Through a truly versatile collection, Farid Fadel was inspired by the city’s understated elegance and undeniable heritage. “By world standards this is not a city of outer beauty, yet it offers so much in terms of history and culture,” reads Fadel’s artist statement. Fadel believes that it would take more than a lifetime to paint Cairo in its entirety, with its excess of angles and forces.
The gallery was stuffed with eager art enthusiasts and supporters on opening night. You are forced to walk sideways just to make your way past the eclectic crowd; it’s loud, and on this particularly warm night, the exhibition’s title, “Here is Cairo” suddenly makes absolute sense. A microcosm of the city confined to this white-walled gallery, Fadel’s paintings together with the fervent spectators embody Cairo; full of life, colour and noise.
A complex, love-hate relationship with Cairo pushes the artist to explore its every corner, and to paint it with unwavering passion. And through this exhibition, Fadel manages to capture much more than snapshots of everyday life in Cairo; he records the city’s spirit.
Through skillful manipulation of light, Fadel orchestrates his compositions to illuminate not only features, but also feelings. An old man sipping his cup of tea demands deep reflection. His forehead catches the sunlight, his cheeks curl up into a heart-felt smile, and his eyelids meet while he takes his final sip of tea.
Fadel paints a promenade of authentic Cairene scenes. The batata (sweet potato) vendor shoots you a toothy smile; the old man savors his cup of tea in the local ahwa (cafe), and loaves of bread pile up on street corners.
A soft paintbrush runs through all his canvases; Fadel’s brushstrokes softly embrace his subjects, giving his paintings a dream-like quality. It feels like déjà-vu.
The authenticity of his paintings can be accounted for by Fadel’s utterly hands-on approach towards art. He revels in sketching in the heart of Cairo, and spends hours on end among the subjects that end up on his canvas. “There is something magical about completing a drawing on location as you watch the light shift, hear the birds sing, and exchange small talk with curious onlookers,” writes the artist.
Despite the enduring, underlying Cairo spirit, Fadel’s palette evolves and changes from piece to piece. Fresh tints and tones burst through his canvases, rendering each one unique. The effects are sometimes subtle, and at other times bold, and it is this refreshing versatility that urges you to tread on, only to discover more surprises.
Waiting in line to get to the other side of the exhibition hall, you are happily occupied by a painting unusual in both style and subject. Spurts of garlic hang just outside a window, each white sphere inimitable. The artist recreates the garlic shell’s texture through applying thick, untamed strokes of creamy white paint. You are tempted to peel it off - surely not the best idea, for about a million of the art fans present would testify against you in court.
Fadel captures spontaneous snapshots of life in Cairo. The artist paints a man mid-prayer, his arms outstretched towards the sky, his eye revealing a sparkle of hope. Another man’s fingers are raised, reading to strike the tabla (drum) and let the joy of music reverberate throughout the sky.
Other depictions are less spur of the moment, yet equally moving. One of the gallery’s most atmospheric pieces is a composition of five Sufi dancers, their arms in motion, their white galabiyyas (gowns) twirling with a muted swish, capturing shades of blue and red. Fadel makes diligent use of his canvas, and so in the top right corner four doves flutter their wings in ecstasy.
Farid Fadel dedicates a few paintings to the January 25 Revolution, which he describes as the uprising which “restored Egypt to its people’s embrace.”
Upon entrance, a few paintings featuring the Egyptian flag, the Revolution’s martyrs, and the Egyptian spirit, greet you. Tahrir Square influenced Fadel as it has so many other contemporary Egyptian artists.
A young Egyptian stretches the Egyptian flag across a refreshingly blue sky, a triumphant smile on his face, while white doves fly about, celebrating. The young man’s red sleeve merges with the red flag, creating an unbreakable bond. “I believe Cairo still has many surprises up its sleeve…just wait and see,” says Fadel.