Painting of the Peasants by Hamed Abdallah (left) and sculpture of A Child from Luxor by Abdel-Badie Abdel-Hay (right). (Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)
Land and rural life is the common denominator in the works of the two contemporary late Egyptian artists: sculptor Abdel-Badie Abdel-Hay (1916-2004) and painter Hamed Abdallah (1917-1985).
Their works are now displayed at the reopened Karim Francis gallery, a space that had it's doors closed for more than four years. As it reopens, the gallery also celebrates the 20 years since its foundation by Karim Francis, from whom it owes its name.
Reaching out to the purely Egyptian themes, works by two iconic masters- Abdel-Hay's sculptures and Abdallah's paintings- go back to the first artistic and self-taught phases of their creators, the 1940s and the 1950s.
Abdel-Hay worked with different materials, creating the figures he met every day. Frustrated by the social injustice under the British occupation, he portrayed the characters around him, ordinary people and ordinary citizens. Following the Revolution of July 1952, Abdel-Hay began producing more works for which he received numerous awards.
Abdel-Hay took free courses at the Fine Arts school where he studied under the famous Egyptian sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar (1891-1934). He received the Mokhtar prize in 1943, 1944 and 1945.
In 1951, he won a scholarship for residency workshops in Luxor where he carved his famous sculpture titled A Child from Luxor. Carved in black bronze, the portrait depicts details of the face of an innocent child from Upper Egypt. A turban on his head, his gaze expresses pride and bravery.
The figurative style of Abdel-Hay captures moments in people's lives while also maintaining the classic proportions, and is meticulous when depicting details of the body.
It is with high dosage of subtlety, that Abdel-Hay celebrated women, reaching out particularly to those living in the rural areas and who spend long hours working in the fields. The Jar Bearer is among his several iconic works that highlight the beauty of the body of women. A more serious disposition emanates from Abdel Hady's depiction of a Man from the South and his own self-portrait.
Hamed Abdallah, in his turn, remains faithful to the land. In a way, his paintings create a conversation within themselves and with Abdel-Hay's sculptures about the rural life of the past.
Abdallah spent more than 20 years in France, yet remained attached to his native Egypt. Originally from Sohag (Upper Egypt), he worked in the fields with his peasant parents.
In a monograph about Abdallah, published in Arabic and French last year, his son Samir comments: "My father has always been attached to the land and very involved in his work. He had a deep respect for those who worked in the fields."
In the paintings on display at Karim Francis gallery, Abdallah gave birth to characters in a changing Egypt of the 1950s. Evoking the glorious world of the countryside, the form and medium varies.
His paintings representing the poor, simple peasants whose abstract faces are tainted with colours hide a glimpse of hope. It is in those peasants that the artist found a liberating side, portraying children playing, old friends and the countryside inhabitants with fixed gazes.
Waiving the rules of the major art schools and established trends, and emphasising experimentation, Abdallah managed to create a style of his own. His work ranges from lithographs, watercolours, gouaches, as well as mixed media where we also find cartoon boxes and crumpled paper.
"I paint nature not as it is, but as I see it," was the famous saying of the painter.
In Karim Francis gallery's exhibition, the faces and bodies of the Egyptians intercalate one another. Simple, studious, spontaneous and beautiful, these characters make us look deep in ourselves and touch on our origins, an invitation to exploration of our past.
The exhibition continues until 19 February
Karim Francis gallery, 1, El Sherifeen street, Downtown, Cairo