Not binded by taboos, Egyptian artist Weaam El-Masry takes complete freedom in imagining or rethinking a world around her.
Currently exhibiting her works at Gallery Misr in Zamalek, she uses mixed media and materials, opting for paints, pencil and charcoal, collages, etc.
In the collection titled Untamed Bodies, she uses a great variety of tools that allow her to question, as she sees fit, the conflicting relationship between man and woman. And to achieve a better understanding of the nature of these ancestral conflicts, El-Masry decided to paint anonymous characters, as she conceals their identity and is content to emphasize their obese bodies.
Is it the body of a man or a woman? We often ask while contemplating a painting. For El-Masry, obesity is a kind of societal mirror, which reflects many fantasies and contradictory representations, without any differentiation between the sexes. Thus, the artist places his characters on the same footing.
Men or women, both with deformed, unbalanced, torn, twisted, sometimes even torn bodies, they fight against an invisible force, which draws them towards hollow, emptiness and nothingness.
Here are arms, hands, legs, feet, torsos, fleshy masses, intertwined and contiguous, in conflict with each other. All of this is drawn using hatched lines, in black color. Everything is expressed in half-tone, but turns out to be of great depth.
Men or women, it doesn't matter, as at the end the wisest and not the fittest survive.
“They are blurry and out of proportion, just like life'" Weaam El-Masry comments on the characters in her works.
"I also wanted to stress the inequality between men and women. Life is ruled by male hegemony, especially in obscurantist Arab societies. Women lose their freedom to act, to express themselves, to exercise their rights, despite a semblance of modernity," the artist adds.
In humans, obesity is synonymous with helplessness, violence and ugliness. El-Masry uses a deliberate, well-targeted irony.
On the other hand though, in women, obesity serves to express a beauty that enables her to respond to mockery, criticism and attempts to discredit her.
“The female characters have rounded and voluptuous shapes. They have volume; it's magic, and that's what fascinates me. Their weight, on the other hand, gives them lightness, flexibility and grace,” emphasizes El-Masry, who does not like working with models. To her a model constitutes limitation to her freedom to paint.
El-Masry admits that she doesn't need anything in front of her. Her character choices are arbitrary, all of them the fruit of her imagination, sometimes also of the mischievous reality.
The bodies of El-Masry’s protagonists try to escape the force of gravity, they float on the surface of the painting, to find peace and serenity. The expressive energy that El-Masry offers to her characters accentuates their pounding side. They are propelled in an open frame showing bright landscapes, many with dominating orange colors. This is their way of clinging to freedom, against social abandonment and marginalization.
"Bringing optimism, hope and openness, the color orange attributes to the paintings good humor, human warmth and cohesion," El-Masry explains.
Among recurrent denominator of El-Masry's paintings is a bull.
"The bull fighting a mythical minotaur or a wild horse is actually me. A great seductress, the Taurus woman knows how to achieve her goals, she is often demanding, energetic and vigorous,” the artist says.
The bodies of her female protagonists are reminiscent of those painted by Michelangelo on the huge vault of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican. They are subject to a desire that is both aesthetic (lengthening of the figures) and expressive (distortions intended to highlight a moral expression).
This is Weaam El-Masry's way of emphasizing the powerful and emotional feminine side.
The exhibition Untamed Bodies continues at Gallery Misr until 24 September. Address: 4, Ibn Zinky Street, Zamalek, Cairo
*This article was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo, in French, 16 September edition
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