A beautiful fragility

Rania Khallaf , Tuesday 21 Jun 2022

Rania Khallaf enjoyed two new, flower-filled exhibitions

Wissa Wassef School
Wissa Wassef School

 

Titled Azahiry (or “My Blossoms”), Haytham Abdelhafeez’s recent exhibition at the Ubuntu Gallery (11-24 May) featured 33 variously sized acrylic on canvas paintings of flowers. Evocative and metaphorical, the images were inspired by the artist’s dissatisfaction with the position of women in Egyptian society: “There still are many restrictions on the freedom of women, most obviously in the conservative way they dress and their struggle at the workplace. Women are like flowers. Their strength is a reflection of their inner beauty.”

As in his last two exhibitions “The Return” and “6x9”, Abdelhafeez adopts a naïve, sketch-like style. In the first he painted landscapes with bird figures, while in the second he made evocative portraits. Here he turns to flowers.

Born in Dairut, Assiut and raised in Kaduna Nigeria, Abdelhafeez graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Menia in 1993, and lived in Germany from 2000 to 2005. He has assimilated the aesthetics of a range of cultures and enjoyed open scenery, painting landscapes and still lifes from nature. Abdelhafeez uses acrylic, oil pastel and charcoal on canvas, and his work often has a spiritual vibe.

In one 30 cm x 30 cm piece in the present exhibition, the artist’s self portrait as a young man is juxtaposed with a potted plant in the sky. In an impressive 150 cm x 200 cm piece, a bunch of grey-green flowers contrast with the transparent vase and the clouds in the background, while two lovers on the other side of the picture sit on a bench, each looking in a different direction. Blossoms suggest not only spring but also love and beauty at any time of year. Here as elsewhere, twisted vases and pots look breakable, reflecting the power of the wild things they contain.

In many pieces, creatively painted spaces in white provide breathing space. Blue, green and white dominate the artist’s pallette, while the use of red and orange adds a cheerful note. Composition is very creative; asymmetrical blank backgrounds help to keep the eye within the limited space of the canvas for longer.

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Also at Ubuntu, a new exhibition titled “Wissa Wassef: the School of Instinctive Creativity” (1-21 June) showcases a breathtaking collection of wool and cotton tapestries and carpets woven by the school’s spontaneous artists.

The ground floor is allocated to work from private collections, not for sale, while the upper hall showcases various pieces. Throughout, landscapes are beautifully depicted and composition is powerful.

Abdel-Hafeez

In one 150 cm x 345 cm wool piece by Ashour Meselhi entitled The Creation of the World and produced back in 1984, animals, birds and trees are woven in an effective naïve style. In a small 72 cm x 68 cm piece, Male Cat by Rawheya Ibrahim, produced in 1955, a naughty red cat looks directly in the viewer’s eyes, inducing a desire to play.

Born in 1911, Ramses Wissa Wassef, an acknowledged architect and professor of art, graduated in Paris in 1935, and came back to establish a school for weavers in Haraneya, believing that in each child there is an artist capable of creating fantastic images givem proper training.

Ahmed El Dabaa, Ubuntu’s owner and an established collector, is the first gallery owner in Egypt to exhibit oriental handicrafts. Since the establishment of the gallery some seven years ago, El Dabaa has been keen on oriental handmade woven carpets and embroidery, tapestry from Iran and products that date back to the Ottoman Empire.

“I believe that weaving is more an art than a handicraft,” he says. “If you read about the history of the first handcrafted carpet in Siberia some 2500 years ago, you will observe that it was classified as the art of carpet weaving for its sophisticated design and advanced technique. In Egypt, the art of weaving carpets dates back to ancient times, and it flourished during both the Coptic and Islamic eras. Unfortunately, weaving stopped dramatically in Egypt after the Ottoman Empire, when many weavers left for Istanbul.

“I started showcasing this art some four years ago, and my incentive was that I needed to bring in new inspiration for my artists, to encourage them to admire other schools of design. The most significant thing about Wissa Wassef school production is its naïve style. There is no fixed style or design for artists to follow. Child weavers were only taught to weave. They had never been to a museum or an art gallery. All these amazing pictures are freshly created from their imagination, after visiting the zoo or interacting with nature. People are really interested in old crafts. This kind of exhibition brings in a large audience to admire the handicrafts as art.”


A version of this article appears in print in the 23 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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