In photos: Egyptian renowned artist Nagy Shaker retrospective showcases breadth, depth of career

Soha Elsirgany , Wednesday 11 May 2016

Nagy Shaker retrospective included screenings of his most iconic works in puppet theatre

Nagy Shaker retrospective exhibition at Gezira Art Center (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

At the Gezira art center, a retrospective of Egyptian jack-of-all-arts Nagy Shaker opened on 27 April that will run until 19 May.

An artist, puppeteer, film director and scenographer, costume designer and graphic designer, and art professor at Helwan Fine Arts Faculty, Shaker is best known as the chief designer and puppet maker of El-Leila El-Kebira, the 1960s iconic marionette musical with lyrics and music by Salah Jaheen and Sayed Mekkawy.

In June 2015, Shaker was honoured with a state Appreciation Award in the field of arts, a top award granted by Egypt’s Supreme Council for Culture.

To Shaker all arts are connected, and his retrospective offers a look across six decades of artistic practice, showcasing his artistic fluidity and aptitude in all the genres he explored, placed in the Gezira Art Center’s four halls.

Puppets, Theatre, Television, Graphics and film

In Ragheb Ayad Hall, the walls are filled with informative posters of Shaker’s works in theatre, television, graphics and other less known ventures he meddled in, including commercial window-shop designs.

Rihana the puppet welcomes viewers to the space, displayed in a clear casing amid straw and dried stalks of grain, elements from her simple country-side home.

Shaker’s favorite among his creations by far, Rihana is a main character from Homar Shehab El-Din (Shehab El-Din’s Donkey), the 1962 puppet operetta co-directed by Shaker, and his second cooperation with the iconic duo Salah Jaheen and Sayed Mekkawy.

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Rihana welcomes viewers to Nagy Shaker's retrospective exhibition (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

In the Gezira Art Center’s garden, a recording of the original show screened to audiences on Sunday.

“You get to meet Rihana, my love, in this work,” Shaker says to audiences prior to the screening.

“I consider this the most important piece I’ve done in puppetry, and it’s very important because it is the second collaboration between Jaheen and Mekkawy. It was also at a time when puppet operettes were disappearing, and this work had revived the genre again,” he adds.

“The minister of culture loved it so much, we all got a EGP 10 reward, which nowadays is like EGP 100. He wanted to make it into a stage opera, but was told ‘but the hero is a donkey!’” Shaker says, and chuckles with the audience.

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Rihana (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

In 1970, a fire destroyed the décor for the piece, and Shaker took to restoring it and recreating part of it unchanged from the original designs. In 1994 the restoration was complete and Shaker oversaw filming it to become a reference for generations to come on the movement of the puppets.

Mohamed Nour, the current director of Cairo’s Puppet Theatre, attended the screening on Sunday.

“Despite El-Leila El-Kebira being the more famous show, I believe Shehab El-Din’s Donkey can be considered as the superior piece, as it is technically very finely executed, and we consider it a school for teaching marionette technique,” Nour says.

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Drawings for Shoghl Aragozat (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Another puppetry work, Shoghl Aragozat is displayed with Shaker’s drawings of characters, as well as printed posters showing scenes from the original performances.

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Photos of Shoghl Aragozat puppets, with artist Nagy Shaker (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The artist also briefly explored fashion and commercial window displays.

“Fashion is also theatre. And window displays abroad are an art. But that phase only lasted for a year, people weren’t interested so it didn’t catch on,” Shaker says.

Some of his unrealised projects are also presented, including Aly Baba and Peter and The Wolf.

“These are two children theatre pieces which I designed the set for, but in the end they were cancelled for financial reasons,” Shaker tells Ahram Online.

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Character studies for Shoghl Aragozat (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The artist also displayed for the first time his scenography study that employs a square and a triangle that can be shuffled to created different sets.

“In Egypt theatre is very poor, we don’t have the money for big technology in scenography, so I worked on this study for a set that can be shuffled to create different scenes from just simple shapes,” he says.

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Unfinished projects, Peter and the Wolf and Aly baba children plays (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

I wish someone would take this and realise it. I made this right before I began working on Light Talks,” he adds.

A series of posters showcase how the concept can be applied, as Shaker theoretically applied it to different plays including works by Kafka, Brecht, and Shakespeare.

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Scenography study (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Film scenography and costumes

In Ahmed Sabry Hall, Shaker’s scenography and costume work in cinema are displayed, with a selection of paintings, drawings and sketches dated between 1973 and 1978.

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Drawings for Shafika and Metwally costumes (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Studies of his work on the film Shafika and Metwally’s set and costumes takes up most of the hall, including his costume designs for Egyptian starlet Soad Hosny, as the film screens in a corner of the room.

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Nagy Shaker's folder of sketches and costume studies (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The costumes look very similar to the puppets the designs, all informed by the authentic Egyptian style.

“Its all the same direction and flavor,” he says.

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Scenography study (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

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Posters of Shafika and Metwally, starring Soad Hosny and Ahmed Zaki (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Study and amateur period

Shaker’s oldest works are displayed in Kamal Khalifa Hall. With some of his amateur paintings created between 1947 and 1952, including the first painting he ever made of a flower vase, in classical oil painting.

Another of his first oil paintings is a portrait of the artist's sister, Isis.

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Portrait of Isis, the artist's sister (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Works from his university years are dated between 1952 and 1957, and show a phase where the artist explored the different styles, from pencil sketches of women's delicate bodies, to darkly themed surreal paintings.

“Here you can see after the classical works, as there was some treatment and exploration,” he says.

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Early drawings by Nagy Shaker (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

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Early paintings by Nagy Shaker (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Light Talks

Last but not least, Shaker’s most recent work of 2015, Light Talk, is displayed in El-Hussein Fawzy Hall.

A display of installations or "paintings," as Shaker calls them, each incorporate unique light techniques to express the artist's dream. The rectangular blocks or boxes, rotating around the vertical axis or fixed, are illuminated from the inside. Different materials used create colours, bend, reflect or refract light. Music inside the hall complements the visuals bringing them a step closer to the theatrical experience.

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Light Talk installation (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Looking back, it is hard for the artist himself to choose which of the phases and which genre he favors. However Light Talk was a fulfilling project for him.

“I really liked it and enjoyed working on it, though it was very arduous and took around 50 or 60 experiments. As an installation artwork, it’s the most up to date work I’ve done,” Shaker says.

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Light Talk installation (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

“I don’t know yet what I’m going to do next, maybe theatre, maybe puppetry, or cinema, or maybe something crazy that I don’t know yet. As long as it’s something that challenges me and brings out something new,” he says.

“I do art for my pleasure before pleasing others,” Shaker says. And we are lucky he does as we expect to always see new works from this chameleon.

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Light Talk installation (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

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Nagy Shaker at Gezira Art Center, before outdoor screening of Shehab El-Din's Donkey on Sunday 8 May (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The exhibition runs until 19 May
Gezira Art Center, 1 Sheikh Marsafy street, Zamalek, Cairo

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