Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The closer she got

Rania Khallaf went on a romantic journey in the Southern Kingdom

The closer she got
The closer she got
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Closer I Got is the poetic title of a recently held exhibition by artist Randa Ismail which opened last Thursday at the Ziyad Bakir Exhibition Hall, Cairo Opera House. It features 70 oil paintings of different sizes on the southern landscape. But as the title suggests, the artist has been on the move.

“I am in love with this country, all its peoples and all locations. But Aswan, Luxor and Nubia are my places of inspiration,” she smiles, adding that she visited Aswan many times before she decided to allocate her third solo exhibition to landscape in those three places.

The most influential and decisive journey to Aswan and Nubia took place in December 2014. Accompanied by her professor, the established artist Mustafa Al-Razaz and other artists, she found the journey so inspiring that she started working on this exhibition the minute she came back to her studio.

“We stayed at a motel called Anakato located at the bank of the Nile in Gharb Soheil, one of the Nubian villages. It was as if you were part of the marvellous landscape. And we always ended up sketching by the end of the day.”

Two months later, Ismail went back for closer look at the Nubian villages, where she spent days with the locals, going from one village to another by boat. “I loved the spirit, the dancing, the simple life, the colours of the women’s clothes and the small houses against the mountainous backdrop. I was keen to introduce my own way of drawing figures in this exhibition. I know am not good at drawing portraits, but I felt I wanted to do it my way. Perhaps the features of faces are not that important. What is more important for me is the movement of the figure and their relationship with other elements...”

A giant 1 x 3 metre painting attracts the eye with swathes of white in the clothes of the three male dancers it depicts, in trademark Nubian dress. Their faces, mere undifferentiated colour spaces, contrast with the deep brown of their skin. The figures are so close as to be shocking, but the sense of cheerfulness and the motion are palpable and immediate.

Likewise the blend of orange and blue in a group of Luxor sunsets featuring a felucca or two each, like indistinct figures in conversation: they are extremely powerful. But it is in the Nubian village landscapes with tiny houses and trees that the full effect of Ismail’s approach is achieved. The soft, warm browns, the harmony between the houses and the sand and the light palette all induce a matchless – and completely unique – sense of peacefulness.

Two collections of 16 small (12 x 12 cm) paintings depicting an aspect of Nubian life or architecture achieve a remarkable elegance. It is as if the exhibition space itself adjusts to the views. You come close to inspect the small paintings, step back to take in the huge ones.

Ismail completed them all this year. “I used different techniques, including the knife, which I learned from my mentor Wagih Yassa.” It is Ismail’s third solo exhibition, after Whisper of the Countryside in 2011 and The Scent of Place in 2013. All focus on the beauty of light and lightness.

“My second exhibition featured garbage, poverty and ugly houses in the Madabegh area, one of Cairo’s shanty towns. However, people were extremely nice there. It was amazing to see them smiling and content despite their disastrous circumstances. Hence, you could trace how the light emanates from a point in my paintings.” Her obsession with places, she is says, may be due to her training in architecture. “But I think it has more to do with composition. Composition is the main factor in my work. I trace complicated compositions wherever I go.”

Ismail graduated as an architect from Ain Shams in 1987, but she has since attended numerous workshops to enhance her skills. In 2012 she joined both the Mustafa Al-Razaz School of Art and the Wagih Yassa Salon. She has not looked back since. She says the academic strictures of the first with the free association of the latter have created “a new Randa”.

But does it take a special kind of artist to do landscapes?

“I am not sure,” Ismail responds. “It takes a lot of patience, I guess. I am so meticulous. Generally speaking, landscape paintings are not common these days. And this could be a good point. However, I am trying my best to paint landscapes in a more contemporary spirit...”

This is evident, for example, in a conversation between two Nubian women: the older speaks, the younger listens. The sense of intimacy imparted by the arrangement of the figures, the grandeur of the heritage backing them up and the overriding tranquility were enough for a peaceful rest of the week.

The exhibition runs until 30 November

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