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Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Between painting, photography and pottery, three Cairo exhibitions contemplate silence and time

Rania Fouad finds links between three Cairo shows: Taste of Time by Samir Fouad, Ashraf Reda and Ayman Lotfi’s joint show Silence of the Body, and the group exhibition A Flower from Every Meadow

Rania Fouad, Wednesday 9 Jan 2019
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“Taste of time” is the title of painter Samir Fouad’s latest exhibition at the Picasso Gallery. It features eight paintings in different sizes depicting the motion, at different speeds, of tiny colourful balls.

Each expresses a different mood: playful, regretful or mysterious. In this work the artist resumes an exploration of the language of form through still life which he undertook in 1992-2004.

“It was an experimental process,” he says, “a challenge to transfer the vividness of watercolour onto paintings produced in oils, which has a higher density.”

The shiny, glassy balls, painted in a symbolic abstract style, resemble children’s marbles as well as wedding ornaments of the 1950s. In this and other ways the collection deals with the passage of time. 

Another fantastically expressive piece, 80 by 100 cm, features a sad bride locking arms with a black-clad plastic mannequin rather than a groom.

The painting is painful — shocking. It shows the agony of the passage of time from the perspective of a middle-aged single woman who still aspires to the experience of love and company.

At the same time, it’s a comment on the decline in masculinity (seen as a positive value). Fouad usually paints women in motion, which makes this piece all the more powerful for its stillness.

One abstract piece, 35 by 47 cm, shows an empty alleyway where the light grey ground contrasts with dark, hazy buildings on both sides. Time empties space of humanity, although the bright horizon leaves some room for hope.

Time was also the theme of Fouad’s 2013 exhibition “Nostalgia”, another motif of which was the swing, which is the subject of a beautiful 80 by 100 cm painting in the current exhibition.

It is depicted in such a way as to suggest an inverted boat or the mouth of some beast, though there is nothing to devour except time itself. Another painting, 120 by 90 cm, features an absent-minded oud player, painted in yellow.

The figure is placed at the bottom of the canvas, while a bare grey area bears down on his head. Nothing happens beyond the same silent passage.

It is something Fouad’s new work has in common with artist Ashraf Reda and photographer Ayman Lotfi’s joint show of huge, jointly signed images at the Zamalek Art Gallery, “Silence of the Body”.

The pieces have their own erotic charge, imbued with cinematic weight: pervaded by black, they are interspersed with fluorescent flashes like flames or sparks of hope in the midst of depression.

They fluctuate between expressionism and symbolism. The female body is used as raw material with which to improvise on an image of joy.

Each piece also reflects the interplay of photography and draughtsmanship, with the former mostly providing the starting point or base image — a female figure, which is what Lotfi’s work tends to focus on anyway. Here is nothing new, and Reda’s decorative drawing adds little to the overall experience. 

One of the highlights, which makes good use of Reda’s work, is a 164 by 107 cm piece showing intersecting female limbs covered in Arabic calligraphy and geometric patterns in bright colours, more pronounced against the black background.

In another, 135 by 135 cm, two female bodies crisscross, their golden hair flying. Their bodies fuse to form a working space for Reda. One powerful piece shows a bird’s eye view of two ballet dancers.

Decorated with zigzagging lines and minimalist triangles rather than the more elaborate motifs in other pieces, their bodies are multiplied in such a way as to suggest a sunflower, with their heads forming its centre.

This is the first collaboration between the award-winning photographer and the professor of interior design, and it would’ve been far more powerful had the work focused on the interaction between them, rather than arbitrarily placing one mode of work on top of the other. 

In “A Flower from Every Meadow” at the Ubuntu Gallery, four artists show powerful paintings and pottery.

In mixed media on canvas, Lambro Vassiliadis depicts legendary characters that emerge from nature surrounded by lovable flora and fauna. Inspired by dreams and myths, they reflect a unique understanding of Greek, Roman and Islamic art.

Born in Cairo to a Greek father an Italian mother, Vassiliadis started his career in Cairo in 1963. Following a long absence and a string of achievements elsewhere in the world, he has returned to Cairo with a new affirmation of his Mediterranean and Middle Eastern connections. 

Born in 1983, American University in Cairo graduate Sara Al-Samman is an interior designer-turned-artist who, in a mixture of collage and watercolours, depicts the fast rhythm and paradoxical isolation of everyday life in Cairo.

Visiting Home, a mixed media on cardboard diptych, 60 by 60 cm each, shows side views of buildings, cars and stray dogs conversing in silence.

Recalling the time theme, School Wall Elements, an acrylic on canvas piece, 100 by 100 cm, features a black and white cat stepping cautiously on top of a wall decorated with calligraphic notes and childish drawings.

Programme:
Silence of the Body can be seen until 6 January
Zamalek Art Gallery, 11 Brazil St., Zamalek, Cairo

A Flower from Every Meadow until 15 January
Ubuntu Gallery, 20 Hassan Sabry St., Ibn Zinky St, Zamalek

Taste of Time until 18 January
Picasso Gallery, 30 Hassen Assem St., Zamalek

*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly.

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