Internationally acclaimed contemporary artist Mohamed Abla’s new exhibition of paintings “Affinity” is currently on show at Safarkhan gallery. Founder of Safarakhan Sherwet Shafei describes the collection as a welcome foray into still life painting, a marked departure from his typical depictions of urban life and human subjects.
For Abla the cactus is a symbol of the cycle of life, “an amazing combination of cruelty and tenderness in its diversity of form.” Its thorns represent a barrier between it and the outside world, and its flowers the miracle of birth, rebirth and the bounty of creation.
“I’ve never had anything to do with cactus, it was for me a symbol of the depletion and the end of life and the thorns in it would put up a barrier between me and it. It was connected for me with the desert, sand, rocks, thirst and drought, until the day I visited the house of a friend who had a Mexican cactus in the middle of his backyard. It was dry and almost made up of blocks of wrinkled wood till its upper part, and the half above wrestled with life with a little green and many thorns around the dark green trunk.
“I was there early in the morning and I was hovering around it from afar in order to avoid the thorns when suddenly I noticed a large yellow flower, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life. I returned to my studio in Fayoum, where I started to draw every corner of it, and I drew it full of commotion, and I drew in it children and dogs, and souls and angels. The drawing is full of cactuses of different types and shapes and I began to live with the cactus and talk to it and paint it in black ink and colours, and I tried to understand the secret of the beauty of the cactus, that amazing combination of cruelty and tenderness and unique variety of forms...”
The exhibition continues until 16 March
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 February, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly