The Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2016 was a feast for the eyes; I absolutely loved photographing it. But, for all the colour and music and sensory overload, it was one of the quieter artists who stood out for me: Nazir Tanbouli.

Nazir is an Egyptian-born artist, now living in London. For the festival, he brought his ‘drawing performance’ first to the World Museum and then the Bluecoat art centre. In these drawing performances, Nazir creates of a piece of art whilst in a state of mindfulness-like meditation. His art is calligraphy-based, inspired by the Arabic script.

Nazir begins with a huge sheet of plain white paper taped to the floor, and, using a decorator’s paintbrush and extension pole, starts to make calligraphic marks and strokes on the paper in black ink. He then moves around the entire sheet of paper until he’s completely covered it. He’ll be completely absorbed in the work, the piece evolving by itself as time went on. No forward planning, no first draft.

It was really quite mesmerising to watch Nazir moving back and forth, dipping the brush in the ink, making marks until a clean sheet of paper was covered in art. And as someone who finds it harder to express myself with the written language than with my photography, it was inspiring to see him create art out of language. It was great fun photographing him as well; capturing not only the piece of work building up, but Nazir’s movement and concentration. I brought home so many photos – it was an immensely difficult job, whittling this essay down to just a handful of photos.

Nazir Tanbouli crouching down on one knee between two metal poles - one with his denim jacket draped over. He's wearing glasses and a bowler hat.
Nazir Tanbouli


Nazir just starting a piece of work on a long piece of paper in the gallery. There's a crowd of people around him.
That’s the first stroke done. Now to fill the rest of the paper …
Nazir painting with his stick on a long pole. He's stepping across the paper as he paints.
Nazir would step over and on the paper as he worked
Nazir painting. He's reaching behind him to finish a stroke.
Nazir would move about in all sorts of ways while working
The feet of Nazir and some of the crowd around him, and the paper with his brush on it.
Nazir's brush in the pot of ink just next to the paper.
The ink pot. I also loved how patches of wet ink would catch the light coming through the windows
Nazir's brush on the paper making a stroke.
Paintbrush and stroke
A closeup of some of Nazir's equipment, including brushes, a pot of ink and a flask.
The artist’s tools
Nazir next to his painting, holding his brush, looking at the camera, laughing.
Although the art was introspective and meditative, Nazir himself was an engaging performer and took time to explain his work and talk to his audience
Nazir painting. He and an onlooker are out of focus; the focus is on some of his painting in the foreground.
At the Bluecoat

Nazir painting on his paper on the floor. An onlooker behind him is craning his head to see around Nazir at the painting.

Nazir signing his painting.
An artist should always sign their work
Nazir's signature.
The autograph
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