting Aboriginal artists, as well as artists themselves, and this experience fulfilled my dream of having a better understanding for this unique art.
When I moved back to Paris, I freelanced as a set designer in various film productions, met my Australian husband, and moving to Bahrain in 2009, where my focus shifted back to embroidery. It was then that I met Mohamed Sharkawy. I could see such a strong, simple, perhaps naive quality in his art, and felt it was so perfect to be transposed into embroidery; I feel embroidery tells so much about the heart and soul of a culture. For example, textile weaving, which Bahrain is famous for all over the Gulf region, used to be an old local tradition, and up until the late 1980s that were still villages living from this craft.
In 2015, I created the Yalla Habibi label. My initial idea was to design embroidered cushions that blend Bahraini traditional textiles with motifs by local artists. I saw that only few people visited art galleries here in the Kingdom, and so I thought that this would be a really great way to promote artistes and to make art less intimidating, as well as promoting the textile weavers. And that is how the idea of Art For The Couch came about.
After working on the first collection by other artists, I started having my own creative ideas and designed a Hamsa and an Arabic Alphabet. Both were strongly inspired by my childhood in North Africa. I have designed a different Hamsa each year for collection; it is a recurring inspiration and tribute to my childhood memories. The Hamsa, also called Hand of Fatima, was present everywhere, from jewellery to paintings and traditional crafts. I also loved the Hamsa on cars and painted on the backs trucks; it is believed to be a strong protective symbol. This year has been the release of the fourth Yalla Habibi collection, and I have four different Hamsas so far.
It took me a long time to feel that I was actually capable of expressing myself in an artistic way. I have also always enjoyed promoting and collaborating with others. My actual personal work makes me feel lonely at times; so I feel very glad that I can be exploring both my own artistic expression, as well as collaborations.
I am so touched when an artist I admire trusts me enough to give me an artwork (usually a computer file of a drawing) which I will then work on to adapt it to the very different medium of embroidery. Often some small elements from the original work will have to disappear in the embroidery process, so there is a lot of going back and forth and discussions until we have a finished product we are both happy with. With my own designs however, it is a lot easier because I design with the final embroidery in mind.
This year, I finally deepened my own artistic work and worked on my first artwork commissioned by the Nest. It was Bayan Kanoo from Al Riwaq Gallery who really pushed me to take part; she always believed in me and I owe her a great deal in finding the confidence to come into my own, artistically.
I was inspired by their theme 'Appeal!' which called on artists to modify general perceptions by shining a different light on them. I have always been interested in the writings of Carl Gustav Jung and his principle of archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. In a nutshell, according to Jung, we all have a shared expression of thoughts and ideas, no matter where we come from. Of course, embroidery was my preferred medium. So, I found a wonderful carpenter (Nedhal from the Noohs) who designed two giant embroidery hoops for me (1.3 m in diameter). For the first hoop, I designed a large map of the world, with its borders and continents. For the second hoop, I designed another map of the world made of hundreds of different triangular patterns. Jung used the recurrence of the same symbols and patterns in very different cultures, all through the ages in his book Man and his Symbols as a way to prove collective (un)consciousness.
I found that triangles have been used in most handicraft and art all over the world. So, my statement was that unlike the preconceived idea that we are all diametrically opposite depending on our race, culture and religion, we actually have a shared humanity with universal thought patterns and expressions that binds us together. In the Nest installation, the two hoops were shown hanging next to each other, one being the general classic perception of the world map, and the second the mental perception of a world where all humanity is actually linked together by their inspiration and creativity.
For the embroidery, I worked with an immensely talented young lady called Mariam Shana’a from Thread of Identity. She is half-Palestinian and half-Ukranian, and embroidery really runs in her blood.
Having seen my work at The Nest, my friend, the photographer and artist Camille Zakharia, recommended me to Janet Rady, who was curating an exhibition for Art Bahrain and for Caravan Arts. It was a very inspiring and empowering experience to be chosen alongside eighteen other Bahrain-based artists. We were given the theme of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. His writings, and his universal message of harmony and peace, have been a source of reflection throughout my life, so I was excited to produce a piece for this exhibition. I designed a compass, with an eye at the center, contemplating the night skies and the moon cycles, and all the symbols representing the themes that touched me most in his writing. It is a very personal piece that really reflects my own spiritual journey. For this project I collaborated again with Mariam Shana’a, who is an artist herself; it took her over sixty hours of work, patiently embroidering thousands of beads, to translate the night skies and all I had envisioned. CLICK HERE to see Bahrain Arts Magazine's profile of all the artists featured in the CARAVAN exhibition.
In the future, I hope to be able to continue collaborating with various local artists, the Bahraini weavers, as well as the Syrian artisans who bring my designs to life on wooden objects like boxes and trays. And I am also really looking forward to the moments where I can detach myself from designing functional objects and focus on my personal artistic work. I have an installation project with hoops of different sizes that I have just started working on, and I am setting up a more functional studio for myself this summer.
In general, literature is a great source of inspiration for me. Putting a written idea into a visual concept is a wonderful challenge. I also find a lot of inspiration in fashion, in traditional art forms, and in browsing antique shops and flea markets. But then the shape of a cloud gives me ideas, as does watching my daughter grow. Inspiration is just feeling alive and feeling love. As the French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle said, “The secret of art is love.” I think that is also why I enjoy collaborative art so much. I find bringing talents together and sharing ideas is actually an act of love. Seeing the beauty in others brings me pure jubilation!
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