Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Katherine, colour and calligraphy

Gamal Nkrumah revels in Katherine Bakhoum’s calligraphic allegory

La danseuse
La danseuse
Al-Ahram Weekly

“Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.” —Pablo Picasso

“Peasant in Yellow”, pastel and mixed media, is breathtakingly beautiful. The painting exudes the suave sophistication, and sweetness, of a Sauvignon Blanc from the Upper Loire Valley, “crisp, elegant, and fresh” as seasoned French wine connoissers give a posy and grapple with the purity and virtues of the green and golden grape.

Yet, yellow is a much maligned colour. The Americans use the expression “yellow journalism” extensively. A yellow streak denotes cowardice, and yellow-bellied is cowardly.

Katherine Bakhoum’s “The Magic of the Orient” and the women she depicts are anything but having a yellow streak down their backs. Her women have the intensity of the Sauvignon’s aromas and the delicate balance between the astringent acidity and the distinctive dulcitude of a Sancerre or a Menetou Salon.  

The artist’s 13th exhibition at the SafarKhan Gallery, Zamalek is a marvel. The culture of craftsmanship becomes Bakhoum.

“What distinguishes this particular exhibition is that Katherine uses the colour yellow in all its different hues profusely,” Mona Saiid, curator and co-director with her mother Sherwet Shafei of SafarKhan Gallery told Al-Ahram Weekly.  

The family business has always been part of her life. And, she selectively and most meticulously assigns certain artists to display their work in SafarKhan Gallery. “It was a strict and scrupulous mandate my mother gave me,” she expounds.

Over the years, Katherine Bakhoum has been one of her all-time favourites. “Katherine has a vivid and unique style, and yet every one of her exhibitions is distinctive, albeit authentically Bakhoum. Magic of the Orient is extraordinary in the all-inclusive use of calligraphy,” Saiid extrapolates.

The paintings are not exclusively of women. Men, too, feature prominently. The series of turbaned men, or rather men in fezzes are enthralling. The man in a dark billowing galabiya, the traditional male garment native to the Nile Valley sports a most unconventional yellow fez.

Pristine white galabiyas are donned in the scorching summers of Egypt. During winter, thicker fabric and darker colours are preferred. The dancing men in two distinct paintings shun the paraphernalia preferred by performers. The only accoutrement they permit is the fez, one swerving provocatively with his muscular protruding rump explicitly defined by Bakhoum. His fez is apricot, a most intriguing orange. He has his head in the clouds, so to speak.

The dancer in the scarlet fez is obviously upping his artistc aspects, as opposed to his physique. He has his heart set on dance. It is the gambol, the prance, rather than his posterior that is the star attraction. His swagger is enticing.

“Decorative traditional Orientalism is Bakhoum’s hallmark,” Saiid denotes. She bespeaks the unspeakable, the echo of Orientalist in Bakhoum’s works is outstanding.

Katherine Bakhoum’s creations confront contemporaneity. Scenes of rural life, of time immemorial, ancient beyond memory is depicted by Bakhoum in what appears to be clay cisterns. The peasants hard at work, harvesting the luscious succulent fruit of the illustrious date palm.

Hers is a miraculous mix of the modernist revolution and time out of mind. Even a cursory engagement with the Egyptian countryside is molded by memory in a most compelling manner. Bakhoum rethinks the rustic, the idyllic rural settings of ancestral agrarian traditions.

The bewitching barefoot damsel with two thick jet black braids that dangle to her comely derriere is clothed in a canary yellow dress gives the viewer her back as if she is shy, or wants nothing to do with us, with here and now.

Equally enchanting is the amber beauty with two strings of exquisite snow white pearls and an ethereal headgear. The effulgence is entrancing. The girl with a bright orange splash of an indeterminate garment is divine. She demystifies adolescent innocence. She personifies traditional Egyptian artefacts and figurines. And, so does the lonesome lad, stranded on a lakeside, perhaps the abandoned banks of Lake Moeris in Fayoum, the ancient site of Crocodilopolis or Arsinoe. Engulfed in cerulean and mellow yellow, only his crimson fez catches the eye.

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