Entitled “Barah”, meaning “room” or “space”, the new exhibition by Abdel-Aziz Al-Guindi – held at the Al-Bab space on the Opera House grounds – includes 33 mixed media paintings. One of Fine Arts School’s most popular professors, Al-Guindi was born in 1968. His lifelong tendency to sketch portraits and landscapes make the present show a milestone in his career. The medium-sized paintings it includes feature gardens, historical districts, and old demolished buildings in Cairo. Most have a gloomy edge, depicting deserted places or wreckage, raising the question of what barah might mean?
As a child, Al-Guindi was influenced by his mother, the advertisement designer Laila Al-Kelesh, and later impressed by portraits and caricatures published in Rose Al-Yusef magazine. At Fine Arts School, he specialised in graphics and animation films, building on his love of caricature. After graduating in 1991, he joined landscape painting workshops in historical settings such as Al-Mosaferkhana and Darb Al-Labana, and was mentored by such legendary painters as Hamed Nada and Zakaria Al-Zeney.
“Barah” is the artist’s 15th solo exhibition. His first, “Portraits”, was held at the Opera’s Salah Taher Hall in 1995. A string of exhibitions followed, with many paintings featuring people sleeping at mosques or sitting in cafes. “Most of my work is related to the Egyptian environment: popular markets, ordinary people, and historical places.” An experimental artist, he is keen on trying out new techniques, using different materials such as watercolour, gouache, ink and acrylic on cardboard, wood and MDF as well as canvas and paper. For him barah is “a synonym for the emptiness in the universe, in the spaces around us, in vacant alleys in the early morning, at the unlimited expanse of the beach, and at the point where the river meets the soil, which causes a state of relief and tranquility.”
The show, which closed on 7 August, included paintings produced in 2020 and the early months of this year, when there was no chance to enjoy space at all. The paintings my be called expressionist, and they feature gold leaf, a strange choice which works beautifully in one 60 x 80 cm painting inspired by Al-Manesterly Palace. It features the palace dome surrounded by trees; and the gold leaf in the background gives warmth and evokes sunlight. The artist notes that he started using gold leaf in 2011, as a background in scenes of old alleyways. “For me, gold leaf is a sign of my love and appreciation of certain places. Gold is a sign of appreciating people who lived in such places across ages.” The work also uses collage and decoupage techniques.
“The idea behind ‘Barah’ is to meditate on vacuum as a visual value. I intentionally leave more space than usual on the surface to assert that spiritual value. Barah doesn’t have to be felt in actual open spaces, it also exists in a crowded souk…” It is something he feels on his “one-shot painting” Friday outings, leading a group to specific place to paint from life “in one shot”. An initiative established in 2002, the group has given 38 exhibitions, the last two being “The Tree” at Azade Art Gallery and “Magic Lake” at the Ahmed Shawki Gallery, and helped countless artists through the year to imporve their landscape painting techniques.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly