After a brief hospital stay, the critic and artist Ezz Eldin Naguib passed away last Friday, leaving the art community in grief.
Born in 1940, in Al-Sharqiya, Naguib was a multi-faceted artist: a prolific art critic, a creative writer and a painter. He graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1962, and was a founding member of the Plastic Arts Syndicate, the Writers Union, and the Society of Visual Arts Critics. He also established the Asala society for preserving traditional contemporary arts in 1994.
Besides his numerous contributions to group exhibitions in and outside Egypt, he gave more than 30 solo exhibitions across the country. His first solo exhibition, “Inspired by the High Dam”, was held in 1994 at Al- Anfoushy Cultural Centre in Alexandria.
As a critic, he published numerous books, of which the best known may be The Dawn of Modern Egyptian Art with Dar Al-Mostakbal Al-Araby; it became a resource for generations of critics.
Naguib was also a short story writer. His first collection of short stories, Bread and Salt, was published in 1962, while he was still a university student. It was well received, and three more would follow.
His work as an artist was inspired by his travels in Upper Egypt, notably Nubia, as well as Siwa, depicting their unique architecture and houses. A good part of his oeuvre is inspired by traditional life of women in rural areas, focusing on mothers’ suffering and women’s traditional handicrafts.
In a large-format, 320-page art book published in 2018 by the Dai Art Gallery, dozens of Naguib’s most significant paintings are reproduced alongside essays by Hisham Kandil, owner and founder of the gallery, and other critics. The catalogue gives an insight into the artist’s life and his invaluable contribution in the visual art scene over the last 50 years.
The prelude of the catalogue cites Naguib’s famous quote: “Have you seen what I gained from art? It gave me many birthdays to guard from death, as many birthdays as paintings!”
The late novelist Gamal Al-Ghitani, one of Egypt’s iconic writers, said in an article published in Al-Akhbar newspaper in May 2015, a few months before his own departure: “Naguib is a charismatic figure, a man of principles. My friendship with Naguib started even before I met him. He was a prominent short story writer in the early 1960s. His collection Ayyam El-Ezz or [Days of Welfare] was a significant one.” Al-Ghitani also mentions that Naguib was imprisoned in 1972. “His book entitled Drawings of the Cell recorded his memoirs in prison and the drawings he secretly made during that difficult period.”
On his Facebook page, the veteran visual artist Samir Fouad mourned his lifelong friend: “Naguib was a multi-talented artist who had the spirit of a warrior, a man who never changed his national and political opinions. In the last few months, his body was withering like an old tree, but his spirit never bent. Till the very last minute he was the same youthful fighter and mindful creative artist.”
Among other prominent artworks, the artist is famous for his eloquent charcoal sketches of 2008, inspired by the unique architecture of Gorna, Luxor.
Naguib’s latest contribution was a long essay published in the catalogue of Sketch, a group exhibition dedicated to sketches by the leading generation of artists including him, which opened last week. Currently on show at Ofok Gallery, attached to Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Giza, the exhibition can be seen until 20 October.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly