Nadia Haji Omar’s paintings and works on paper explore the intersection of language and abstract painting and reflect her multi-cultural background. Born in Australia and raised in Sri Lanka, she is inspired by scripts that include Sinhalese, Tamil, Arabic, and French. Her intricate imagery combines linguistic characters with references to landscape, mapping, and textile patterning.
Ascension is a series of paintings that represents the seven levels of heaven—a concept common in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Haji Omar has based each of the seven paintings on one of the levels of heaven as outlined in Islam and has chosen a color palette that suggests a quality describing each one: The first level of heaven is made of water; the second, of white pearls; the third, of iron, pearls, or dazzling stones; the fourth, of brass or white gold; the fifth, of silver; the sixth, of gold or garnets and rubies; and the seventh, of divine light or emeralds. The artist sees this work as “an attempt to define something indefinable through abstraction.”
Her process is painstaking and arduous. Using dye to stain each of the canvases, Haji Omar creates a basic pattern of seven ascending, arced bands, subtly delineated by two alternating colors. Each painting also features a single Arabic numeral from one to seven, set into this field. (These numerals also serve as the paintings’ titles.) A series of densely repeated marks obsessively cover the surface of the works—short, painted lines embellished by dots of metallic paint. Using only these two simple marks, she constructs the numeric shapes by changing the direction of the lines. The contrasting patterns generate a fragmented and shimmering surface that seems to allude to the infinite.
The paintings in Ascension, which were created specifically for this gallery, are installed sequentially from right to left and gradually increase in size, creating a spiral effect. Viewers following this path metaphorically “ascend” through the layers to reach the seventh heaven.
Natural Selection, a series of drawings by the artist, was also on view in the Marité and Joe Robinson Strolling Gallery I.