Scribbles: Interactive stories for children tours Cairo

Soha El Sirgany, Thursday 20 Nov 2014

New roving show for kids bridges the gap between art and the viewer, at Nahda Centre until 18 December

Ramy Gamal, Samir Saad, wonderbox
Storyteller Ramy Gamal and Samir Saad on rababa, with wonderbox at the background. Mashrabia Art Gallery 16 November 2014 (Photo: Soha El Sirgany)

Mashrabia Art Gallery hosted the book launch and interactive exhibition titled Scribbles, featuring Sahar Abdallah's latest book for children, Wagadt Baytan. The event on Sunday was founded by Al-Mawred Al-Thakafy (Culture Resource) and supported and hosted by a number of other venues.

Touring like a caravan, Scribbles has shifted venues. On 6-7 November it visited the British Council, and on 9-13 November it was at the Children’s Cultural Palace. The interactive workshop accompanying the exhibition took the young audience into the fascinating crossroads between visual arts and literary narratives.

Aiming to familiarise primary age children (6-11) with contemporary artists, the workshop invited the young attendees to create work inspired by each artist featured in the book Hekayat Fann.

Illustrator and artist Abdallah believes the workshop invites children to appreciate various styles and distinguish the features of different contemporary artists – the watercolours of Adly Rizkallah, oil paints of George Bahgoury and Helmi El-Touni’s bold lines and intricate detail.

Abdallah is taking her young audience beyond the pages of the books. Mashrabia's one-day event included storyteller Ramy Gamal, who walked the young audience through the stories, accompanied by Samir Saad on the rababa (a bowed instrument).

The exhibition will now move to Nahda Centre, where it will stay until 18 December.

During its stop at Mashrabia on 16 November, Abdallah's artwork hung on the walls, enlarged painted pages from the book Wagadt Baytan (I Found a House), folded like closed windows – teasing viewers into opening them up and uncovering the full picture, the adventures of a flea named Toot, who jumps from one place to another in search of a place to settle.

A centrepiece of the exhibition is a "wonderbox" – a small theatre box that is considered a precursor to cinema and has been used for storytelling since ancient times. Here the wonderbox is built like a small castle, with round lenses that children peer into, where scrolling images of Abdallah's story go past inside.

In another interactive reach out, Mahmoud Fahmy recited the story in poetry, alongside a rababa player.

Abdallah has been illustrating for children since 2006, with her work featured in many children's magazines such as Qatr Al-Nada and Al-Arabi Al-Sagir.

Her illustrations for My Heart is Very Young, written by Magdy Abdel-Raheem, gained her the State Incentive Prize in 2012.

In the same year, Abdallah launched her project, A Book and a Painting, exhibiting pieces from the first book she wrote and illustrated, titled Hekayat Fann.

Abdallah's own style is simple and light, with childlike drawings of fresh lines and ample white space in her compositions.

"I like to think on the same level as children, my aim is to connect with them," says the artist.

As for writing, the illustrator notes the difference between her two books: "This time I experienced the new challenging role of creating and shaping the story. Quite different than my first book, I've assimilated the artists' biographies."

Abdallah also offered children the role of developing the story by leading a workshop where she asked children to create alternate endings to Wagadt Baytan, imagining the next adventure of Toot the flea.

"It's very inspiring and exciting to see what the kids come up with. Sometimes they’re so good I say, 'Why didn't I think of that?'" she jokes.

Her vision is to invite the young participants into discussing stories, teaching them that the book is also theirs and just the author's. Abdallah wants to reach them in schools and make it common for children to meet authors. While she instills in children a sense of appreciation of art and storytelling, she also infuses the experience with a sense of wonder.

18 November to 18 December
Daily except Sundays, 10am to 8pm
Nahda Centre for Arts and Sciences
15 Mahrany Street, Al-Fagala Ramsis (behind the Jesuit School)

Short link: