Two of Cairo’s art galleries, Soma and Medrar, recently hosted a selection of works from artists that participated in the international movement of Inktober.
Inktober was started in 2009 by American artist Jake Parker as a challenge for himself to practice his ink drawings. It has since grown into an international movement in which thousands of artists take to social media to share their ink-based work under the hashtag #Inktober.
At Soma Art School and Gallery, an exhibition titled Selected Works from October opened on 17 November showcasing four artists, while Medrar’s exhibit titled Expired Ink, curated by the cultural foundation Transit, opened on 20 November to display the work of 10 artists.
Soma’s exhibit runs through 27 November, presenting works from artists George Azmy, Hany Mahfouz, Mohamed Fathy and Mohamed Salah, who are graphic designers by day.
Artwork by Hany Mahfouz at Soma (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
For Mahfouz, founder of HMD graphic design company, making pen drawings provided a refreshing break from his usual creations at the computer.
“I’ve been designing on the computer for over 20 years and haven’t drawn by hand in a long time, so Inktober was a chance to go back to pen and paper,” he said.
Mahfouz’s displayed pieces are a collection of over 10 simple and fluid drawings, all based on a thin black line on white paper, often depicting abstract figures.
“Most of the time I won’t have anything particular in mind when I start to draw. But I like lines, even more than the subject. The line is what leads me, and the final drawing is like a box to frame these lines,” he says.
It was Mahfouz’s first time to join the Inktober challenge, which he only learned about last year.
“On some days I would sketch around 15 or 30 [drawings], and other days I made none. I was drawing for myself, without thinking if they’d be seen or displayed,” he said.
Artwork by Mohamed Salah (Photo: courtesy of Soma)
The classic way to participate in Inktober is to make one image a day and share it.
For Mohamed Salah, the month’s progress was not as consistent but fruitful nonetheless.
He chose to display just four pieces at Soma. In red and black, the characters in the small frames have a vigor to them, depicting skinny boxers in action, with long legs, hunched backs, and beards that fall beyond their red Converse shoes.
“I didn’t have much time most of the month, until once while listening to a seminar I began sketching what came to mind, then I took it from there and developed it,” Salah told Ahram Online.
An associate creative director at Fortune Promoseven, Salah is also a comic artist who was featured in the Egyptian the comic magazine TokTok.
“I work full time so when I draw it’s for pleasure. Some time ago I decided that I would draw [by hand] everything that is not work related, even if afterwards I would finish it up on the computer,” he said, pointing to the merits and joys of manual art –making versus computers.
Every once in a while he sticks to a theme, like in a set of portraits he did for last year’s Inktober.
“Inktober is a good exercise, and usually good things come out of the experience because it’s an opportunity for experimentation,” he said.
Artwork by George Azmy at Soma (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
At Medrar, Transit’s director Fatma El-Zahraa told Ahram Online that the idea for the Expired Ink exhibit was there before October started.
“Our team followed the artists’ work on social media [through #Inktober] and then selected the ones we felt were developing an idea and doing something interesting with it,” El-Zahraa said.
Most of them chose a theme, such as Makhlouf’s collection of hens and roosters, and Ahmed Hefnawy's nostalgic pieces that revisit a by-gone era in Egypt’s history.
Hefnawy’s Instagram page, where he posted photos of his ink paintings, tells us the pieces were each made with just one drop of black ink.
Brimming with nostalgia, the characters are dressed from another time (roughly between the 20s and 40s), and they share the frame with objects and scenes from a lifestyle long gone, like the tarboush—worn by Egyptian men until the 50s—the iconic El-Kawakeb fashion magazine, and a movie poster with stars of the era.
The illustrations are monochromatic, though a couple are embellished with a splash color that flashes like an accessory: a golden chandelier being dusted off by a house servant, or a golden calligraphy sign adorning a jeweler’s shop front.
Artwork by Mohamed Fathy (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
Migo chose to display a few scenes from a comic he is working on, centering on a small man the size of a thumb who goes on adventures in an oversized world. His pieces were the only digitally printed pieces in the exhibit, while Hazem Kamal’s intense and detailed work, which brings to mind the exotic island scapes of the far east, were part digital illustration, part hand drawn.
“Some artists produced five or six pieces in the month, others did even more than 30. Many of them selected their works for the exhibition; we helped in the selection with some, while others displayed all of their Inktober work. There are also some pieces exclusive for the exhibition that weren’t shared on social media,” El-Zahraa said.
She pointed out how the show expanded the outlines of Inktober from basic paper and ink to different media.
Hicham Rahma’s work was displayed in several different forms: a large sketchbook that invited viewers to flip through its pages, a foldable accordion-like notebook displayed open on a low table, and an installation with a plastic head, which the artist drew on with a marker in a style reminiscent of 80s American artist Keith Haring.
“We thought the sketchbook was an interesting addition so you can see the artist’s work throughout the month behind the scenes, next to the final framed works,” El-Zahraa said.
Artwork by Ahmed Hefnawy at Medrar (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
Another unexpected work was that of Mai Koraiem, who made her ink drawings on a collage of newspapers.
Hand-inked versions of Umm Kalthoum were merged with news, and depicted over the announcement of the singer's death in the newspaper.
Besides the work of these two artists, the exhibition had many elements that rendered it refreshing.
A live drawing session by Rahma and Kamal was held on opening day, and a blank poster and markers were hung at the gallery for attendees to make their own ink contributions, allowing them to participate in the exhibit.
These additions lifted the exhibition from its original two-dimentional frame, on paper and on the social media hashtag, making it a more engaging experience for viewers.
The exhibit also featured the work of Ahmed Tawfig, Hala El Sharouny, Makhlouf, Mohamed Tawfik, and Nermin Bahaa Eldin, and closed on 24 November.
Artwork by Ahmed Tawfig at Medrar (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
Artwork by Mai Koraiem at Medrar (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
Artwork by Hala El-Sharouni at Medrar (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
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