Growing up in rural villages, in order to get to school, Leila Nseir would walk through impoverished communities with children, in the snow and cold. Reflecting on these memories in her work, she has been searching “for the essence behind those faces.”

Born in Al-Haffah, north of Lattakia, Leila Nseir (1941) began drawing at the age of 14. She received a government scholarship to study in Egypt and graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1963. Beginning her career during the height of Syrian modernism, Nseir was an active figure in the evolving art scene. She had a friendship with Louay Kayyali whose similar themes such as issues of life and death, human struggle and the experiences of the working class appear in both of their work. The influence of her time in Egypt can be found in her later work, as she draws on Egyptian mythology in order to allegorically illustrate contemporary issues.

Experimenting with various materials and techniques, Nseir is also known for putting women in her paintings as workers, in later stages of pregnancy, or even as martyrs. Breaking from cultural norms of the time, she has never shied away from controversy in work or in life, saying: “I was the first woman in Syria who wore trousers and sat in the Rawda cafe in Damascus, and my pants were tight and clinging to me… I wanted to open the doors for others [to do the same].”

Nseir’s works are found in public collections such as National Museum of Damascus and Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah as well as numerous private collections throughout the Middle East, Asia, Europe and North America.