Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Reanimation

Rania Khallaf enjoys the company of second-hand machines

Reanimation
Reanimation
Al-Ahram Weekly

“Girls’ Windows II” at the Ubuntu Gallery brought together four young female painters: Somaya Abdallah, Aline Ashraf, Nehad Said and Noha Hanafi. The works on show have no direct connection to windows, but perhaps they are metaphorical windows onto the worlds these artists see and create. 

Hanafi’s windows reveal a distinct approach to landscape and still life. Unexpected perhaps of a young woman, she paints fire extinguishers and home appliances. One powerful of acrylic painting features a group of five red fire extinguishers. With their black heads bent in different directions, they look like a group of young people chatting and expressing their suffering to each other. In other paintings refrigerators, fans television and washing machines take on anthropomorphic weight. Painting these objects in different positions and sizes, she is keen to show them as groups of closely related and people. Giving her still life elements a human spirit is what makes the paintings look so distinct and unique. 

A 2010 graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Helwan University, Hanafi did not understand quite how strong her passion for art was until she started studying. Landscape was something she could latch onto, and she joined groups that toured public places, often crowded venues like the shanty towns and marginal communities of Geziret Al-Dahab, Al-Duwai’ah and other forgotten parts of the capital city.

“Looking at these ugly buildings,” she recounts, “and at the vast areas of red-brick and cemetery columns, all of which lack any glimpse of beauty, was like discovering a new way to see the impact of the environment on the inhabitants.” These experiences intensified her fascination with facades and balconies (which ended up being the theme of her contribution to “Girls’ Windows I” last year). 

That may be why she moved onto major architectural landmarks after she graduated: the Baron and Sakakiny palaces, for example. In 2011, Hanafi participated in the Youth Salon with three 100 cm by 70 cm computer graphic paintings featuring different types of chairs in a sarcastic way: the execution chair, the president’s chair, a student’s chair. Home appliances first appear on larger canvases in the 2013 Youth Salon. By then Hanafi had been visiting the Al-Tunsi flea market in Sayeda Aisha for a year.

“I was fascinated by the whole scene,” Hanafi recalls: “people bringing in their old stuff, hoping to sell it at any price, traders’ bargains, and then the disorderly way all these things, transported from different places, are crammed together. The scene suggested that such second-hand machines, most of them already outdated, are aspiring to their new destiny; waiting to start a new life at some new place.” 

Hanafi also chose to use collage and graphic techniques to reflect elements that could be achieved by painting alone, as she puts it. “By painting such old, used machines,” she believes, “I gave them prestige and status. Painting is not just about bright and beautiful things, after all.”  

The large paintings (mostly 120 cm by 150 cm) which featuring old machines complete a unique journey; it’s as if adjacent elements are about to explode. The prevailing red confirms this state of anger. “It is just like the nature of Egyptians; they endure hardship for long periods and then they blow up and finally revolt.” Beyond that, the paintings reflect intimate psychological features of the Egyptian personality: the yearning for intimacy, the need to maintain good relations with your neighbours, patience and simplicity. 

Hanafi is interested in sociology and art criticism. She is currently doing her MA in history of art, building her career as an art critic. “Joining art criticism workshops enlarges the painter’s knowledge and generally enriches their artistic vision,” she says, “though practicing painting and art criticism simultaneously causes such a clash in my head it is very exhausting.” That said, Hanafi has an articulate art philosophy: to express her own perspective on major societal issues and ailments through still life.

“It is like uncovering the hidden messages loaded in still life elements,” she explains. “My goal is not to impress the viewer by the beauty and proficiency of the subject, but rather to make them think of the concept behind the painting and develop a greater connection with the silent creatures they look at.”

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