Lust in Wonderland is a solo exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Riham El-Sadany, on display at Art Talks until 3 March.
The exhibition is accompanied by a slim catalogue near the entrance, which includes a statement written by Art Talks founder and exhibition curator Faten Mostafa.
In El-Sadany's paintings, women pose candidly while indulging in chocolate, cakes and lollipops within surreal rooms, while others roam a fantastic underwater world.
Using recurrent symbols such as sweets, horn diadems, water and wolves, the artist creates a visual language that seems blatant yet retains the mystery of symbolism.
Lust is a collection of lucid visions from a parallel universe El-Sadany imagines. The artwork triggers emotional responses from viewers, while the extensive text directs visitors into the variety of concepts that the paintings embrace. It also poses a question of what is left for the viewer’s imagination.
While not all exhibits in Egypt offer text accompanying the artwork, and some artists believe the reception of art should be left to the viewer without additional text, others prefer to have their work explained.
Reaching viewers with such supportive material has become the Art Talks gallery's regular practice.
The effort might become tricky, however, as the curator tries to balance explaining the exhibition and not giving too much away, so the viewer walking out the hall can still add thoughts of his or her own to what they have seen.
The artist statement written by Mostafa acts as a door opener — the first hint of what the artist seeks to communicate and the initial letters of El-Sadany’s language.
We learn how in El-Sadany's artwork women dominate the canvases in what Mostafa describes as “a world for women, by women.”
The exhibit’s catalogue sheds light on many of the symbols the artist uses. Mostafa writes about sweets expressing an appetite for life and horns symbolising power inspired by the Goddess Hathor.
“I’m not a writer, I’m an artist and one that has their own language, so I like it when curators write about my work. They speak with me and make sure it reflects what I’m communicating. I think that’s how it should be,” El-Sadany told Ahram Online.
She believes it’s important to share the process of her work and her thoughts, to make them more relatable. To her, sharing background information about the artwork is a matter of self-confidence.
“I think many artists don’t like writing about their work for fear that if they tell viewers what they really mean it would lose its value,” El-Sadany says.
The artist, hence, reveals that the exhibition statement does not expose all of her ideas, still leaving room for the interested viewer to roam and decipher her wonderland.
“I’m very honest in my life and work and my topics are relatable, but if you don’t know me, my art might seem shallow and you might miss the sarcasm,” says El-Sadany.
Sure enough, her confidence and feisty demeanour add perspective and context to what at first might seem kitsch artwork on the walls.
Having studied performance art, El-Sadany is interested in psychology and layers of consciousness. She challenges the perceptions of her audience, testing their reactions, daring them to see beyond the primary layer of eroticism.
While the images and the text address the emancipation of women and celebrate freedom, El-Sadany thinks freedom is a personal attitude, not a gift bestowed upon us from society.
“Society and others only hinder our freedom if we let them,” she adds.
The "Lust" El-Sadany refers to is the experience of passion, a state of being overwhelmed with whatever it is that makes one happy.
El-Sadany is no stranger to Art Talks, having exhibited there back in 2013 (Fantasmagoria). Mostafa deemed it essential to write about how the artist is evolving, adding that writing is central to the documentation of art history.
Art Talks’ mission is to propagate art education and awareness.
“We are not a supermarket, selling artworks off the shelves. Contemporary art is a very intellectual field and it is important to communicate all the ideas,” Mostafa explained to Ahram Online.
According to Mostafa, art lovers should read, and Egypt’s art scene is in dire need of critical writers that expand the conversation outside galleries.
Igniting a wider conversation is part of adding richness to the artistic dialogue, as in El-Sadany’s Lust and other exhibitions across the scene.
“When you look at one of my paintings, you are taking in my 37 years of living, experimenting, studying and creating. There is always more than what you see,” El-Sadany concludes.
The exhibition runs until 3 March at ArtTalks.
8 Al-Kamel Mohamed Street, Zamalek, Cairo