Born in Cairo in 1925, painter Gazbia Sirry studied fine art and became a professor in the painting department of the Faculty of Art Education, Helwan University. She was also a professor at the American University in Cairo. She is widely believed to be one of the leading Egyptian artists, with a varied and innovative career of more than 50 years. Her academic work traces Egypt's political history. Sirry’s paintings capture the relationship between feminist consciousness and Islamic futurism.
Her work is dominated by women in unmistakable poses of power stemming from female unity, performing roles in the public and private spheres. Her earlier work deals with polygamy and strengthening the fertility and reproductive power of women.
In the late 1950s, Sirry made stylistic and thematic changes to reflect the grim mood created by discontent with the crackdown on dissent and the curtailment of political freedom across the country. In the mid 1960s, when it became highly abstract, these dramatic changes are apparent. Her art is distinguished for its innovation in expressing the feelings and traditions of the Egyptian woman during the 1960s. Abstraction was replaced in the early 1970s by the reappearance of human forms, but the dark paintings represent Sirry’s fears for women’s emancipation. In the 1990s, she helped to liberate the Egyptian woman from the old traditions through her work.
She has given more than 50 solo exhibitions, from Paris to Washington, D.C., from Venice to Sao Paolo, from Stockholm to Dakkar, from Kuwait to Tunis, with official purchases by international museums and international prizes. In her nineties Sirry continues to paint for the love of art, and as a way to express her joys and fears.
Her paintings are on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art in Cairo.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly