Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

And such a long journey

Rania Khallaf travels in the country of modern Egyptian art

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Al-Ahram Weekly

While many art galleries take the summer off, closing in mid-July and opening again in mid-September, some galleries opt to use this time for showing their acquisitions – or samples of artworks that have been on show throughout the year.

“Masterpieces 14” at the Zamalek Art Gallery is one such exhibition. Held in two adjacent halls, it shows unique paintings and sculptures using museum-like displays.

The exhibition includes work by 30 visual artists from different generations in two branches: painting and sculpture. Wandering in the place, I proudly felt the pulse of Egypt’s modern art movement.

Judging by first impressions, I would say the sculptures are the winning card. They include amazing works by legendary sculptor Gamal Al-Segeny (1917-1977), one of the few Egyptian sculptors who are known for their cultural awareness and commitment to national issues, which are a powerful achievement in themselves.

The Crossing, named after the 1973 victory, which involved crossing the Suez Canal, features a soldier with his arms stretched, pushing himself forward like a rocket targetting the enemy, Israel. The base of the sculpture is a boat in which several soldiers are pushing forward in Suez Canal.

Now on show in Beni Soueif, the piece is a brilliant countepoint to the horrible outdoor sculptures so widely adopted by various governorates: a brilliant example of public art.

Port Said is the title of another great work by El-Segeny, also on show. Made in bronze and dating back to 1957, it shows one of the residents of Port Said screaming triumphantly while holding a gun in his hand – a reference to the popular resistance against the Tripartite Aggression of 1956. The back of the statute is full of magnificent details that will take hours to fully digest.

In addition to his sculptures, two paintings by El-Segeny are on show: Composition, oil and mixed media on wood; and The Fisherman, oil on wood. Both date to 1969.

In another room, Kamal Al-Feky – born in 1984 – shows one brilliant sculpture in bronze, featuring a man portrayed as an insignificant gear in a giant machine. The piece was featured in his recent exhibition “The Cycle”.

Two sculptures by Mustafa Abdel-Moeti, who represents an older generation after Al-Segeny’s, present a unique treatment of single abstract elements, creating new shapes that could be seen as human, animal or vegetable figures.

Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s mixed-media sculptures are equally powerful. Abdel Nasser, an innovative sculptor who belongs to the middle generation, is distinguished by his unique style of portraying facial expressions: his portraits are unmatchable. A sensitive and emotional artist, his sculptures go beyond the usual human expressions to an undiscovered space of unsettling, deep emotions. The piercing eyes and sarcastic smile of his mixed media sculptures give you the impression a legendary story or an unforeseen world.

Art lovers will be familiar with the calligraphy of Sameh Ismail. His distinct, celebrated style, mixing calligraphy with drawing, has not yet changed. Two monochrome paintings illustrate the outline of a young woman in different positions, adorned with airborne letters.

One of the most wonderful experimental paintings is by Adel Mostafa, a young visual artist from Alexandria exhibiting for the first time in Cairo.

His solo exhibition, which took place last May at the gallery, was entitled “Out of the Box”. The mixed media painting piece on show, 140 cm by 180 cm, features a unique mixture of beach-goers, alleyways, swimmers, buildings and vehicles all together on one side with the seashore on the other.

According to Mostafa, he carried his camera and climbed up to the highest point in the city, where he felt, paradoxically, closer to the ground. “During my search for a cohesive image of these vibrant abstract shapes and dynamic relationships,” he explained, “coincidence plays a major role in constructing the whole image.”

Elements of Alexandria – fishermen, fish, boats, seagulls – are also evident in the work of Rabab Nemr, an established artist who grew up in the popular district of Al-Anfoshi.

In her trademark expressionist style, Nemr’s paintings are rich in human expressions, but they lack innovation. They are always powerful, but their elements are repeated over and over again.  

In the new hall of the gallery, artists Khaled Sorour and Yasmine Al-Hazek adopt a similar approach: primitive and naïve art expressing joy and freedom.

Sorour’s acrylic paintings from his recent exhibition “The Joy of Children”, are vibrant with cheerful colours. Kids riding bicycles, playing music and most importantly moving freely amongst birds and animals are the theme.

Yet his work is not just about children per se. Once you draw closer to the huge paintings, you can easily listen to the sound of music and feel free. It is about the dream of unconditional freedom.

In the same vein, paintings by Al-Hazek, 24, reveal a keenness on people in the old and popular districts of Cairo. She has developed a special fascination for this mix of people and buildings, which she depicts in a festive and romantic mood. Her caricature is largely inspired by children’s drawings, but you can trace the influence of the established artist Farghali Abdel Hafiz’s style on her.

The exhibition, running till the end of September, is a worthy journey through contemporary Egyptian art. The exhibits are on sale, and as pieces are removed new pieces replace them all the time.

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