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Multiple Vision: Sculptures and photography explore body and soul

Currently showcasing in Safarkhan gallery in Zamalek is a dynamic collection of sculptures and photographs by three contemporary Egyptian artists, which test the boundaries between body and spirit

Sara Elkamel, Monday 25 Apr 2011
Alfons Louis "Iron Composition"
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Each exhibiting artist brings forward a multifaceted vision: photographer Marwa Adel portrays the female body and soul through layering photography and graphics while sculptor Sarkis Tossoonian presents the everyday human; modern, yet mature in spirit. Alfons Louis carves original designs into old materials, blurring the lines between the past and the present.

Young artist Marwa Adel presents the female body entangled in intricate webs of wild dreams and inhibitions. Adel snaps photographs of nude females, their backs arched, their necks outstretched, their essence radiant; she then applies computer graphics that adorn their bodies.

In mostly monochromatic compositions, she shoots the body, then communicates the soul through elaborate designs. In one piece, a woman is squeezed in a corner, staring at you with closed eyes, her shoulder slightly elevated, seemingly engulfed in a moment of silent pride. The black and white piece is interrupted with a spill of red, located right on her face.

The artist is aware of modern-day society’s restrictions on a woman’s freedom in the Middle East. “I expose the inner dreams and conflict of women in Eastern society,” she says.

But in light of such strict margins, the young artist still takes snapshots of lean female bodies. “It’s a challenge, without a doubt,” confesses the artist. “But I enjoy my own freedom to create art.”

One of Marwa Adel’s pieces, Whisper, was recently auctioned at Christie’s. The artist revels in the chance for global audiences to see and appreciate her artwork. “It makes me very happy to be sending this message to the world; Arab women may have been silenced, oppressed, but they are not silent. They have a voice.”

Adel’s subjects are bombarded with simulated designs. The artist enjoys translating her ideas into visual sketches. “It is that move from the conceptual to the visual that exhilarates me.”

In Adel’s black and white or sepia-toned pieces, body language plays a major role. “The woman’s pose delivers a certain message,” she says. “Body language alone has the power to convey a certain state of emotion.”

Yet Adel especially cherishes a woman’s face. “I am fascinated by the way her eyes and lips can communicate feeling.”

After studying sizeable renditions of female bodies, your eye falls upon green sculptures, depicting graceful human figures. Sarkis Tossoonian, born in Alexandria in 1953, exhibits bronze sculptures that combine an old spirit and a modern character combined in a single individual.

Tossoonian paints the enduring human being, through daily changes and shifting lifestyles. “I create the modern and the old, together as one,” says the sculptor.

His sculptures are miniature human bodies. They are rough and grainy in texture and green in colour, interrupted by occasional smooth, gold sheets. You see your reflection in the shiny, mirror-like gold, and suddenly become part of the sculpture.

“The rough, dark parts represent the old, enduring human essence, while the soft parts show the modern elements,” explains the artist. Living in Alexandria, the sculptor is influenced by its tranquil nature, the breeze and the sea. The sculptures appear to be eroded slightly by the force of wind and the water.

But the artist was also influenced by Cairo and its vintage arts. “When I was a student, I would spend hours in Mahmoud Mokhtar’s museum in the city,” he reminisces. The contrast between the loud and boisterous city and his serene, seaside hometown is obvious in his artwork.

“My sculptures gain balance by the emergence of both rough and soft aspects.” A free, raging spirit, and a smooth persona are two sides of the same coin.

One of Tossoonian’s figures athletically stretches one leg backwards, and spreads two golden arms as if about to fly. Graceful and forceful, the sculpture evokes a sense of flawless balance.

Despite textural contradictions, the sculptor’s intended message is constant throughout: love. “If we can learn to love one another, in our differences, and decide to focus on what’s beautiful, then we can eliminate all ugliness,” says Tossoonian. “Love is the first step to tolerance.”

Also combining the old and the new, Alfons Louis creates wooden sculptures that flaunt Egyptian heritage with a modern twist.

Fascinated by anything with a rich past, Louis scrutinizes Coptic and Islamic designs, and reinterprets them in a new context, using his own vision.

Against a backdrop of materials so sympathetically worked on by time, Louis portrays authentic symbols from his hometown, Alexandria. Fish and other sea creatures emerge, carved on pieces of old wood. Elegant fragments of turquoise and orange stones embellish his coarse wooden sculptures.

Enthralled by ancient arts, Louis hunts for old materials. “I walk across the shore until something catches my eye. It is an old piece of wood. I pick it up, along with its aged stories,” says Louis. And the history-laden materials cooperate with the sculptor, donating their past to his modern piece of art.

The artist pours his heart and soul into his sculptures, and they respond. “When I carve into old materials, I am overwhelmed with emotion.”

The exhibition, which runs until 13 May in Safarkhan gallery in Zamalek, is a dynamic promenade through three different visions of life, each uniquely enticing.

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