Opening at the Picasso Art Gallery on Sunday, 13 November, an exhibition entitled Egypt Rises Again is a promenade through Cairo’s packed streets in the eyes of Mohamed El-Nasser, as he paints a catalogue of faces, some pensive, some bored, and others ecstatic. Throughout, his paintbrush is dipped in bold, vibrant colours that bring the portraits to life amid the crowd.
With an art career that goes back more than 20 years, El-Nasser has painted Egypt over time, his colours swaying for decades to the pulse of the people. He paints faces and places, and gives each a distinct character. This year, the artist, along with 80 million people, has experienced a surge of freedom; an uprising changed the dynamics of a nation. As an artist, El-Nasser artfully reflects the ramifications of the January 25 Revolution on the people he loves to paint in Egypt Rises Again.
Upon entering, one spots a half-finished painting of a beautiful, veiled Egyptian woman peering out from behind a dark door, the rest of the painting occupied with a fresh sunny-yellow colour disappearing into a white, unpainted canvas.
“This yellow is the colour of the sun, which we wake up to every day,” El-Nasser says. The artist describes how this piece mirrors the Egyptian escape from gloom and tyranny and into metaphorical daylight. “And there’s no way back into the dark,” he says.
The artist says that he strives to paints places and faces that people may see every day, but never really notice. “We take our (Egyptian) history and heritage for granted,” he says. But El-Nasser spends his time documenting places often overlooked or forsaken as relics of an old Cairo. The artist paints crowded streets and mosques in old Islamic Cairo, “places that carry the value of our heritage.”
The artist fears that, in light of technology and modernism, the richness of Egyptian heritage is eroding. He sketches panoramic scenes from places forsaken by high-tech values. “You can only find it there, the richness and the smell of our heritage.”
While many artists have resorted to documenting the revolution through using the flag’s three colours, El-Nasser’s palette reaches for the skies. His canvases flaunt playfully bright colours that illustrate the boisterous streets of Cairo. Egypt rises through his collection, but not in the literal sense.
“I tackle the revolution from a conceptual sense,” he explains. “I am trying to look at people from a different perspective.” El-Nasser says that the uprising has affected each individual differently, and he aims to capture the contrasting emotional reactions of his subjects (both people and places) through his art.
As an artist, something as major as a revolution makes him see things anew. “I want to represent the world in a brand new manner,” he says. “By painting scenes and places through my eyes, I invite people to explore them in a different way, and hopefully never see them the same way again.”
One of El-Nasser’s paintings is dominated with life-size watermelons, while female vendors appear, camouflaged in the backdrop. The artist focuses on poorer areas of Cairo, where he believes the city’s essence is.
“Cairo’s alleys are where its heart is; they are the foundations of society,” he believes.
El-Nasser’s collection speaks to you. Snapshots of a city’s people take you right to its heart. Regardless of Egypt’s dreary political landscape at the moment, Egypt rises again at Picasso Art Gallery.
The exhibition runs until December 5.
Picasso Art Gallery, 30 Hassan Assem St., Brazil, Zamalek