Nafs: breathing – solo art exhibition at Grahamstown Arts Festival

Nafs: breathing

To observe the unhindered flow of breath within and without my body, is not just to observe the flow of energy at the nexus of being as I experience it, but it is also a moment of vital creativity. Cultivating the ability to be a silent and concentrated witness of my natural flow of breath is to allow the rhythm of life-force to author moments in my everyday life. This letting go in the presence of being is a freeing up of the boundaries and blockages that hinder my expression, my knowing, my reflection. This letting go is a practice of everyday life, when my feet touch the floor in certain silence and I am present, here – grounded within and connected by breath without. Each moment experienced in this way cascades into a greater moment, a rupture in life that allows vital creativity to flow throughout. This is my practice of yoga. This is my being,



creating and connecting: transcendent and interscendent.


In early Arabic poetry and philosophy the word nafs means ‘self’ or ‘soul’. Commonly connected to the word ruh, meaning ‘breath’ or ‘wind’, nafs is regarded as the dynamic power breathed into a person’s body at the beginning of life. This is the moment of ultimate creativity and vitality. The first breath remains within us and is the soul and reality of human being.

Nafs and ruh have been fused together over time to produce the term nafas, which is understood in contemporary Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Malay and Indonesian as ‘breath’ or ‘breathing’. The word has multiple interpretations and colloquial meanings including that of a ‘second wind’ or ability to endure difficulties, and a particular flare or adept skill for an activity one does with personal style. In Sufism, the mystical current of Islam, nafas denotes a sense of ‘freedom’.

The free breath of creative being.









Seven flowing saron robes burning with energy and the power of knowledge passed down from yogi to yogi. I painted these specifically for the exhibition space – upstairs from Maxwell’s restaurant. They lined the staricase and drew one into the body of the exhibition, set alight by the sunlight streaming through the window all afternoon.

Since I spent 10months at sea in 2005 I always painted water and seascapes – as though engrained in my psychi. However, over the past year or two as my yoga practice as taken over and expanded my everyday life, my seascapes have begun to rupture and the distinction between water and sky has unravelled.

Over time my seascapes became more bold, not just in terms of movement and vital expression of the unfolding processes I was undergoing, but also in terms of colour. My palate began to include the warmer base chakra colours of red and orange.

This is the boldest and last structured seascape. I felt as though the horizon resembled a yoga mat and the movement was me reaching upwards and outwards. The colours of the ‘wave’ are that of the chakras.

These two moments are when the need for and comfort of structure fall away and the pure energy and expression of lightness felt takes over the canvas.

These two pieces are entitled five words because they are a gift for the person who largely insprired and enabled this exhibtion. I was given five words to work with and the instruction to create something that scares me; extends me. This was when I started to not just deconstruct the ‘landscape’ but also play around with breaking up the canvas into more confined and concentrated expressions of energy flow.

The unfolding of colour and lightness expanded in size as these very large canvases began to take over my living space. I worked with time – layering the paint at specific moments to create texture on the wet, tacky and smooth-dry surfaces. 

Unravelling of space, time and structure

The motif throughout the exhibition – the circular expansion of colour with the palate knife – completely takes over in this painting. It feels very feminine and almost floral – the explicit use of pink here is a first in my work

One of three painted at the same time, this is part of the final ‘rupture’ or expression of the circular motif and emboldening colour palate that strucutures the narrative throughout this exhibition.

The sense of elavation becomes more apparent in the final ‘rupture’.

The final and centre piece of the exhibition. The sense of the unfolding motif being blown and lifted right off the canvas in the last breath – nafs – of creativity.


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