The patchwork cartoonist
Osama Kamal finds artist Ibrahim El-Baridi sewing satire into childhood memories
Al-Leila Al-Kabira was not just a blockbuster puppet musical show of the 1960s. It was not just the product of music, poetry, and stage geniuses such as Sayyed Makkawi, Salah Jahin, Nagi Shaker and Salah El-Saqqa.
It was an embodiment of a whole era, a part of the national psyche, a peak of the nation's humour, sentimentality and nostalgia.
Shown for the first time in 1960, Al-Leila Al-Kabira (The Big Night) still offers inspiration to artists of all fields and inclinations.
Ibrahim El-Baridi, an artist who works with sackcloth and used fabrics, recently displayed 36 pieces in the Shababik Culture Centre in Cairo, in which he reproduced the magical world created by puppet designer Nagi Shaker.
"No one can resist the memory of Al-Leila Al-Kabira," Baridi told me. "It has left its imprint all over Egypt. It is now an essential ingredient of our culture, a part of our sensibilities, a link that ties us to this country."
This is not the first exhibition in which Baridi has tackled the theme of Al-Leila Al-Kabira. Since 2007 he held three exhibitions in which he reproduced the characters of the famous show. You can feel the energy of the clown in his work: the joy of the mother of the boy undergoing circumcision; the bravado of the muscleman; the seductiveness of the coffeehouse dancer,and the nonchalance of the folk singer.
"In every piece, I rediscovered my childhood. I was a reclusive child, only interested in colouring and drawing, and Al-Leila Al-Kabira was a whole world for me," Baridi said.
Born in 1963 in a village near Tanta, Baridi studied commerce before turning to art. He worked as illustrator and cartoonist for several local and regional publications, including Al-Osbou', Al-Qahera, Al-Arabi Al-Saghir and Al-Nada.
He also illustrated books for the Ministry of Education, and held several cartoon and illustration exhibitions locally and internationally.
His pieces resemble the patchwork known as khiamiya, or tent fabric. He sews coloured fabric against a background of sackcloth to produce articulate work that stands out for its direct impact and subtle texture.
Most of Baridi's work since 2006 has been in this medium. He has held 12 exhibitions using coloured fabric and sackcloth, at the rate of two exhibitions a year.
"I try to mix the humour of the cartoonist with the joyfulness of children book illustrations In my exhibitions," he says. "Children like basic colours and lively scenes, because they are averse to complexity."
One of the biggest influences on Baridi's art was Ahmad Hegazi (1936 Òê" 2011), also a native of Tanta.
"From Hegazi, I learnt how to be satirical and yet humanistic, and -- like him -- I take sides with the poor. Hegazi and I come from the working class."
Another influence was Hassan Hakim (1929 Òê" 1998), a Sudanese artist who lived and worked between Egypt and Kuwait. Hakem was one of the founders of Karawan, Egypt's oldest illustrated children's magazine. Hakem was also a pioneer of animated films.
One of Baridi's sources of artistic inspiration is closer to home. His mother was always an art lover and a capable painter. She nurtured his talent from an early age, although she was apprehensive about the possibility of art distracting him from his school studies.
In 2006, Baridi managed to persuade his mother to show her paintings to the public. Her exhibition, 'Om Ibrahim', brought her critical acclaim.
Baridi is currently working on two projects, one is about contemporary life and the other about Charlie Chaplin. Now there's a thought.