22 Sep 2022 - 28 Oct 2022

The Beautiful Voyage

The Third Line


The Third Line is pleased to announce a solo exhibition by internationally acclaimed artist Youssef Nabil. The Beautiful Voyage presents a curated selection of recent works including photographs of cinematic landscapes and imaginary self-portraits, as well as the regional debut of Nabil’s fourth video, also called The Beautiful Voyage.

Youssef Nabil (b. Egypt, 1972) draws inspiration from the concept of memory and the cinematic universe he grew up admiring in his native country of Egypt. His works’ ethereal aesthetics take from the hand colouring photography technique of the technicolour films. The artist hand-paints each of his black and white photographs, as editions become variations, each a unique version of the artist’s labour.

Bob Colacello has written specially for this exhibition and comments that the uniqueness of Nabil’s practice “lies first in its technique: the superimposition by the artist’s hand of gorgeous saturated colours over impeccably composed silver gelatin prints – of painting over photography, the human over the machine, the timeless over the immediate.”

Taking inspiration from the poem Ithaka (1911) by Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933), this exhibition explores themes of exile, fate and memory through self-portraits and images of melancholic landscapes, as well as Nabil’s fourth video The Beautiful Voyage (2021). Much like the Greek poet, the works offer “an unending voyage across the artist’s imaginary” remarks scholar and curator Dr. Layla S. Diba in her essay for the exhibition. Through this body of work, Nabil takes his viewers on an intimate endless journey; a voyage through the artist’s psyche to places near and dear formed only from his memories of place.

Nabil uses composition to narrate these memories. By adopting split compositions in some of the photographs – No one knows but the Sky, 2019 and Memory of a Happy Place, 2021 – Nabil reveals how we often romanticise our memories and reconstruct them into idealised recollections of a time gone by. In the self-portraits such as What the future holds, 2021 and Connected to you by every Sea, 2021, Nabil has – for the first time – incorporated a layer of transparency into his work. By doing so, the images evoke the artist’s observations on the fragility of life and our fleeting voyage through it.

There is a cinematic quality to Nabil’s vision which is referenced throughout this body of work by the use of text, acting as subtitles. “His enduring interest in film is visualised by a self-portrait inserted into the end credits of a film – as if Nabil’s life was also only a movie” observes Dr. Layla S. Diba.

The artist’s most recent video The Beautiful Voyage (2021) features his muse, the actress Charlotte Rampling and is included in the exhibition. It is the first time the artist both directs and appears in front of the camera as an actor. It is profoundly intimate, as the voice of the artist’s Mother recites Ithaka (1911) – a verse that she read to him as a boy growing up in Cairo and the very poem that inspired this body of work – over scenes of love, life, memory, death and exile. “The verses sing of the importance of life’s journey rather than of its end and set a hopeful tone. The poem is especially poignant since it evokes Nabil’s childhood – a joyful and nostalgic memory of a lost time” observes Dr. Layla S. Diba.

A metaphor for the Mother/Son relationship, the eight-minute autobiographical video also features a monologue delivered by Rampling that tells the artist’s story. Dr. Layla S. Diba writes: “The words are the artist’s own, the first script he has written and published, and represent a moving summation of the wisdom he has acquired through the years as an outsider in an ever-changing and unsettled world, which resonates deeply with many viewers”. The monologue becomes the backdrop to a poignant scene of the artist sitting at the waters edge with the ocean lapping at his feet, facing his audience for the first time, whilst – in the words of Dr. Layla S Diba – “Rampling reassures the artist that he never truly left his loved ones or his country, that life is a journey, a dream, that his true home is movement and that the dead are never truly lost to us.”

To read the full essay by Bob Colacello, click below.

To read the full essay by Dr. Layla S Diba, click below.

Press release from The Third Line