Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Cut and paste

Handicrafts have seldom interested art galleries. Yet this week, Rania Khallaf finds them the main attraction in not one but two exhibitions

Cut and paste
Cut and paste
Al-Ahram Weekly

Clippings of Fabric and Paper is the title of a new group exhibition of handicrafts at the Doum Gallery. One of the participating artists, Mohammed Reda, is a 1990 graduate of Cairo University’s Faculty of Education, Fine Arts Department, who has been living in Saudi Arabia for 18 years. He uses oil pastels to paint on tarbal fabric, used to make tents in Dammam. In various sizes up to 4m by 2m, he executes seemingly abstract lines that morph into fantastic figures. Although he has made almost all his paintings in Saudi Arabia, the work does not reflect any influence of the local environment. “On the contrary, what matters is exploring myself, my inner conflicts, and affirming my Egyptian identity,” Reda says. Intertwined figures of oxen, camels and legendary-looking birds are his recurrent themes. One of the most interesting paintings, however, features two clowns, painted in a sarcastic style to reveal the evil spirit of some people, as the artist put it who wear the mask of a clown to hide their grudges.

A graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1977, George Fakhry is one of the famous patchwork artists in Egypt. He started his career in Sabah El Kheir magazine while still a student. He worked with Negada, the famous fabric village, in 2000. In this exhibition Fakhry makes unique bags, outfits and dolls in patchwork. He uses bright colours and original, fashionable designs. Fakhry also uses newspapers clippings to create collages, which he exhibits separately. The idea of having two separate sections for his work is to illustrate the versatility of the same idea: “Using expendable material to produce art. It is a kind of recycling of different materials to produce artistic products.” A challenge, he says: “In addition to unique cloth I am bringing from different parts of the world, some of my clients used to bring me rags of their old clothes, and I would curtains, tablecloths and other products.”

Many accomplished artists produce handicrafts, Fakhry says, but the market for hanicrafts in Egypt remains small and uncompetitive. “I used to work as a trainer with local and international organisations whose main goal is to develop handicrafts in Egypt,” he says. “I can say for sure that the problem is with the administration of some organisations, not artists. Corruption is the main ailment behind this deterioration of the handicrafts industry, which could easily make Egypt one of the biggest industrial countries in the world if there was a sincere national organisation adopting a rational policy to lead the handicrafts industry.

The problem is that the funds granted by international organisations to revive the handicrafts industry in Egypt usually are often spent on publicity rather than reaching the small-scale, poor artisans who need them. It is a vicious circle.”

Nuby Badie, for his part, makes portraits out of leather cuttings. Although he did not study art, Badie is well-known for his portraits of world leaders, and has taught in art schools. His talent for using the remains of leather was already showing at the age of 14. His work is celebrated by the media, but he believes the Ministry of Culture should organise paper and leather workshops for children, so that the movement will not die out. Based on his mother’s tales, Badie’s drawings reflect Egyptian folk culture.  

The naive artist Ibrahim Al Beridi, 59, who has his own exhibition, Clippings, at the Art Corner in Zamalek, provides an uplifting and relaxing celebration of life.

Using fabric and thread, Al Beridi makes compositions of smiling dolls that seem to welcome you into his unique world of wonders. Born in the village of Sorad near Tanta, Al Beridi has no university education but has come to enjoy an excellent reputation as the only artist in Egypt who specialises in this material. He has contributed cartoons to magazines and won international awards, exhibiting for the first time at El Sawy Culturewheel in 2006. His brilliant work reflects an infatuation with the world of children: girls and boys with their intimate dolls, cats and elephants, in a cheerful mood. But he also depicts elements of the countryside: small homes, palm trees, saints’ anniversary carnivals and popular weddings, as well as traditional folk tales.

“This kind of art is not a difficult,” Al Beridi says. “It is all about choosing the colour of the fabric and threads, and developing techniques to add a new spirit to each new piece.” For the background, the artist uses rough sackcloth in different colours, balancing out the smooth, brightly coloured fabric of the details.

Sometimes he adds straw, minimally enhancing the volume of a house for example. The naughty and beautiful cats who are present in some works were the focus of a special exhibition last year, Street Cats, which included 170 pieces. A future exhibition will be dedicated to Charlie Chaplin, one of the artist’s favourite comic characters. “The new exhibition will feature the life of Chaplin in Egypt — an attempt to involve him in the daily life of Egyptians, acting as waiter in a café, a street vendor, etc.”  

On Monday 21 July, the ninth round of the National Festival for Traditional Crafts was inaugurated by Minister of Culture Gaber Asfour and the head of the Fine Arts Sector Salah Al-Meligi. Around 25 handicrafts NGOs representing different Egyptian governorates are participating in the festival. In addition, heritage research centres affiliated with the Arts Sector, departments of the Ministry of Industry that specialise in the development of handicrafts and the Handicrafts Syndicate are also participating. The Festival will feature a number of workshops, and a competition that aimed at developing certain handicrafts in order to cope with the spirit of the age, as well as an exhibition of work by 30 artists who were inspired by items of heritage and traditional ornamentation. The festival also includes a seminar on the future of handicrafts, during which a national initiative to develop the industry will be kickstarted. It all sounds very impressive, but will it ultimately amount to anything? Not according to the artists interviewed.

“Our country is very rich in handicrafts in all fields: pottery, ceramics, clippings, patchwork and many more,” Al-Beridi says. “But this festival is just propaganda, a mere show. There is no real interest on the part of the Ministry of Culture to solve the problem of marketing the brilliant handocrafts produced in different parts of the country.” If the government is truly keen on this source of pride and income, he insists, it should establish efficient marketing and export centres in every government to help the local artists develop their careers.

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