artist interview #6: naila marei

"Zebra Girl in a Twist" one of my many favourites!

Naila Marei is an artist in every sense of the word. Through her distinctive and eccentric style, Marei mainly paints portraits of people from her imagination. By inherently exploring their essential state of being, her portraits come to life, and their presence becomes heightened with the stories and identities she translates within each character she creates.

With such a keen emphasis on portraiture and her fascination with the human race, Marei's insights into the current human experience combined with her raw, emotive brushwork and dynamic colour palette reveal the infinite ways of being. By sentimentalising her aesthetic and manifesting the subtle nuances of these characters, her paintings therefore contain an otherworldliness that you desperately want to become a part of. And this interview may take you a step closer in that direction.


"Girl & Cat"

Ink on paper


"The Girl in Red"

Ink on paper


Tell me a little bit about your beginnings. How did your journey as an artist begin? Did you always know you wanted to pursue art as a career?

I've been drawing since I was a little child. I spent all my time drawing people's faces with a blue biro pen on those little square papers my parents had beside the telephone. So I guess drawing was just always something I did.

I don't see it being my career, but more of a basic extension of who I am. If I were to put it philosophically, I'd say it’s the way I express myself, in a way that words often fail me.

Who are the artists that inspire you?

Alice Neel and Henri Matisse.

Each one of your paintings comprises an impeccable and diverse colour palette. What informs the colour palette of your work? Where do you draw the inspiration?

The colours are an act of impulse. I actually don't wear much colour when I dress, but with my pieces I guess I get the urge to do otherwise. 

What is your creative process like? Is there a certain routine you follow to get the creative juices flowing?

I usually paint or draw on impulse and its usually a quick outburst. I hardly leave and come back  to finish the piece. But I do get inspired whenever I leave my comfort zone. I think inspiration lies in the smallest and strangest of places; so I just try to keep an open mind to anything that moves me, and then that will be my muse.

What are the challenges you face when making art? How do you overcome creative mind blocks?

Creative mind blocks are always happening. Its not easy to be inspired, especially when living a very fast paced city life. I used to have a constant battle trying to defeat these blocks, but now I'm learning to accept that its better to work on finding new inspiration, than fighting the blocks. Even calling them mental blocks, blocks me even more, so I've learned to accept that I will produce my work organically. (Even if it means making much less art than I'd like) Or waiting for the right moments for things to just happen on their own. But of course that still requires a bit of discipline and effort from my end.

Do you have a favourite piece you have created? Which one?

Yes, a portrait of my grandmother. (Right) 

I love that piece because I usually don't draw people I know; they're always people from my imagination. So this was the first piece I painted of someone real and someone I love. I'm very attached to it. 

What role does the audience have in your process? Do you think of how the viewer will respond to your work?

The audience is very important to me, in the sense that I appreciate those who appreciate my work. And for them, I always wish to continue producing more. I love it when people tell me they connect to a piece and that they relate to the story and subject of it. For me this is gold! Especially because my ultimate aim is to have people connect with themselves and their world through my work, and feel understood. 

Fun fact: Other than the esteemed cured beef, Bastirma also means suppression in Turkish.

What is an accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

I am proud of my most recent exhibition, "Bastirma." It went well and we ate a lot of corn!

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work? 

I’m motivated when I see the response of others, when I am inspired by something around me, and when I feel passionate about a topic that I don't want to be left unheard. 

In your opinion, how do you think we can improve/bring more attention to the art scene in Egypt? Is the Egyptian society even ready?

We are ready. The Egyptian art scene is filled with so much talent and such a genuine loud voice. The world needs to see and hear much more of it. 

If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?

Judgement. I would love for my work to teach people to be empathetic and to challenge their own ideals and opinions. I hope my work can encourage freedom, fluidity and hope.

What is your ultimate goal with your work? What do you want your work to do?

To challenge the viewer. To discuss issues we disregard in our society; and to make conversation. Many of us, in our circle in Cairo live extremely ironic lives. We are all so close and familiar, yet so distant and judgmental. I hope my work gives voice to the voiceless, gives people the room to be themselves and the support to anyone feeling stuck due to societal norms and expectations. 

"Chest Issues"

Ink on paper (A4)


What milestones/goals/ambitions are you working on achieving through your work? Where do you want your art to take you?

I hope to exhibit regularly; globally maybe, and just make a good impact on people.

If you could own one work of art, what would it be?

Decorative Figure on an ornamental Ground by Henri Matisse.

If you had to pick 3 artists (dead or alive) to invite for a dinner, who would you choose?

Egon Schiele, Frida Kahlo and Rob Phillips. 

For people who don’t know, how can they acquire your work?

I should be having annual exhibitions in Cairo that I'll advertise on my Instagram page when the time comes, and other than that, I always have work I sell on Instagram as well. If anyone wants to follow @nailastudio, they can contact me there. I also sometimes have some of my work showing at Holm Cafe in Zamalek.

A glimpse of the Bastirma exhibition

Credits: Lina AlSharif

And finally, any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

I really enjoyed making the small ink works in the "Bastirma" exhibition, so I hope to focus on that style and make an entire collection similar to it. I have an idea for it, but you'd have to wait and see. It will involve women and warriors!



Ending yet another artist interview with a tease, but that's all the more reason for you to follow Naila and her work and show your support towards some local talent.

What did you think of the interview? Are there any more questions you'd like to ask?Comment your thoughts!

For more information on Naila Marei and her work, visit her website here.

All Images courtesy of Naila Marei.