Which artists did you learn about at school? Probably Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Van Gogh, right? Can you remember learning about women artists, though? Or even artists who weren’t born in Europe or North America? Chances are that your artistic horizons didn’t widen until you were much older. Well, all that’s about to change thanks to Nadine Nour El Din, who is creating books aimed at kids with a broader view of art history. Inspired by the arts of the Arab world, Nadine Editions is a series of art activity books focusing on artists from the Middle East and North Africa for children and adults of all ages. We spoke to Nadine to hear about what inspired her to work on the books, her artistic inspirations and the future of kids art education.
When did you first become interested in art?
I’ve been interested in art for as long as I can remember. I used to really enjoy art classes and activities in school when I was younger, and my mother would encourage me with art books, and activities that we would do together. It wasn’t until I took an elective introduction to art class in undergrad that I became more seriously interested in art. The class was unconventional and inspiring, taught by acclaimed visual artist Basma Alsharif at the American University in Cairo.
What gave you the idea to start Nadine Editions?
It started with the research I was doing for my MA (in Arts Management and Cultural Policy at Goldsmiths, University of London). I was looking into cultural policy and contemporary arts practices in Egypt and I found it really difficult to narrow down my topic because there were so many artists that I wanted to research. Through the research process, I realised that there were so many artists from the Arab world and wider region that I wish I had known about when I was younger and so I decided to start Nadine Editions to create the books that I wish I had access to growing up. Due to the current global circumstances, and the urgency I felt to share this important research, I was especially motivated to create activity packs and digital content for people stuck at home.
Why do you think we need to change up art education for kids?
Art education for kids tends to be focused on the western canon, and primarily on western, male artists. A lot of the art books that I grew up with were about artists like Monet and Van Gogh, and those tend to be the artists whose work I find familiar and that I can relate to. I think that arts education for kids needs to change to include more artists from various parts of the world, and present more diverse art historical narratives in an equally accessible way.
How did you go about picking the artists featured in your books?
The artists that I’m featuring are all artists from the Arab world and wider region, whose work I love, who I wanted to research and learn more about. My goal is to present their lives and work in a way that is true to their practice and accessible to kids and adults of all ages, and so in this process I am learning so much about their lives to be able to convey their stories in a way that honours their work. I started with a few ideas, but since I began working on nadine editions, my list of artists is continuously expanding.
How have kids responded?
There’s been such a fantastic response from kids so far. I am still developing the books, but since I released my activity packs including the introduction to each book, activities, and colouring pages, I have been able to test out the material. People are eager to read more, and the colouring pages have been the biggest hit! They’re fun to do, both kids and adults have been enjoying colouring them in and sending in submissions. Building on this response, I recently created a colouring book for the Barjeel Art Foundation featuring a selection of works from their collection. It’s had the most amazing response, with a few educators opting to include it in their forthcoming classes!
Who are your artistic inspirations?
My inspirations for each book are the artists that they’re about. My favourite artists tend to be the ones who do so many different things and don’t restrict themselves to one form of output. I relate to that a lot because my practice is so varied (I’m a writer, researcher, visual artist, designer, arts consultant, curator and project manager). I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books for research and I especially love ‘The Little Black Fish’ a well known Persian children’s book by Samad Behrangi, published in 1967 and banned in pre-revolutionary Iran. The beautiful illustrations by Farshid Mesghali won so many awards, including the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1974. I’m currently immersed in the inspiring worlds of Inji Efflatoun, Jewad Selim, and Seif and Adham Wanly – the subjects of my first 3 books.
Which artists did you wish you knew more about when you were a kid?
I wish I had known more about artists from the Arab world when I was younger. One of my earliest art memories is from a class in year 2 where our teacher Mrs. Phillips asked us to paint our own versions of Monet’s ‘Red Boats at Argenteuil’. I wish we had also had the chance to learn about artists like Inji Efflatoun, for example. Efflatoun was an Egyptian artist, feminist, and political activist. She had such a fascinating life and oeuvre and is considered a pioneer of modern Egyptian art.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
The future feels so uncertain right now, but focusing on work allows me to be hopeful. I am planning for this series of books to highlight many more culturally significant figures, focusing on various disciplines beyond the visual arts. I am also developing a book that I am really excited about, with a celebrated contemporary artist, who will help me tell her story to younger audiences. I hope to see my series of books in schools, galleries, and museums, and if just one person learns about these incredible artists through my books, then I will feel like I’ve done my job in sparking positive change.
Interview by Lizzy Vartanian