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Young Egyptian artist, Hend Samir, displays life's little adventures in Mashrabia gallery

Ahram Online visited Hend Samir at Mashrabia Art Gallery where her works are currently on display. Samir talks about her creative inspirations, technique and the role of art in society

Nahed Nasr, Wednesday 1 Jun 2016
Hend Samir
Fragment of the paining by Hend Samir, part of “My Favourite Things” group exhibition. (Photo: courtesy of the artist)
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“Adventure is a form of art. Through a collection of paintings I am trying to find out how joy and the spirit of adventure can be alive in a quite limited place and atmosphere and performed or implemented in various forms,” reads Hend Samir’s artistic statement accompanying her works which make part of “My Favourite Things,” a group exhibition that runs until 30 June at Cairo’s Mashrabia Art Gallery.

Born in 1986, Hend Samir graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in 2008. She engages in numerous media: painting, printmaking, mixed media and installation. Her work has been exhibited solo and in several collective exhibitions in Cairo, Alexandria as well as internationally, in Mattress Factory Museum in USA and at Supermarket Art Fair in Stockholm, Sweden.

In 2014, she was one of the winners of the third edition of Roznama, a competition and exhibition organised by Medrar for Contemporary Art, Cairo with a focus on young contemporary Egyptian visual artists.

Hend Samir
Paining by Hend Samir, part of “My Favourite Things” group exhibition. (Photo: courtesy of the artist)

Ahram Online (AO): Your paintings are full of life. They are like scenes from everyday life, regular people in their homes, rooms, on the balconies, streets, etc. What is your source of inspiration?

Hend Samir (HS): In “My Favourite Things” as well as in all my previous works, I am always interested in the little adventures of normal people in their everyday life. In this particular exhibition, I was inspired by dozens of albums of my family photos. I love to watch photos of normal people, be them my family members, or people who post their photographs online. Photography is always my starting point. However, the final work is not a collection of self expression.

In our isolated life in the city where there is no chance for huge adventures such as climbing a mountain or camping in the woods, people create their own small adventures, sometimes becoming quite weird. For example, a child walking on the balcony’s balustrade is not a normal thing, kids in a family gathering playing on top of the dining table, or someone who covers himself with a fabric, all those are testimonies of creating one’s own world that goes beyond the time and place. People add this crazy touch to their life, even if it is in a limited place, in their homes. We create our unusual stories in the usual flow of life.

Hend Samir
Paining by Hend Samir, part of “My Favourite Things” group exhibition. (Photo: courtesy of the artist)

AO: Photos play an important role in your work. Can you tell us more about it?

HS: The final result has nothing to do with the photos I see. I take almost one year to work on a project. In the first three months I watch a huge number of photos. In some projects I grab my camera and I take photos myself, as was the case with "Cairo Walks" or "Consumption Lifestyle" collections. In this phase, I also read a lot.

Then I begin the phase of collage: I pick and mix the items from different photos to create a story, which is a brand new story coming from my imagination. This story becomes my reference for the painting phase.

Sometimes photos are pasted on my canvas, however, in most of my work, it is pure painting on canvas inspired by the collaged story. Each painting for me is a scene, and the viewer is free to imagine the scene that preceded or followed it.

Hend Samir
Paining by Hend Samir, part of “My Favourite Things” group exhibition. (Photo: courtesy of the artist)


AO: When did you start to have this special relationship with photography as source of inspiration?

HS: Actually when I was a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts we were not allowed to use photography, since in the school, photography is considered a point of weakness. After graduation I met with renowned Egyptian artists such as Hany Rashed and Mohamed Abla and I discovered that not only do they resort to photography as an important source -- not only for inspiration -- but also incorporate it in their paintings. I used photography on monoprint in one of my first exhibitions after graduation.

Yet, my relationship with photography started when I was a child. My father was a fan of his camera and he used to take a lot of photos of the family. I see every single memory of my childhood in them and above that they help me imagine stories about my family’s past. This is particularly inspiring in the black and white photos of my father and mother. City dwellers do not have many sources of inspiration and photography for me was the source.

Hend Samir
Paining by Hend Samir, part of “My Favourite Things” group exhibition. (Photo: courtesy of the artist)

AO: Was this the same in your previous exhibitions?

HS: My exhibition “Cairo Walks” (2013) was triggered by a snake that literally fell from one of the downtown Cairo balconies. I was walking with my sister when it happened. It was unbelievable how such a reptile like that lives in the city.

I took my camera and started shooting downtown streets from different angles. The final collection was about dinosaurs and monsters walking the downtown Cairo streets and riding public transportation.

Also, when working on the 2014 group exhibition at Medrar for Contemporary Art, I took a lot of photos in the malls and supermarkets. Here the family photo album was the source of inspiration. Photos in magazines and on the internet are also on my list, I see a lot of photos and the images come to my mind when I start the painting.

Hend Samir
Paining by Hend Samir, part of “My Favourite Things” group exhibition. (Photo: courtesy of the artist)

AO: In “My Favourite Things,” we find a significant dosage of nudity and daring scenes. How do you see nudity as an artist?

HS: Body has always been one of my research interests. Yet I do not prefer the idea of the nude model of the 1960s where she sits on a chair doing nothing, as she becomes the main subject of the painting. I like to put nudity in the context of a story, so people get involved with what is happening and not only watch a static figure.
Also, nudity is part of our everyday life- people hide, feel ashamed to reveal their bodies. I am trying to challenge those concepts, for me as an artist when drawing and also for the audience. In one of my panoramic paintings you can see the kids playing in a room and the parents in their bedroom. They do not see each other but you see the different actions happening at the same time.

I would like to go ever further and add other contexts, beyond the family life. But I have to take it one step at a time.

Hend Samir
Paining by Hend Samir, part of “My Favourite Things” group exhibition. (Photo: courtesy of the artist)


AO: With scenes that can be considered daring by some viewers, what feedback did you receive?

HS: This collection has other paintings which I could not even put on display. I am not upset, there are other ways to present them, on social media for example. What upsets me is that we still do not have that freedom of expression, and people are being judged for the freedom of dealing with their body.

Some commentators criticised my nude paintings. I think this whole issue deserves a discussion, so we stop holding ourselves back and talk about nudity, art and all that. For example, you can explain that it is the imagination of the artist, or that it is part of our life and we should not hide it. In all cases, at this stage, and in our society, dealing with the issue of gender and body is still a kind of adventure.


AO: Your paintings have very strong, vivid colours? What is your concept behind this palette?

HS: At the beginning my palette was more psychedelic. Colours in my paintings are completely different from those in the photography. For me the painting should be as far from reality as possible.

I paint to capture my own visualisation of the reality and not to reflect reality, even if the source of the paintings are the real life. Cheerful, bright colours give me energy and joy. When I think about the painting the first thing that comes to my mind is colours, not the lines and dimensions. The details follow.

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