Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Cloverleaf wonders

Rania Khallaf finds out about the beauty of intersections

Cloverleaf wonders
Cloverleaf wonders
Al-Ahram Weekly

I was pondering the concept of intersection while I crossed Hassan Sabry Road to Gallery Misr. The idea has a double connotation: mathematical, and romantic. As an art lover, I was intrigued to see how the title might be curated. Opened last week, the exhibition gathers together work by ten artists from across the generations: sculptors Abdel-Hady El Wesahahy, Mohamed Radwan, and Khaled Zaki; as well as painters Ahmed Shiha, Nazli Madkour, Fathi Afifi, Essam Maarouf, Ibrahim El Dessouky, Mostafa Al Razaz and Reda Abdel Rahman. The sense of being at an aesthetic and even conceptual crossroads is evident as soon as you walk into the space.

Standing elegantly to the right is the Italy-based sculptor Khaled Zaki’s bronze depiction of a teenage girl looking up with passionate eyes, a depiction of adolescence as a stage that can occur at any point in one’s lifetime. Just facing it, in a blue dress, is the late Abdel-Hady El Weshahy’s fantastic sculpture on the same theme, The 17-Year-Old, standing proud and free with his hands around his tiny waist. A pretty obvious intersection here, but scattered on the wall are also  El Weshahy’s sketches in graphite or watercolor, peerless testimony to perfection.

Zaki’s Teenage, on the other hand, is accompanied by The Silent Mass, produced in 2012, which shows a still human figure in such a way as to make it look like a whale, reflecting the conflict between motion and stillness in an oblique take on revolution.  Zaki studied business administration at Cairo University before he decided to change career paths, working as an ancient Egyptian monument restorer. In 1988 he travelled to Italy to study sculpture. By the end of the 1990s he was back in Egypt, where he resumed his restoration work while launching his career as a sculptor, which he took up full-time in 2010.

Zaki believes “intersection” is a keyword in the “continuous process” that is his artistic career, which has consisted largely of arriving at and departing from crossroads. “In Italy, I was flooded by the amazing work of giant painters and sculptors including Fernando Botero. This was the strongest influence on my career as an artist. Egypt boasts a large number of amazing artists, but by comparison to modern art in Europe we still lag behind because of the lack of proper art criticism and philosophical controversies. As a society, we have stopped producing ideas, and this affects the development of art.”

For his part Ibrahim El Dessouky, an established artist representing the younger generation, chooses to exhibit two large charcoal drawings, a departure from his usual medium of oil paint. “It is healthy for artists who are immersed in their style to make a change and use new materials or tools. It helps them to inhale some fresh air, and to refresh the thoughts and techniques they adopted. In art history there are many examples of artists moving from oil to watercolour or from painting to etching. My situation is like that of Lucian Frued, who also moved from oil painting to charcoal drawing.” El Dessouky, who graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1992, is best known for his portraits. He started painting landscapes in 2008, and his two works, both 82 cm by 120 cm, are called Desert I and Desert II, are part of a new project on Siwa he started in 2014, avoiding the impact of the political turmoil of the last few years. They present the viewer with a quiet and relaxing prospect: a gray sky, black wild plans and an altogether marvellous sense of balance. “Inside this endless and useless space,” he commented, “you can find random plants as in life you find random hope.”

The mid-career artist Essam Maarouf’s 169 cm by 197 cm acrylic on linen is a multiple depiction of the same middle-aged woman whose eyes are closed, with a quiet face giving the impression that she is dreaming. It is a powerful image, but its repetition does not add much to the work. It intersects with Mohammed Radwan’s Line in Space, three polyester pieces of sculpture 40 cm by 40 cm by 100 cm, produced in 2013. They invoke a powerful botanical space, featuring high, thin stems emerging out of what looks like a thick black rug. They are reminscent of the work of Essam Darwish, who shares Maarouf’s first name and generation.

The senior established artist Nazli Madkour contributes two mixed-media canvases in bright and cheerful colours that are somewhat different from her usual work. Their botanical theme in turn intersects with Maarouf, while Fathi Afifi’s giant oil on canvas (200 cm by 100 cm), simply entitled The Factory, dominates a whole wall with its orange and brown colours. Labourers in blue suits circle giant machines in a work of socialist realism. Born in 1950, Afifi earned a technical diploma and went on to establish a career in the industrial sector of the army. He started learning to draw in 1974 as a part-time student at the Faculty of Fine Arts. His last solo exhibition, Proletariat, took place at Gallery Misr in 2012.
Reda Abdel Rahman’s giant, 200 cm by 140 cm mixed-media painting, Nefertari: Another Story, on the other hand, is extremely powerful. A kind of postscript to his last exhibition, A Legend, held few months ago at Gallery Misr, it reflects his love for Nefertari’s tomb and adopts a neo-classical style with scattered flowers and a pomegranate on Nerferari’s leg. “I was keen on producing a painting that could recall this historical figure to our memory,” he says.

For his part the established artist Mohammed Talaat, the owner of the gallery, says he chose the intersection theme for the year’s inaugural exhibition to make it inclusive and rich. “The idea of this exhibition is to create an actual intersection of professional artists from different generations with unique styles,” he said. Among the achievements of the exhibition, he feels, is that it features the first ever exhibited sketches by El Weshahy, a selection made from the over 800 sketches he left behind. One of the best on display, made in watercolour, shows a nude man and woman with extremely thin bodies at the edges, whose legs intersect at a single, pivotal point. They try to but are unable to converge.

The exhibition runs through 26 October

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