Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

The viewer’s eye

Rania Khallaf enjoyed a century’s worth of art

The viewer’s eye
The viewer’s eye
Al-Ahram Weekly

Once again my destiny took me to Zamalek, the greatest concentration of galleries in Cairo. The 10-month-old Ubuntu, one of the newest, takes its name from the South African term for empathy that also identifies the world’s most popular alternative operating system. It implies kindness and connection.

In the current exhibition, “The Collector’s Eye”, the gallery showcases the private acquisitions of a group of collectors including the owner Ahmed Al-Dabaa. A breath-taking variety of work, some dating back to the early 20th century, some by brand-new young artists. Among the highlights are oil portraits by Mohamed Hassan (1892-1961), a pioneer of Egyptian art who, together with Ragheb Ayyad and others in 1950, formed a Cairo-based art school named La Palette. Hassan studied in London and Rome, directed the Opera House – among other posts in the 1930s – and painted the stars of his day: actors Naguib Al-Rihani, Zaki Tulaimat, and Suleiman Naguib. One portrait of a woman reveals his mastery of draughtsmanship and light. Other classics include another woman’s portrait in acrylic on paper, by Seif Wanly, as well as yet another by the Armenian painter Samanian, the latter dated 1958.

Al-Dabaa, a 1988 graduate of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University, has worked sonce his early youth in a prestigious antique family business led by his father, but in 2002 he started collecting fine art as well, mixing all kinds from the classical to the experimental. In the same period he completed a master’s degree in Islamic art at the American University in Cairo. “I have been keen on developing good relations with artists since that time,” he says, “which resulted in me opening a new outlet nearly 12 years later.” He had a specific concept for it: new work, including, for example, “Against Gravity”, Sayeda Khalil’s laser holography show, as well as Yasser Rostom and Sherine Mustafa’s surrealist experiments. “The gallery is not designed for established visual artists,” he says. “On the contrary, new artists with strong and valuable work remain the backbone of our shows.”

Highlights also include a 1940s Cairo landscape by Margo Veillon (1907-2004), born in Cairo to a Swiss father and an Austrian mother and best known for her early artistic excursions into Nubia prior to the building of the Aswan High Dam and other parts of grassroots Egypt. Abdel-Aziz Darwish, a pioneer of impressionism in Egypt from the generation of Ragheb Ayyad and Youssef Kamel, provides views from Islamic Cairo. “His paintings are so skilful they can be easily equated to the Oriental masterpieces,” Al-Dabaa commented. Also on show are unique sculptures by Mohamed Al-Alawy and Isaac Daniel.

Al-Alawy provides an abstract representation of a flying man, his hands attached to a sheet, showing a powerful sense of balance. Born in 1947, Al-Alawy lived in Russia for many years, graduating from the Academy of Arts in Leningrad. He is best known for classic sculptures dealing with human alienation in modern times. Not as well known is Daniel, 70, whose bronze piece is of a slim ney player with a nearly hollow body and two thin, dancing legs, evoking the verve of an acrobat and adding humour. Daniel, who earned a PhD in Coptic art in 1988, lives between Egypt and France. He is best known for his portrayal of folk arts in a simple abstract style and his abiding interest in the ancient Egyptian arts.

For their part Effat Hosni and Adel Al-Siwi show mixed-media paintings, apparently never seen before. Born in 1942, Hosni is celebrated for his dreamy female figures, executed in a style that recalls fairytale illustrations, with very vibrant colours and unique ornamentation. Hosni’s painting depicts two young women in a mysterious dialogue in a strange blue world. Al-Siwi, one of Egypt’s best-known contemporary painters, contributes a huge, abstract human figure strolling carelessly while a boat fades into the bluish background of the scene.

The exhibition runs until 3 September.

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