At the forefront of Middle Eastern Contemporary art, Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr has, since the 1990s, developed a highly expressive conceptual and visual vocabulary and has used different mediums ranging from painting to photography, video, sculptures and installation. Drawing on a wide range of inspirations that he finds in the streets of his hometown Cairo, Islamic architecture and calligraphy, popular culture and traditions, Sufism and the social and political issues of the contemporary world, Nasr creates unique works that transcend notions of place and time to become universal. At first glance, his works reveal a politically engaged discourse as his art evokes conflicts which alludes to the unrest in the Middle East, yet his works express his desire for survival and unity between the people and across borders while questioning the human condition.
A witness of the restive political context of the Middle East, Moataz Nasr started his Map series in 2008 - of which Ice Cream Map is an outstanding example (sold at Christie's Dubai in October 2013) - and simultaneously began using matchsticks as his source material. In the present work, Under Fire, over 12,000 matches are carefully arranged in the shape of the map of Iraq and subsequently evoke the vulnerability of the territory as the matches are ready to be lit, essentially lighting Iraq on fire. The intention is undeniably to convey a sense of danger and instability and express the helpless feeling of a nation in times of war and conflict.
The metaphor is evident; fire can refer to the warmth of a home or allude to the fire of survival as it equally hints, subconsciously, at its destructive and lethal attribute, potentially turning all that surrounds it into ashes. In the present work, the video facing the map-shaped matchsticks is a display of the map Nasr has created on fire and reveals how the matches, once playful and aesthetically appealing, can destroy the beauty of the world in a short amount of time. Freedom and peace are only conditional, they hang on a thin rope and can easily be shattered. Fire here could equally be a metaphor for the current turmoil in the Middle East and as such, Under Fire alludes to the fragility of borders and reveals a myriad of possibilities for the destiny of a nation.