Matters of the H’art

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For Sydney artist Nafisa Naomi, travel, animal conservation and the human condition all have a place in her work

Winning the prestigious Packing Room Prize at the Archibald in 2010 catapulted Nafisa Naomi into the limelight. But even before the win, and since, this talented artist has been busy creating unique works that are a treat for the eyes. Naomi’s creative endeavours include portraits, sculptures and paintings of native flora and animals. Her prolific body of work has grown so much that the commercial art gallery structure of exhibiting an artist’s work for a few weeks each year seemed inadequate to showcase the collection she was creating. So what did Nafisa Naomi do? She bought a building with a shop front in Mosman and started her own gallery!

Hart Matters opened on Military Road in Mosman last month and you cannot go past without stopping to admire the works staring at you from the inviting front window. Always following the dictates of her heart, this Sydney-based artist, born in Mumbai to a Parsi Indian father and Dutch mother, has created a unique balance of art for sale and art for charity. Each piece is completed with passion and precision.

“My inspiration comes from nature,” Naomi says. “I invariably gravitate towards wild life and native flowers but I am also interested in the human condition.” Naomi’s bronze and resin sculptures of the female form express the physical transformation of emotions such as happiness, despair, pensiveness, flippancy, joy, desire, or thought. Another massive work, a multi-panelled mural of Australian native flowers and plants called Regeneration, won Naomi a gold medal at the Florence Biennale in 2007. It is easy to attribute her compulsive use of vibrant colours to her Indian roots, but Naomi thinks her artistic streak may have come from her Dutch grandfather, a master woodcarver.

Nafisa Naomi’s latest project is a travel book capturing scenes she observed around Tuscany, Italy. Renting a motorbike and stopping to draw whatever took her fancy, this amazing book of sketches and paintings on handmade paper was created over the past two years. The Chianciano Biennale in Italy, to be held in September, has invited her to exhibit this unique work. But how to display this art book without its pages being physically handled is the challenge. “It may be in digital form, probably shown on a screen,” says Naomi. “Art work is lost in translation when digitised. The texture, liveliness, size and scale can only be experienced in person, as when one goes into a gallery. Though this travel book cum artwork will translate reasonable well into a digital format, I don’t think any of my other art works will.”

Naomi always prefers to work on site, creating a composition from the objects her eyes see around her, concentrating on a particular aspect of the scene that stokes her interest. “My eyes can pick up more details and contrasts than a photo. I love working on site and am not disturbed by people milling around,” she says. “In general, be it in India or Italy, people are respectful of artists.”

On a visit to Phuket during this Easter break to recharge her batteries, Naomi’s casual elephant drawings drew the attention of an employee at the resort where she was staying. He called his manager and now many of these works will end up being acquired by the resort.

Photos: Craig Piehopa

Naomi’s work has taken her to the jungles of Assam in India, Africa, Borneo and Thailand. She founded the Animal Works charity in 2007 and animal conservation is a cause she holds very close to her heart. Her paintings and drawings of iconic species such as elephants, lions, and orangutans, raise awareness and money for these creatures who cannot combat the worldwide destruction of their habitat and the decimation of their populations by themselves. A whole room in Naomi’s gallery is devoted to animal art works, the proceeds of which support animal rehabilitation.

The Jeans for Genes fundraiser is another cause Naomi supports. Each year celebrities such as Hugh Jackman, Mick Jagger and Cate Blanchett, have donated signed pairs of their jeans which Naomi incorporates into their portraits. These are then auctioned to raise money for the Children’s Medical Research Institute.

“I believe in creating works from the heart and if it connects with people, it is fantastic,” Naomi says.

Her new gallery H’art Matters is all about the passion for art and the passions of the heart, and it reflects Nafisa Naomi’s belief that art truly matters and can make a difference.

Jyoti Shankar
Jyoti Shankar
Jyoti Shankar is a freelance writer and sustainability professional, who is passionate about nature

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