Reunion is the title of an exhibition by the brilliant painter and sculptor Mohamed Sabry, one of the most distinguished artists based in Alexandria.
Held at the ZagPick gallery in Sheikh Zayed, the exhibition featured, as well as sculptures, many large paintings dominated by degrees of blue and red. Sabry’s trademark crowds is in evidence as he places nine figures in a 260 x 150 cm oil on canvas, risking crowding the painting by colouring them red – a colour that gives him overwhelming energy. A 100 x 100 cm painting with more space features two blue oxen with two nude women riding them in opposite directions. Inside the oxen, and equally in the background, tiny houses are painted in white. This painting summarizes the painter’s concept of the reunion: resorting to nature.
This collection was produced in 2020 under lockdown. “The collection reveals our yearning as humans for encounters and healthy relationships,” Sabry said in an interview at the gallery. “I realised at the end of the year that all my paintings featured groupings of both humans and fauna.” Here as elsewhere the artist is influenced by ancient Egyptian art, particularly under the 18th and 19th dynasties, which followed the Hyksos occupation and sought to reassert Egyptian identity, and its modern folk permutations. In a 200 x 200 cm painting featuring the tree of life, make and female figures appear inside the leaves while other, larger figures stand around the tree to protect it.
A 2005 graduate of the sculpture department of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Alexandria, for my money Sabry is a better painter than sculptor. Two bulls with plants sprouting out of their mouths might belie this impression, but on the whole the paintings are far more exciting. His paintings involve black outlines, testifying to a love of drawing. Sabry grew up in a village near Rashid, where joy was tied up with nature and community – the object of the reunion being discussed.
In a group exhibition at the Cordoba Art Gallery, Generations of Artists (6 February-6 March), two 70 x 100 cm oil on canvas paintings by Miriam Hathout are especially powerful. An internationally recognized artist who graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Zamalek in 2002, in those two pieces Hathout takes the viewer back to nature with two innocent-looking donkeys surrounded by red and purple flowers. Here and in her Nubia inspired exhibition Land of Gold, Hathout layers oil colours to the point of creating something three-dimensional.
In a unique position, Alaa Hegazi contributes a 120 x 80 cm black and white painting in water colours featuring a picture of the Egyptian diva Um Kolthoum in a sensational shot from one of her movies.
In another room, two 80 x 80 cm oil paintings by Jordanian painter Zayed Shawwa are part of a collection that examines the relationship between a man and his chair. A 2005 graduate of Amman University’s Faculty of Engineering, Shawwa has involved himself in a number of workshops in different spots, including the Florence Academy of Arts in Italy, and had a successful career in design. His fresh take on still life led to his trademark man-chair dialogue.
“It was interesting to contemplate life as if it were a stage,” Shawwa says, “where people, objects and statues play kind of a game. It was enchanting to depict the traces we leave on chairs. There is definitely a part of you in everything you do. When you sit on a chair for a while, the chair preserves your energy and therefore acts as your partner in some way.” The complete collection was exhibited in Amman in February 2020, a few days before the Lockdown.
Also beautifully exhibited are two elegant sculptures in bronze by the renowned painter Salah Anani, who started producing his unique sculptures back in 2011, together with a new painting demonstrating the artist’s style in depicting Egyptian folklore.
At Al Mashrabiya Gallery in Mohandsine (open until 27 February), the Germany-based Palestinian artist Rima Al Mozayen exhibits 16 powerful drawings and graphic pieces. Inspired by her participation in an art residency in Germany last March, she focuses on the relation between leaves and the human body. A cultural activist who lived in Italy for 10 years but also worked in Gaza, Al-Mozayen earned her MA from Cairo University’s Faculty of Art Education in 2008.
This group of drawings is a part of a bigger collection entitled ‘We will blossom once again’, inspired by the atmosphere in Germany. “I believe humans are like leaves,” she told me over the phone, “their psychological and physical condition alters with the seasons; we get tired, hopeless, weaker, but there comes a time when we are strong again.”
One captivating piece shows male and female figures and leaves depicted in a monochromic style using degrees of black and white, which makes it easier for the viewer to focus. “Ever since the coronavirus pandemic, I have found myself yearning to use black and white, following an excessive use of colour in my previous paintings. This might reflect the harsh, cold weather here in Germany, compared to a warmer and more intimate Italy.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 February, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly