Geography of the face
By Samir Sobhi
GAMAL Kamel (1927- 1986) is a celebrated journalist and painter of the 1950s and 1960s. I used to see him frequently in 1954 because we took the daily train together from Bab Al-Louq -- he got off at Maadi, I at Hilwan. But was his illustrations on the art page of Rose Al-Youssef magazine that Kamel impressed me most: the drawing of the ticket inspector I already knew, for example, a tall, thin man with a stone-like head of thick white hair that made him look like an escaped pharoah.
I remember Kamel at a gathering of colleagues from the journalism department of Cairo University at Rose Al-Youssef. We were getting ready for a meeting with the famous figure Ahmed Bahaaeddin, a candidate for the position of editor-in-chief at Sabah Al-Kheir. The cartoon and illustration department brought together well-known masters like Abdel-Samie, Zohdi, Kamel, Ragaai Wanis and Nagi Kamel. On this occasion students from the School of Fine Arts were sitting around one illustrator watching him work in pencil and ink on paper -- Kamel.
He is an original mater of faces, his work discerns the geography of the Egyptian face: the shape of the skull first, then the hair, eyes, nose and mouth and, before all else, body language. Kamel drew the coquette and the belly dancer, the aristocrat, the clerk; he expressed the struggle of the middle class. The late novelist Ihsan Abdel-Qudous was inspired to write chapters of his romantic novels to be published with drawings by Kamel, which raised the distribution of Rose Al-Youssef magazine to become 100,000 copies.
As the geographer Gamal Hemdan has shown, historically Egypt witnessed the age of emperors and colonialism and has been a developing country sicne, but there is something that counterbalances this: the "secret of skull and face", documented by Kamel, who specialised in a kind of portrait painting that revealed character and emotion. Kamel established himself in journalism, depending on his exceptional talent and his awareness of what illustrations look like once printed. His famous column Drawing of the Week was a colossal success in the 1960s. According to the art critic Samira Shafiq, "It's very hard to write about him again when his picture is like a beating heart, a blend of colours, sensation and pure beauty."
He is an artist who contemplates and mankind with; he has no interest in the tree, in nature; "I chose portraiture because I love humans," he is known to have said. And even now I can almost hear his voice saying, "Journalism gave me a deep feeling for life and the opportunity to know various kinds of people, but only because I worked at an establishment which had a leading role in art; I was never simply an employee. Journalism offered me the chance to publish my art; it robbed me of my life but I was happy and I enjoyed being robbed."