Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The magic felucca

Rania Khallaf enjoyed boats floating on artificial waters

The magic felucca
The magic felucca
Al-Ahram Weekly

“The feluccas of Burollos” have become a key motif in Cairo’s cultural circles, a synonym for creativity and joy. It is also the title of the ongoing exhibition at Artsmart Gallery, where 42 painted feluccas — the fruit of a two-week symposium in the town of Burollos last month — bear testimony to the fact.

Organised by the established visual artist Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Mohsen’s Cultural Foundation, the event hosted over 40 visual artists represnting various generations and countries. In addition to Egyptian artists, painters from Sudan, Jordan, Iran, Bahrain, Tunisia, India and others participated. According to Abdel-Mohsen, the aim was to generate interaction between the artists and the locals, mostly uneducated fishermen, to produce house murals as well as painted feluccas.

“Fishermen were competing to win the artists’ interest in painting murals on their houses. They would sit down in the afternoon when they finished their work, watch the artists paint and giving them a hand.” Burollos has now become an open exhibition, Abdel-Mohsen added, because professional artists volunteered to change the face of the town: “They were so enthusiastic and full of positive energy that almost all the inhabitants wanted their houses to be painted.”

This is the second round of the international symposium. The aim of the annual event is to encourage people to draw and to increase their awareness of beauty and a clean environment. The foundation is financially supported by the Kafr Al-Sheikh municipality, the Ministry of Youth and Future University. All revenues from the exhibition will feed back into the foundation’s budget.

Located in Kafr Al-Sheikh governorate, Burollos is a peninsula surrounded by Lake Burollos on three sides. It was administratively recognised as a town only a year ago. The symposium takes place in the framework of voluntary efforts organised by Abdel-Mohsen to develop the place where he was born and raised.

“People there are so kind. They have a natural inclination towards art. This is largely because they are surrounded by a beautiful landscape,” Abdel-Mohsen added.

Moving in the huge ground floor of the three-floor gallery, the biggest in Egypt, I felt like I was in the waters of a vivid sea, sailing to some point in the future. With 40 boats painted in amazing colours and shapes, the scene grants the viewer an enduring joy.

The display is creative in itself; some — hang on the walls, others are hang parallel to the bare ground, others still — like that of the Jordanian artist Hilda Hiari — are on small wooden stages. Hiari  painted her — in white, with two white chairs and white wedding-dress cloth on top, turning it into a kind of wedding platform.

Two feluccas raised on wooden stalls to be higher than the ground have rectangular mirrors underneath them to reflect the fantastic painting on the bottom. One of these is by the veteran artist Samir Fouad, who spent three days in Burollos. It raises the question of how much an artist infused a felucca with his usual vision and how much they were influenced by the environment.

Fouad’s felucca features four women in a fantastic style, like mythical characters. With drawings of fish in the background, they look as if they are floating on the felucca’s belly.

“The story behind my felucca is inspired by the Greek myth of the beautiful but deadly Sirens,” Fouad explained, “daughters of the river god Achelous. They lured sailors with their voices to a deadly end, as their ships crashed on the reefs after they were attracted by the Sirens’ voices. The Egyptian version of this is Al-Nadahha or the Woman Caller, whose voice  lures the fellahin into the Nile until they drown. The idea is how women can magically entice men.”

Fouad, who is 72 and a leading figure in the Egyptian art movement, says this was his first attempt to paint on wood. Some artists first painted a thick layer of plastic onto the felucca’s surface, but Fouad worked directly on the wood itself. “This is why I made some sketches before I went to Burollos. Using acrylic colours directly on wood gave the boat a sense of translucence,” he revealed.

For his part Galal Gomaa, a prominent wire sculptor, used sculpture rather than painting. His felucca features cheerful marine creatures in black and yellow fixed to the sides of the vessel, painted white.

Painter Omar Al-Fayoumi, best known for drawing on ancient Egyptian and the Fayoum funerary portraits, brought his own world to the felucca. The background is a fresh dark blue, and the main figure resembles a Greek goddess of the sea, with other elements representing Islamic and Coptic art. For Al-Fayoumi, the symposium is a very significant event with its own impact on the locals, especially the young.

Islam Ebada, a young artist, painted his felucca entirely in black. He added thin sharp edges, placing a sharp- and thin-edged wooden figure on top to create a sense of a marine creature and its steed.

The exhibition also features stunning photography by Galal Al-Messeiri, whose pictures show the murals and the locals and convey a sense of cheerful pride.

“I spent three days in the city,” Al-Messeiri recounts, “watching artists painting and mixing with people in a fantastic spirit. I took hundreds of photos to document this very special event. It was an amazing, interactive experience. The wives and daughters of the fishermen would ask me to take pictures of them. I believe in the integration of arts. I have exhibited in 109 solo and group shows. In four of them,” one with painter Samah Al-Imam at the Cultural Cooperation Centre in Zamalek, “it was this mixture of painting and photography. But the remarkable thing about Burollos is the people’s awareness of beauty and colour. These murals are carefully protected, no one dares ruin or paint over them.”

Mohamed Abdel-Hadi, who participated in both rounds of the symposium, says the symposium is a significant social commitment. “For the first time in my career, I am proud to participate in an event which breaks this alleged wall between art and the public, away from galleries, which only attract a certain type of audience.”

Abdel-Hadi participated with a 2x5-metre mural along the Corniche as well as a black and white painting on a felucca. “This contrast between black and white expresses hope and despair, love and hatred. I stayed in Burollos for the whole symposium, and I was inspired by the place and imagined the city as a kingdom; I drew a king and a queen, the king of the sea  and angels distributing fish to the fishermen, as if it is a gift from God, all in one big painting just as the ancient Egyptians did in their murals.”

The foundation is involved in other local awareness projects, the latest of which — Colourful Schools — has foundation members starting painting classes in schools.

In the next round, Abdel-Mohsen declared, the symposium will host artists from a single Mediterranean city to focus on its cultural identity. “Cyprus, Italy and Algeria are on the agenda, but we still haven’t chosen a city. The boats will remain the main theme, but we will develop it somehow. I am thinking of small models of boats to be sold as souvenirs by the end of the event, or boats made of recycled materials, especially fishermen’s refuse.”

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