A new season of exhibitions is offering some brilliant fare in the wake of the lockdown.
Within one week, over ten shows opened in Zamalek, including the second round of the annual group exhibition of caricature at the Ubuntu Gallery (6 December-2 January). Celebrating the work of cartoonist Bahgat Othman (1931-2001) and his wife the doll-maker Badr Hamada, it is entitled Bahagigo and Co., and features Hamada’s 45 x19 cm fabric dolls depicting female figures in different local costumes.
Bahgat’s cartoons under President Sadat forced him out of the country, and he settled in Kuwait until Mubarak came to power. On his return, however, he focused on work for children, prints of which are on display – they are a little too bright for all the detail to show – including 1990s work intended to raise awareness of children’s rights. According to cartoonist Samir Abdelghany, who curated the exhibition, this is the first major celebration of Bahgat’s work ever. It takes up the entire ground floor.
On the upper floor is work by 90 cartoonists including such household names as Hegazy, Ihab, Gomaa, Mostafa Hussein and Hassan Hakim. There is also work by woman cartoonists such as Nora Tharwat, Nermine Baha and Doaa Al-Adl, whose award-winning work focuses on women’s issues. As “an invitation to rethink Egyptian and world history from a humorous perspective”, according to Abdelghany’s statement, the exhibition includes a rare collection of sketches by Hakim affording a window into the mind of the cartoonist and the anxiety that besets it before the finished work.
In last year’s round, caricature was supplemented by a lot of other art, but with work by Ahmed Elmaghouth from Saudi Arabia, Arkan Al-Zeedy from Iraq, Mohamed Hamdi and myself, this year there is more focus on cartoons. “For next round,” Abdelghany announced, “I want to print and sell books and postcards.”
Gihan Fayez’s warmly received exhibition Mutoon (or Texts), which closed at the Nile Gallery this month, featured huge paintings of female figures with elements of still life using paper collage as well as acrylic and oil colours on canvas and wood. Thin white lines form irregular outlines for the ruffled dresses worn by the figures evoking something ancient. “I found Mutoon the most appropriate title as it refers to the ancient Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic visual and written texts,” Fayez told me. “I think of myself as a sponge absorbing visual heritage.”
It was Fayez’s 2017 participation in the annual Borollous Mural Festival, where she painted the walls of fishermen’s houses that prompted her to start working on this collection. A graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Minya, where she works as the professor of mural art even though she is based in Cairo, she is attached to the Upper Egyptian landscape and the serenity of the countryside. It is from the ancient monuments located there too – specifically the Amarna tombs – that she adopted geometric shapes and repetitive motifs. Before Mutoon, she gave seven solo exhibitions in Minya in which she experimented with various materials, first using this paper technique in 2010.
At the Zamalek Art Gallery, from 6 to 28 December, Ayman Sadawy exhibits sculptures alongside paintings by Nemat Al-Diwany. In her fourth solo exhibition, Al-Diwany makes a new leap in her as yet short painting career following a life in the business field. Her last exhibition, Equanimity (2019), held at the Picasso Gallery, was inspired by her own dreams.
This time, under the title Imagined Realities, she uses a cold but vital palette of blues and greens with some earth colours to visualise children’s story characters. Filled with fantastical human and animal figures – both traditional and surreal – the 35 canvases depict fairy tale episodes. Though beautifully painted, many works suffer from blank foregrounds. Two mixed media on paper paintings are exceptionally beautiful, however.
In an adjacent space, 15 bronze sculptures by Ayman Sadawy are shown under the title Moments of Bliss. They feature musicians and dancers ecstatically performing, with melancholy and joy deeply intertwined in their postures. Many draw nostalgically on the collective visual memory, whether in the chubby belly dancer or the dignified young woman waiting in the company of her cat.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.