Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)
Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Psychological games

Rania Khallaf reviews Sahar Al-Amir’s new exhibition

Psychological Games” exhibition

Entitled “Psychological Games”, a new exhibition at the Ubuntu Gallery in Zamalek confirms the reputation of Sahar Al-Amir. A graduate of the Graphics Department of Alexandria’s Faculty of Fine Arts in 1993, the winner of a state award and a scholarship to Rome, Al-Amir is among the more prolific artists of her generation.

“My paintings are mostly influenced by the Bauhaus school of design,” Al-Amir says. “I owe a lot to my professor Magdy Qenawi, who taught me its principles and applications. I learned a lot about line, movement, shapes and tempo, rather than the usual Western techniques of drawing and painting.”

Her painting style is characterised by such endless freedom; random objects and geometric figures coexist on the surface of the canvas. Throughout her career Al-Amir has practised the same mixed-media technique, with the result that her work changes little from one exhibition to the next. They always give a sense of life’s chaos, noise, absurdity, even violence.

Thinking of the title, I had expected more creative work than the 27 mostly 1x1m mixed-media paintings, which apart from two abstract figures resembling old toys are indistinguishable from previous work. I felt lost in the middle of such huge, provocative paintings. 

“I guess it is the effect of Cairo on me,” she responds to a question about the intensity of her paintings in contrast to her quiet and peaceful nature. 

Born in Alexandria and raised between there and Aswan, since her return from Rome Al-Amir has lived in Cairo. Al-Amir says briefly Alexandria had affected her because of its relative peacefulness. “The intensity of colours and shapes is largely due to my 20-year-stay in Cairo, with its different and rich architectural styles, and unbearable density of houses and people.” Her strong colours are likewise inspired by the sun. 

Psychological Games” exhibition

This is Al Amir’s eighth solo exhibition, and the third to be held at Ubuntu. Her previous shows were characterised by a “childish” look at the outside world, and offered a vision of noisy cities like Cairo in particular. One of her best loved works was acquired by the Modern Art Museum. Made in 2003, the acrylic painting, mixed with collage, illustrates the movement of a baby crawling on the ground in eight consecutive movements. “I was so fascinated by the movement of my first baby. Again, it is the movement that I am interested in, not the figure.” 

“For this exhibition, I chose to examine the relationship between children and their toys. I intentionally chose some typical toys such as the monkey playing on drums, the wicked witch and Pinocchio, and merged them in an abstract-expressionist style.” 

And indeed this is another unchanged aspect of her work. The most tangible influence on her has been her close interaction with children through various workshops she has held for both normal and special children at her Cairo studio all through her career. 

“I learned a lot from them, and their vision of the other; how they would draw a friendly figure, and how they would express their joy in shapes and colours. Their relationships with their toys were equally significant. Playing is one of the most rejuvenating experiences and one should never give it up. It allows parents to relive their childhood when they interact with their children and in return receive enormous positive energy. I tried to express this mood of mutual joy in my current show.” 

And yet, except for a small collection, the displayed paintings failed to reflect this mood. “Yes, there are some straightforwardly abstract paintings, with no reference to the subject,” she agrees, “but I consider my use of colours and different media as a kind of play.” It would have been more creative had the artist invented her own shape of toy. “No,” she says, “I never thought of that. I thought my toys were enough.” She will change the colours and the mixed media, she says. “But I have no intention to draw figures. I am in love with design more.”

The most interesting piece in this show depicts the playful monkey. The huge, imposing figure dominates the centre of the painting. The monkey, painted spontaneously, is shaped in thick lines and dots, with a cold look in his eyes. 

The exhibition closed on 28 October.

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