A spiritual and physical journey through life: An online exhibition by Egyptian artist Ibrahim El-Haddad

May Selim, Friday 14 Aug 2020

Serendipity is organised by Artsy and Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art

Ibrahim El Haddad
Ibrahim El Haddad, Untitled, 2019

Serendipity is a new online exhibition of oil paintings by Egyptian painter Ibrahim El-Haddad. 

The exhibition, held by Artsy in collaboration with Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art, is open online from 1 July to 31 August.

“The exhibition should have been held right after that of Esmat Dawstashi, held at the Mashrabia Gallery in March. Three days after Serendipity opened, the gallery was forced to close because of the coronavirus. Since Mashrabiya is a subscriber to the international Artsy platform, we decided to relaunch El-Haddad's exhibition online," said Stefania Angarano, director and owner of the Mashrabia Gallery, located in downtown Cairo.

"It’s a way of asserting our presence as a contemporary art gallery, despite the pandemic," she added.

"Online exhibitions are different than those held at galleries. Direct contact with artwork invokes different feelings. As the gallery's manager, I am for the use of the senses in the reception of artistic work. But circumstances force us to do otherwise,” she stated.

Some 23 paintings by Ibrahim El-Haddad are made available to online viewers from around the world.

Despite the current circumstances, El-Haddad tries to celebrate like, to take the viewer on an inner journey to return to the sources of joy hidden within through his works filled with vivacious colours and cheerful scenes.

Unlike his previous exhibitions, El-Haddad's Serendipity insists on the human presence as his portraits create links between Egyptian and African features.

“I cannot separate Egyptian identity from African identity. The two are complementary," the painter said.

Ibrahim El Haddad
Ibrahim El Haddad, Untitled, 2019

Frozen, yet lively

El-Haddad's characters are most often frozen; they are calm and serene, at times seated, at other times standing with body details presented in a minimal manner. Here we find characters who feel comfortable at home, relieved and rested. A few works reveal character traits: a native son wearing a fez, a woman in a flowery garb covering her voluminous body, a younger girl in red gazing at the horizon...

El-Haddad opts for a palette of warm and bright colours, especially when presenting clothes and accessories; green, orange, red, yellow dominate his canvases, giving them a sense of life, intimacy and warmth.

Some portraits are associated with animals: a monkey on the head, a white pigeon in front of the face or the mouth, a fish, cats here and there, etc. They remind us of the figurative style of ancient Egypt and stimulate us to find a connection with the animal. Such is El-Haddad's simple way to return to nature.

It is obvious El-Haddad is fascinated by the splendour of nature, appreciating the simple and cheerful relationships with and between animals.

The background of his portraits is made up of traditional ornaments, such as those found in old Egyptian houses.

Ibrahim El Haddad
Ibrahim El Haddad, Untitled, 2019

Characters who look like us

El-Haddad's protagonists look familiar. They look like our relatives and ancestors. The artist attempts to resuscitate a visual universe specific to the past, associating it with portraits reflecting the moods of today.

In some paintings, he goes deeper, delving into human souls -- part of the painter's favourite themes. On almost every canvas, the portrait takes the lion's share, and then he weaves all the details of the character around it, revealing the various aspects of the character.

“The portrait represents the physical aspect of the character. But there is also a spiritual side that cannot be overlooked: soul and body, spiritual and physical. Those relationships are hard to be expressed in words. Art is a combination of the material and the spiritual. We use materials (colours, palette, brush, canvas, etc) to express what concerns us (ideas, emotions, etc); it’s an everlasting dialogue. When we achieve the necessary balance between soul and body, we can easily find peace, calm and joy. Otherwise, we suffer from an unbearable internal conflict," said the painter.

Thus, on a single canvas, we see the portrait of a woman with a monkey and ornaments in the shape of hearts in the background. Then in the margin, we see this same lady having a more abstract body with wings, then in the background a third small portrait of her with a pigeon, a blue sky and clouds. It is man's journey from the material to the spiritual.

Ibrahim El Haddad
Ibrahim El Haddad, Untitled, 2019

On another canvas, a man is omnipresent. In the margin, he is depicted in the form of an angel with wings and a simple body without details. Above the portrait, a winged horse travels through the night with the moon shining in the dark sky.

Apart from portraits, some paintings translate fantastic landscapes: gazelles, plants, animals, and human beings. All come together in perfect harmony, evoking an undeniable euphoric feeling.

"These are rare moments that I try to express. It is the joy that arises from true communication with oneself and with nature. It is also a celebration of life. If a man is in tune with himself, he can really appreciate the small, ordinary things in life and feel happy,” El-Haddad explained. Accentuated by colours, this euphoric landscape reflects a real feeling that we sometimes get despite the constraints of life.

The return to nature, to primitive life, also seems to be a way of celebrating life. One of the paintings exhibited online shows the naked bodies of a man and a woman, communicating under a tree. They are surrounded by three horses, and the whole picture exudes a certain innocence. They remind us of Adam and Eve. In this return to origin and innocence, El-Haddad moves away from all that is fictitious and is content with a moment of spontaneity and joy, bringing the characters to appreciate the little things in life.

To view the exhibition, visit Artsy's website.

Ibrahim El Haddad
Ibrahim El Haddad, Untitled, 2019

*This article was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo, in French, in the 5 August 2020 issue. 

For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture

Short link: