Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is the title of painter Eman Hakim’s retrospective exhibition (16-22 March), held at the vast, two-storey Salah Taher Gallery on the Opera House grounds to coincide with International Women’s Day. It includes 87 paintings reflecting the artist’s journey since her debut exhibition in 2006 and up until this year.
This is the 15th solo exhibition by the prolific artist who also participated in many group exhibitions in Egypt and internationally, and it uses a palette of predominantly warm hues more or less unchanged since the start of her career. Born in Menia in 1968, the artist’s visual memory is saturated with the warmth of middle Egypt and its beautiful landscape.
“Egyptian women have always been my primal influence. Women in my paintings are always depicted as the heroes who lead and encourage people around them,” Hakim said.
That women are the focus of her life’s work is clear from the exhibition, where there is hardly a man’s face. Her expressionist style employing oil and pastel show only women with birds and flowers. The exhibition shows work form the 2019 exhibition The Dame, which showed women through the ages and in myth using the format of red and black playing cards. Here there is an image of young women happily playing cards at a table. There is also a set of ten portraits of women in different moods, reflecting moments of power, melancholy and meditation.
Asked about her future plans, Hakim says said she hopes to start a new phase where women are depicted differently. “I need some kind of change. It might be a deconstruction of my carefully painted elements. I might start using a different palette or a simplified technique. I actually started working on some sketch like paintings using pastels, and it is starting to look a new start…”
The Zagazig-born sculptor Samaa Yehia’s new Samah Art Gallery exhibition Sargi Margi (5-19 March) features 27 bronze and one wood sculptures drawing on social life and cultural lore.
Yehia’s work often draws on the home lives of women and children, and her Dough Dolls exhibition took place at the Al Bab Gallery on the Opera House grounds in 2021. Her focus on Egyptian folklore is supplemented by a master’s degree in the aesthetics of Middle Asia and PhD on popular painting in Hindu culture across South Asia. All these elements result in an overwhelming sense of joy emanating from the pieces in the present exhibition, which immediately awaken the viewer’s inner child.
It took the artist a year and a half to complete the collection on display, named for a popular song: “The popular song first started as a way to take attendance at an Ottoman farm. It later became a way for children queueing up at the door of the Mar Girgis church to ask for medical treatment and food. Years later, it became a lullaby sung by Muslim grandmothers who added some words that reflect their wish to visit the Kaaba and the Prophet Muhammad’s shrine, and finally it turned into a popular song for children to sing while playing in Cairo’s alleys. Drawing on this, I attempt to create a personal history in bronze, to make it more flexible, and to produce bronze sculptures that can run, play and jump in the vacuum.”
The exhibits feature surreal human figures, with one piece, for example, showing two children mounting a play horse that evokes the cloth-covered provincial homemade play horses. Setti, or Granny, is a symbolic tribute to the artist’s grandmother who used to sing her the song. Another piece features a human whose lower half is a tree holding a rose, and it has a thick base of wood.
After graduating from the Faculty of Art Education in Zamalek in 2000, the artist embarked on a painting career, not shifting to sculpture until much later. “I was drawn to the full freedom, the unlimited space afforded by sculpture,” she says. Yehia then participated in various international sculpture events including the 25th Concorso di Pittura Contemporanea in Collonella, Italy in 2013, and Expo Milano, Italy in 2015. “In my recurrent visits to Italy from 2012 to 2015, I was very influenced and inspired by postwar European art. It is a time when artists used whatever materials they had to express themselves and make fantastic sculptures.”
Unlike traditional bronze sculptures, which look heavy and have limited tones, these exhibits look light, lively and feature a very wide range of tones reflected by the integration of other materials such as copper and scrap iron. “I produced some wood sculptures before, but due to the material’s heaviness and inflexibility, I felt it was not optimal for reflecting my ideas and I shifted to bronze in 2020. Then I discovered a technique called neo-brutalism, based on the brutalism that thrived in Europe through the 1950s after WWII, which aims to disorient and shock the viewer into a sense of delight. This unusual technique involves grafting various materials onto each other.”
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly