The 25th January revolution in Egypt has stirred many emotions, thoughts, and art throughout the country. Energies have been unleashed and creativity finally set free, and painters are now celebrating the sudden onset of freedom of expression.
Egyptian art currently mirrors the surge of such liberty, and galleries all over the city are showcasing artwork that celebrates and commemorates the success of the uprising.
Khan Al Maghraby features paintings by almost 20 contemporary artists; each piece documenting a specific angle of the revolution, while relaying the artist’s particular narrative.
An artistic renaissance
One of the featured artists, the prominent Hany Rashed, is extremely optimistic. “This revolution will bring about an artistic renaissance,” says Rashed.
One of Rashed’s exhibited pieces is a colourful, mono-paint adaptation of a photograph he found on Facebook, the social networking website that has played an irrefutable role in the success of the revolution.
Rashed confesses that despite the new-found freedoms, artists remain at a loss of how exactly to use such freedom, and translate it into art. “We suddenly find ourselves ‘out of the cage’,” he exclaims.
Yet the artist is hopeful. “It is not easy to adapt to this unexpected liberty,” says Rashed. Egyptian artists are currently in a phase of self-discovery, with a host of possibilities ahead.
Despite Rashed’s optimism, he remembers his martyred colleague, Ahmed Bassiouny, with grief. “The day before his death, he called me and his voice was barely audible, he had lost it from all the chanting.”
Losing a fellow artist has deeply affected Rashed, among other painters. Many of the exhibited paintings feature photographs or drawings of Bassiouny himself.
Tasneem El Meshad exhibits a trilogy of sparsely-coloured portraits that show Bassiouny’s face, the first complete, the second slightly faded, and the third utterly disfigured, with a blotch of red paint where his right eye should be.
A tribute to Bassiouny
Paying tribute to the late artist, the gallery carries many renditions of Bassiouny’s visage, and the result is a latent sense of his presence.
Maha George, another featured artist, describes the revolution’s influence on her artistic output. “During the 18 days of the revolution, my productivity was very slow,” she says. “I had to keep up with all the news, and I was caught up in all the events, the tears, and the prevalent feelings.”
The artist started to paint at a very slow tempo, slowly composing emotion-infused and anecdotal artwork. “The revolution gave me energy, and it charged me as an artist,” reveals George.
Yet translating this profuse energy into art was tricky. “It was challenging to inject perspective, ideas, and concepts into my work, rather than simply providing snapshots of the sequence of events,” she explains.
An amalgamation of symbols and scenes
George sought to express, rather than to document. One of her pieces is an amalgamation of symbols and scenes that combine to give an overall ethos of the revolution. Flags are waving, as people show alternative signs of jubilation and distress.
The artist studied Tahrir Square very closely, and spotted “people chanting, dancing in celebration, waving their flags, with the lights emphasising their courage.” Equipped with such vigour, the artist has created paintings that transmit the spirit of the revolution.
George believes that Egyptian art is approaching a new era, where freedom of expression is uninhibited. “As the mind is set free, ideas will become richer, and more refined,” George believes. Artist and thinkers now have the space to be inventive.
Strolling around the gallery, one is overwhelmed with the celebratory spirit shooting off the canvases left, right and centre.
Flags are waved all around, painted by diverse paintbrushes, collectively dipped in red, white, and black.
Khan Al Maghraby Art Galler, 18 El Mansour Mohamed St.,Zamalek, Cairo
The exhibition will continue until the first week in April, with the possibility of an extension.