Fitra painting series launch, my Queens Museum studio, and finding the Aida Opera – a Cairo original in the Archives

Last week was the launch of the Fitra: Amber watercolor series on Artfare’s website. The Instagram takeover went brilliantly and I’m so grateful for the love and support I was shown throughout it. I went live to share more about the series with my community and you can still watch the videos on my Facebook page Nsenga Knight, or by clicking here

The Fitra series reflects on a foundational Islamic concept regarding the nature of human beings. According to Islamic teachings all people are born pure and without sin. This pure nature is our “Fitra” and it is key to our connection to our Creator and our divine purpose, our most “authentic” and natural state. Referencing a story in the Book of Sufi Healing about how humanity came to know about healing plants; Amber is one of the ten healing plants, and it is known for its ability to heal our hearts – spiritually and physically. 

A colorful and layered abstract watercolor painting by Nsenga Knight for her Fitra series. Hues of reds, yellow, oranges, amber and pinks
Nsenga Knight, Fitra: Amber (Muruwah), 2022, Watercolor on Archival Clay Board

Like a seed of any plant, it is only through breaking ourselves open and allowing ourselves to shift and be transformed do we reveal our highest purpose, express the best of who we are and share our unique gift with the world. In this series I use the same colors repeatedly in unique ways to express the various possibilities and shifting purposes that even the same color can hold. 

I painted in watercolor because this is the first art medium I recall learning as a child, a time when I was guided solely by my own Fitra. Each painting is named after a child in my family – my own and nieces and nephews – to remind me of the great potential, pure and special nature that we all have.

As you know, I started my two year In Situ Fellowship in Queens Museum in New York in November. I have finally set up my studio, and have been making new works for my Fitra series. There is also another video still up from when I was in my Queens Museum art studio that you can watch here.

I hosted an intimate art salon on Sunday in my studio which was packed with rich conversations and amazing visitors. I will be hosting another salon next week inshaAllah. I’m looking forward to hosting salons regularly, and to having more expansive conversations and growing my community.

Nsenga Knight is an artist in residence at the Queens Museum. She is a brown skin woman wearing black hijab and brown dress. She stands in front of her artwork which is both abstract and contains text, lines, layers, text, shapes and color. She talks to Tasneem Muhammad who sits cross legged with a burgundy dress, black hijab, dark brown skin, glasses and silver earring. The two are in conversation in front of the artwork, looking at one another and Nsenga uses hand gestures as she speaks.
Nsenga Knight hosting a salon in her studio at the Queens Museum
Nsenga Knight is an artist in residence at the Queens Museum. She is a brown skin woman wearing black hijab and brown dress. She stands in front of her artwork which is brightly colored in oranges, reds, pinks and ambers. There are three small painting like this. She talks to Tasneem Muhammad who stands next to her wearing black hijab, leopard print jackets, dark brown skin, glasses and silver earring. The two are in conversation in front of the artwork, Nsenga looks at the art while Tasneem looks at her. Nsenga uses hand gestures as she speaks.
Nsenga Knight hosting a salon in her studio at the Queens Museum

My artistic practice is research based and it engages with archives as areas of documentation, questioning, and reconfiguring. I didn’t come into the fellowship with any preconceived notions about what I want to do, but I knew that I wanted to get familiar with the museum’s archives. Part of my process really is taking a concept, doing research and then I do a lot of looking, and reading and experimenting.

I’m currently focused on working with the Queens Museum World’s Fair archives and since settling into my studio, I’ve visited the archives to get a feel for what I’m most drawn to. I felt inspired to see the Aida Opera at the Metropolitan Opera house.

Nsenga Knight a brown skin woman with slim face and dark eyes sits in front of a bookshelf at the Queens Museum with a 1938 World's Fair Encyclopedia in front of her
Nsenga Knight in the Queens Museum’s archives
1938 World's Fair Encyclopedia on table at Queens Museum Archives. Blue gloved hands touching the top of the red book.
Nsenga Knight in the Queens Museum’s archives

Fun fact: Aida, a four-act opera crafted by the legendary Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, was commissioned by Khedive of Egypt Ismail Pasha in 1870, and premiered in December 1871 in Cairo, at the Cairo Opera House in a performance conducted by Giovanni Bottesini. The opera, which is set in ancient Egypt, has been a staple in the operatic cannon since then.

May 2013 production of Opera Aida, performed at the Cairo Opera House (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
May 2013 production of Opera Aida, performed at the Cairo Opera House (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

I love learning new things and it was thrilling to learn that the Aida opera originated in Egypt. I feel a deep connection to Egypt and Cairo since I started living and working between there and New York six years ago. I look forward to returning to Cairo later this month and perhaps visiting the Cairo Opera House!

%d bloggers like this: