Helmy El-Touni reaches back to the roots

Soha Elsirgany, Tuesday 24 Feb 2015

The importance of heritage surfaces in Helmy El-Touni’s music inspired exhibition at Cairo’s Picasso Art Gallery

Helmy El-Touni at his new exhibit Enchantment (photo courtesy: Picasso Art Picasso Facebook page)

Helmy El-Touni opened his latest exhibition titled Enchantment (in Arabic- El-Maghna Hayat El-Roh), with a theme of music running through all the works. 

“Music is a more approachable medium than painting; this exhibit marries both together in an effort to further connect to the people,” El-Touni said, in an interview with Medhat El-Adl which was aired prior to the exhibit’s opening on CBC Two’s Enta Horr program.

Enta Horr regularly features figures from Egypt’s art and culture scene, and has recently dedicated two episodes to interviewing El-Touni.

Known for his timeless folkloric art, El-Touni continues to celebrate the Egyptian heritage and identity with music infusing his new painitngs with lyrics from a variety of traditional Egyptian songs.

In conversation with El-Adl, the artist highlighted that staying in touch with one’s cultural origins helps him create art that communicates to the people.

El-Touni, who was born in Upper Egypt but spent all his life in Cairo, perceives that this sense of nationality is not prominent in his birthplace. “The great artists have sought out origins- Picasso went back to African art, Matisse to Moroccan art- so how can we not be inspired by our own roots?,” he asks in the program.

He continues to explain that without disconnecting from the society’s realities, the challenge is to create quality art that also enriches people’s lives.

“Practice cultural mercy, don’t be arrogant and think your art holds a place above the public,” he recounts what was told to him by senior journalist Ahmed Bahaa El-Din- a mantra he continues to live by.

As part of the team renovating the Egyptian Modern Art Museum, El-Touni says that he suggested to then culture minister Farouk Hosny to begin implementing a reach-out system for the museum.

The discussion points to the reaching-out as part of the museum's international agenda, in which they visit institutions like universities, and offer them a tour of relevant artwork displayed in the museum.

“30 years of corruption hindered the growth of the art scene, shielding the people from anything that connects them to development,” El-Touni says, recalling how he was discouraged by the minister.

El-Touni has also expressed his regret that many Egyptian artists’ main target is to create work for the West, disregarding their sense of belonging to Egypt and its heritage.

“Now the art scene is flourishing, but I see no one who has firmly placed his feet on Egypt’s ground,” he concludes, believing that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to create a bridge between artists and the people.

The exhibit opened 20 February and runs until 17 March
Picasso Gallery, 30 Hassan Assem street, Brazil, Zamalek, Cairo


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