Art records not only scenes of life; it recreates its cultural imprints. Currently showcased at ALMASAR Gallery in the heart of Cairo is a compilation of artworks by contemporary Egyptian artists, reflecting lifetimes of colourful expression and artistic cultural interpretations.
ALMASAR’s Figurative Practices is a broad collection featuring paintings and sculptures by some of Egypt’s most prominent artists. Each piece is unique in subject matter, palette and the mood evoked. Still, the diverse assortment is held together by a pervasive Egyptian identity.
Ahmed Farid exhibits an abstract painting so rich in colour it overpowers you. Farid creates an intense experience of color through drowning his canvas with thick layers of bright paint. Against blue skies, vertical structures stand, boasting yellows, oranges and more blues. At first glance, the blocks of colour seem to be an unpremeditated effort to transfer as many colours as possible from their tubes onto the canvas. The result is a textured panorama, urging you to run your fingers across its coarse surface.
Transfixed in the tide of colour, you begin to see elongated buildings lined up across the canvas. After what feels like an hour with the painting, inspecting every stroke and layer of colour, you spot figures jumping, and moving within the painting.
Hany Rashed, a young artist who never fails to surprise art fans with playful colours and fresh ideas, exhibits two large pieces. “The Network” is a large square canvas divided into a few sections. The logo of Facebook appears in purple, along with a drawing of Elvis Presley and a girl eyeing her reflection in a mirror. The piece has a Western feel to it, while its colours are evocative of pop art. It seems to comment on globalised contemporary society — the "Network" in which all aspects of life intertwine.
Magic is injected into the collection by Essam Marouf. Two huge paintings stand side-by-side, featuring women in sparse colour, still utterly captivating. On linen, Marouf paints a woman’s face as a block of yellow paint tarnished with strands of green. Against the deep blue background the visage looks like it is a light bulb, glowing faintly yet warm with passion.
The next story Marouf paints is of a woman apparently in a trance, the background made up of the darkest blues while her face is painted in the palest yellow. The lady’s eyelids are sealed, yet her soul emerges radiant. Like a big, un-round moon, the woman is charming and mystical. Despite her proximity — she is right there, inches from your eyes — you still can’t figure her out.
The only circular canvas in the gallery is Adel El-Siwi’s “Homage to the casual painters”. Like a scene out of a Shakespearean play, the painting has a dreamlike quality about it. A character floats in the golden sphere, his wings flapping (or you’d imagine them to be) while a jester stands at the edge of the canvas. Experimenting with subject matter and composition, El-Siwi displays what contemporary Egyptian art is all about — painting the unrealistic, skillfully, and with unwavering charm.
Against a spotless white background Ibrahim El-Dessouky paints a girl with eyes incredibly deep. The shadows are so well executed, highlighting her fragility and youth.
A sculpture showcased by Nagi Farid is refreshingly unusual. A human head with a hole where the features should be is unsettling yet comical. As if snatched from place by the person’s own hands, the sculpture emerges as the ultimate and extreme form of emancipation.
As your eyes rotate from one painting to the other, you are overwhelmed by the variations in colour and the sheer amount of visual stories that you seem to have walked in on. Each piece tells a different tale, told by artists with distinctive backgrounds and perspectives.
Life is represented on canvas, in the boldest of colours, the palest of palettes, at times explicitly expressed, at other times hidden behind layers of brushstrokes. With colour as their ammunition, Egyptian artists fight to record facets of their lives in their beloved nation — their frustrations and desires materialise on canvas for the world to see.
The exhibition will continue until 25 September
ALMASAR Gallery, Baehler's Mansion, 157b, 26th of July Street, Ground Floor, Zamalek, Cairo