Youssef Nabil

Sleep in my arms

4 June - 7 July 2007

Born in Cairo in 1972, Youssef Nabil has always been fascinated with the glamour and style of early Egyptian cinema, the black and white photo-novels published at the time and the hand-coloured family portraits that still adorn most living rooms in Cairo. He started taking pictures after being rejected by the Institute of Cinema in Cairo and used his friends to stage scenes which he would ideally liked to have filmed. These early images set the stage for all his subsequent work which was further influenced by his close friendship with the legendary Egyptian-Armenian photographer Van Leo. Van Leo is celebrated for his glamorous studio portraits of famous Egyptian actresses of the 1950s and 60s and Nabil spent many hours watching him at work in his studio. While working as a photographers’ assistant in prominent studios New York and Paris in the 1990s, he started producing his staged, constructed and meticulously hand-coloured black and white portraits of celebrities, close friends and fellow artists such as John Waters, Shirin Neshat, Tracey Emin and Ghada Amer.

Nabil tells 'stories' through his carefully constructed images. In his words: "I always like to tell stories through my work; the more simple the photo is, the more complicated the story becomes. What's the point in making a photo if it doesn't have something to say?" Nabil's images have a cinematic quality and explore the interior and exterior worlds of drama, beauty, glamour, sexuality and identity. In his latest body of work titled Sleep in My Arms, Nabil gives us access to stories about his relationships with various male friends through his delicately coloured, quiet and intimate portraits. A voyeur by nature, Nabil places these young men in situations of his own imagining and sets up dreamlike moments that are imbued with a brooding sexuality.

Click here to read the essays and statements published in Youssef Nabil: Sleep in my arms, Michael Stevenson Gallery and ABP Autograph, 2007.

Nabil's exhibition and book are kindly supported by IFAS (French Institute of South Africa).

For more information contact +27 (0)21 462 1500 or email

© 2006 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.