Two significant exhibitions, held simultaneously by coincidence in two galleries right opposite each other – City Nights at Gallery Misr by the celebrated artist Mohamed Abla, and Deep in the Roots by the established Sudanese visual artist Mutaz El Imam at Ubuntu Art Gallery – depict, respectively, the Cairo cityscape, and the savannas of Sudan.
Abla’s oils emanate a cheerful spirit with intimate scenes of the city, its squares, bridges, bustling streets and glowing lights. A kind of visual document of “the city that never sleeps”, the paintings on display are one half of a collection of over 60 pieces, the other part showing at Eram Gallery in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Cairo exhibition runs through 12 January.
Cityscapes are among Abla’s best loved subjects. The artist has frequently painted Cairo, with an exhibition showing street life in 2000 at the Gezira Art Centre and another showing his well-known Cairo Towers at the Zamalek Art Gallery ten years later. Born in Belqas, near the Nile Delta city of Mansoura in 1953, on graduating in 1973 Abla wandered around Europe, studying in Vienna and Zurich and eventually giving his first solo exhibition at the Hohman Gallery in Hamburg in 1979, later exhibiting in the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy.
The internationally acclaimed artist beautifully reveals the spirit of the city at night: the lights of small boats queuing up for passengers on the Nile shore, the lampposts illuminating bridges, bright cafes, trees draped in string lights, wedding processions. He also depicts speed in the motion of motorbikes and cars conveying the very pulse of the city with incredibly articulate brushstrokes.
Thick layers of colour convey a lively ambiance. Human figures are depicted in a sketchy way, concealing facial features in favour of a detailed picture of the city. This technique contributes to the intimacy of the paintings. It is as if seeing yourself in a mirror. With one painting of an Alexandria scene, the titles often indicate the location: Sayeda Zeinab, Andalus Gardens, Odeon Cafe. There is also Love on the Bridge and The Lovers Garden, both showing couples in public but also focusing on the surroundings.
The paintings, which also include a dramtic view of stray dog, were all made in 2022.