Esmat Dawestashy, a painter, sculptor, art critic and writer, is displaying works painted before and after the Egyptian Revolution placed in separate sections in the Extra Gallery space in Zamalek. “Before the revolution I was bordering on hopelessness, as I witnessed the situation in Egypt getting worse,” he said.
Before the revolution Dawestashy painted in washed-out colors, with unclear and shaky lines that highly contrast with his other works. One of the paintings is blank with only his signature on it.
Another large canvas painted before the revolution section displays 10 figures standing next to one another, each against a differently-patterned backdrop. The figures, all of which are women except one, are standing in shame, some hiding their sensitive parts, while other are looking downwards. They look like a pack of playing cards, as the patterns are of the shapes of the heart, spade, tree and diamond as well as arrows.
“Before the revolution I felt we were being manipulated like a pack of cards,” Dawestashy said. “The arrows also show the different forces of control.”
In the "after the revolution" section, Dawestashy has paintings of some of the symbolic and well known images of the revolution, such as the iconic pictures of the martyrs. He also has a painting of his son Abdallah — who was injured on 28 January, being shot with a bullet to the chest, though he recovered — on 4 March in front of the State Security building as protestors stormed in.
Other works of Dawestashy include a series of publications over the six years starting 25 May 2005 after the constitution was amended to ease the way for Gamal Mubarak, the former president’s son, to assume power. His first edition of the collection Maarad x Ketab (Exhibition x Book), was a booklet of black papers: “Today the candles have been extinguished and darkness has pervaded.” In 2008, the booklet’s papers were made of meat paper wraps, to symbolise rising food prices.
Now Dawestashy has hope that the revolution has brought back faith to his cynical generation, who, he says, were suffering from hopelessness ever since the military defeat in 1967. Dawestashy described the revolution as a creative and artistic one, as many artistic endeavours erupted in Tahrir Square, from song to poetry to painting and theatre. He strongly believes that culture plays an important role at the moment as it enlightens people. Yet, thinks that artists should not adopt right or leftwing ideologies.
“Socio-political problems were always at the height of my interest, as well as the interest of artists of my generation,” Dawestashy says. “We didn’t have the luxury to contemplate about other issues, or draw paintings of flowers and nature. I am concerned with the human being in general, especially the woman,” he added, as “she represents earth, the nation, the wife and the mother.”
Most of the figures Dawestashy draws are women, and many of the figures and motifs evoke similarity to Pharaonic or folkloric drawings. “I am inspired by our cultural heritage, be it Pharaonic, Islamic, Coptic or folkloric,” he said. “I consider it my school.”
Some of the artists that have shaped his style in the early beginnings include Egyptian artists Abdel Hady El-Gazzar and Effat Nagy as well as Pablo Picasso. The Egyptian artist Seif Wanly was his teacher.
The veteran artist Esmat Dawestashy was born in 1943 and has had around 60 exhibitions locally and internationally since 1962. He has published many books and studies in art criticism and documentation and has written poetry, short stories, screenplays and his autobiography Al-Ramla Al-Baydaa. He directed a number of short films, including Mahmoud Said (1997) and Al-Risha Wal-Qalam (The Brush and the Pen, 2001).
Dawestashy has won many prizes including an award for children's illustrations in Japan, one from French radio for the design of a poster on Africa, Cairo's Picasso-Miro Award, and the jury award at the 18th Alexandria Biennale.
Dawestashy was the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria and recently has been appointed head of the Alexandria Creativity Centre.
The Dawestashy exhibition will be ongoing until 25 June at Extra Gallery in 3 El-Neseem Street, off Al-Montazah Street in Zamalek, Cairo.
Opening hours: 10.30am - 2pm and 5pm - 8pm