Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Compassionate pop

Rania Khallaf joins the colourful masses

 

Ramadan Abdel-Metemed

Pop art is flourishing in Egypt. Artists from different generations have resorted to the genre to reflect social, political and economic tensions. At the Picasso Art Gallery “Generations of Art” collective exhibition, Ramadan Abdel-Metemed’s paintings and sculptures are a case in point. Two 70 by 100 cm acrylic paintings typify Abdel-Metemed’s blend of people, vehicles and buildings, his ability to convey density in a welcoming way. In yellows and purples, they communicate a sense of joy and lightness.

Born in 1979 in a village near Minya, Abdel-Metemed graduated from the sculpture department at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Luxor, where he now teaches. He also earned a PhD in philosophy from Helwan University in 2013, on the aesthetic values demonstrated in modern sculptures in Egypt and Europe. Although better known as a painter, he started out producing remarkable sculptures in various media. He has painted people at popular celebrations: an abstract gathering of matchstick figures within two rows of buildings, for example, with three clowns playing on the back of a bicycle surmounting the whole scene. Abdel-Metemed inspires a true sense of joy.


pop art

Whence this focus on crowds, though? “It all started with the 25 January 2011 Revolution. Until that time, I had dedicated myself to sculpture.” His debut exhibition of sculptures was held at the Portrait Gallery in 2008. He has since had seven solo exhibitions. The best known of these is “A Bronze Window”, which focused on materialism and the consumer’s woes and included both sculptures and paintings. “But in the early phase of the revolution, I felt an urgent need to portray my conflicting emotions. Unlike sculpture, a painting takes no time. I watched the masses gathering in Tahrir Square, calling for freedom and a new political order, and I believe that scene still haunts my imagination. In addition, I am a social person; I love to be among people. I find myself among the crowd that I portray on canvases. I have always wanted to express issues related to the people; their attitudes, ideas, sorrows, and celebrations.”

Reflecting an Upper Egyptian heritage that includes an exuberant Ancient Egyptian component, Abdel-Metemed’s 2008 exhibition “Tafanin” comprised a collection of clay dolls in different shapes and sizes, representing the dolls his mother used to make for the children on feast days. “As a village woman, my mother used to decorate the clay dolls she made with coloured egg shells. They were then hung on the wall, and used as amulets to dispel evil spirits and as a symbol of protection — my first lesson in pop art. This was a very rich period of time for me, growing up. I feel lucky to have been raised in southern Egypt, able to take advantage of the auditory, visual and material heritage of my city, which is almost like an open museum of ancient sculptures.” Lunar eclipses, landscapes and Ancient Egyptian symbols and figures are key. The sky goddess Nut, for example, is the subject of one sculpture at the present Picasso Gallery exhibition, “Sky”.

Here as elsewhere Abdel-Metemed’s take on pop art tends towards the abstract, which seems to depart from the nature of the genre. But pop art “is a broad concept”, he says. “I can use abstraction, even symbolism, as long as the painting works for ordinary people.” Many of his paintings are full of political symbols: red horses, bent chairs, plates full of food and inscriptions. One painting shown in the 2013 exhibition “Crossroads” shows masses of people flowing through the streets in different directions, spotted with fast food signs and politicians’ portraits. Pop art finds expression in Abdel-Metemed’s love of old cinemas and, especially, film posters of the 1960s and 1970s, with their “poignant style of drawing”, which he is now incorporating into one new project. He is also fond of Alexandria’s public beaches during summer. Pop art is the ideal mode of expression in the age of social media and confronting the clash of values, he says. Abdel-Metemed’s ongoing project includes a six-metre tall mural named The City, to be exhibited alongside cinematic icons and idols like the greatest of all villains, Mahmoud Al-Meligi.

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