Makram Henein, a pioneering artist who worked at Al Ahram for nearly 50 years, passed away last week at the age of 83.
Along with artists Salah Jahin, Gamil Shafik, George Bahgory and Nagui Kamel, Henein helped to create Al-Ahram’s image as the strongest newspaper in the Middle East starting in the mid-1960s, and in turn became one of the press institution’s greatest icons.
Born in 1939 in Assiut, he joined Al-Ahram soon after his graduation from from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Zamalek in 1962, and illustrated stories by Naguib Mahfouz and Youssef Idris and poems by Amal Donqol. In 1975, he established the newspaper’s art department, and his paintings appeared in the Friday supplement from 1988 to 1996. He designed unique book covers for, among others, the collections of the great poet Salah Abdel-Sabour, who personally asked him to.
I was lucky to witness Henein in person when I joined Al-Ahram in the mid-1990s. He was a peaceful soul, always smiling as he roamed the fourth floor of the main building in what looked like an artistic trance. In those years Henein also helped to found the culture pages of Al-Ahram Weekly.
Henein contributed to countless group exhibitions, the last being “Black and White” in 2021 at the Duroub Gallery in Garden City. The first of 12 solo exhibitions by Henein was held in 1972. The last, “Spirituality between Reality and Imagination”, took place at the Picasso Gallery in Cairo in 2011 and the Mahmoud Said Centre in Alexandria in 2012. It featured Henein’s trademark figurative expressionist style, an inimitable aesthetic drawing on ancient Egyptian, Coptic, Islamic and African sources.
The final exhibition featured The Revolution’s Sun, a symbolic depiction of the 2011 revolution, and Banat Qibli (or Upper Egypt’s Girls), a reference to Mahmoud Said’s seminal painting Banat Bahari (Girls of Alexandria), a kind of homage to his birthplace in dialogue with the earlier, pioneering artist. A still life showing a vase of flowers on a table overlooking the sea depicts the conversation between the material and the spiritual.
He used a range of media from ink on paper to oil on canvas, creating oil and mosaic murals decorating Al Ahram headquarters. These include Press and Democracy in 1992 and Life on the Nile Bank in 1995. Alongside such legendary figures as Mahmoud Said, Seif and Adham Wanly and Tahia Halim, he is an essential component of the Al-Ahram collection, one of the most greatest in the Middle East.
Perhaps it is time the institution published catalogues of the collection to preserve the legacy and help the younger generations.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.