Nicolas Moufarrege, Le sang du phénix [The Blood of the Phoenix], 1975. Thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas. 49 7/8 x 64 inches. Image and work courtesy Nabil Moufarrej and Gulnar “Nouna” Mufarrij, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Nicolas Moufarrege, Le sang du phénix [The Blood of the Phoenix], 1975. Thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas.

Past Exhibition

Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign

November 10, 2018 - February 17, 2019
Nina and Michael Zilkha Gallery


The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) is pleased to announce the upcoming exhibition Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign. During a career that lasted just over a decade, Nicolas Moufarrege (1947-1985) created an original and idiosyncratic body of embroidered paintings. Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign—the artist’s first solo museum exhibition—traces the development of his work from the lap-scaled portrait-tapestries he produced in Beirut, Lebanon in the early-1970s to the final works he created in New York City, New York in 1985. This exhibition is organized by CAMH Curator Dean Daderko. The Museum will host a public opening reception on the evening of Friday, November 9, 2018 from 6:30–9 PM. The exhibition will be on view through February 17, 2019. As always, admission to CAMH is free.

A dedicated appropriator, Moufarrege culled images from a broad and vast sourcebook; his embroidered paintings mix references from Classical sculptures and Baroque paintings with comic book heroes, Islamic tilework designs, Pop Art, and Arabic calligraphy. He borrowed images from paintings and prints by artists such as Katsushika Hokusai, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, and especially Roy Lichtenstein. If appropriation provided the artist with raw subject matter, it is his pointed juxtapositions of images that most clearly reveal Moufarrege’s wit and thoughtful intelligence: his stitched paintings tell stories.

The earliest artworks included in this exhibition are Moufarrege’s embroidered tapestries. In a 1973 review of his first exhibition at Triad Condas Gallery in Beirut, the artist Etel Adnan remarked that Moufarrege’s work followed “mysterious laws that support the seemingly free combination of forms.” Indeed, these early works are notably improvisational: the artist began stitching on needlepoint canvas without preliminary sketches, and the resulting figures and scenes appear to grow and change in the most organic of ways. An eye becomes a flower; red hair looks like the flames burning in a campfire.

Works Moufarrege made in Paris, France in the late-1970s incorporate embroidery alongside painted passages on the stretched needlepoint canvas. This approach allowed Moufarrege to create compositions on a more ambitious scale, and to put his work in dialogue with painting in a more direct way. The subject matter of these paintings is primarily figurative: male bodies, seen from behind, are found gazing into fantastical landscapes full of sunsets and volcanoes that merge into geometric patterns drawn from Islamic tilework and Japanese textiles.

The artist’s move to New York City in 1981 initiated yet another sea change in his approach to imagery and composition, coinciding, as it did, with the advent of postmodern tactics of appropriation. Where his earlier works referenced figures borrowed from Baroque prints and paintings by Guido Reni or Peter Paul Rubens, Moufarrege’s New York paintings juxtapose images with a more sharply critical and humorous eye. In one iconic work, Title unknown, (1984), a stylized wave adopted from a woodblock print by Hokusai is positioned in the upper left corner of a painted embroidery canvas, and Moufarrege copies an image of a Lichtenstein painting into the bottom right corner of the same canvas. The portrait of a heroine sinking into deep waters includes a thought bubble announcing, “I don’t care! I’d rather sink–than call Brad for help!” In Moufarrege’s juxtaposition of the two images, the wave appears perpetually ready to swamp the already drowning woman. The Truth About John the Baptist (1983) is a pastiche of embroidered images: the comic book characters Silver Surfer and The Thing bookend a depiction of Moses in the bulrushes; floating atop the scene, the statement “My father taught me Arabic calligraphy” is rendered in calligraphic flourishes. Eschewing binaries like East and West, fictional and real, and by establishing temporal connections between history and the present, Moufarrege posits new ways to connect with and approach narrative storytelling. He does so as a knowing provocateur, with a wink and a smile, offering us new ways to address images, situations, and layered identity.

Including nearly 40 tapestries and canvases, as well as drawings, photographs, and primary documents, Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign follows the artist’s relocations from Beirut to Paris to New York, and considers the effects these moves had on the development of his oeuvre. Transitions from tapestries to paintings are paralleled by growth in scale and ambition, and we see the testing of intimate narratives. These stories, developed and confident, speak volumes about the artist’s experiences, his thoughts, humor, and fantasies.

Nicolas Moufarrege’s artwork draws from personal experience—including references to his travels and migrations, and his identity as a gay man—but it exceeds these individual boundaries. In doing so, it offers a myriad of ways to approach contemporary painting, figuration, craft, transnational identity, desire, and queer life.

Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign is accompanied by a full-color, fully-illustrated catalogue. With contributions by Curator Dean Daderko and writer and critic Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, this publication—designed by NUU— also includes biographic and bibliographic information on the artist and a checklist of works in the exhibition.

Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign will travel to Queens Museum, New York from October 5, 2019–February 16, 2020, where its presentation will be coordinated by Curator Larissa Harris.


Nicolas Moufarrege is organized by Dean Daderko, Curator, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

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Exhibition labels are available in English.

Touring Schedule

Queens Museum
New York City, New York
October 6, 2019– February 23, 2020