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Mixed feelings at ‘Characters of Egypt’ exhibition opening

A second "Characters of Egypt" festival was celebrated this October in the beautiful location of Wadi Gamal, a national park close to Marsa Allam. 160 tribespeople belonging to 21 tribes scattered throughout Egypt’s many deserts converged for a weekend of cultural appreciation.The event is organized by Wadi Environmental Science Centre” (WESC) and the Egyptian Desert Pioneers Society” (EDPS) non governmental organizations under the auspices of Minister of Tourism H.E Zouheir Garana, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs H.E Maged George and Red Sea Governor, Major General/ Magdy Qebecy.

The bare scenery of scorched sand, disrupted only by a dry tree here and a lazy camel there, was a fertile source of inspiration for both artists and amateurs.
The fruit of the participants’ artistic work is currently being exhibited at the Gauguin Hall in Zamalek in a colorful but somewhat inconsistent exhibition. Two artists clearly stood out: sculptor Nathan Doss and painter Nader Sayyed.
Doss’ giant wooden camel is the first artwork to be admired when entering the art gallery. The animal’s position, caught halfway in rising from the ground, and the rough aspect of his limbs defined by the sculptor’s precise gouge taps, is breathtaking. The camel’s essence, sharpened by the elements, is also well conveyed in the sculptor’s other wooden sculpture which is smaller in size and exquisite: a camel is breastfeeding her baby, strangely entangled in its mother’s long and crooked legs.) The hungry little animal resembles a brittle twig, unsteady on its long and slender forelegs.
Nader Sayyed used two kinds of media to capture the essence of his encounter with the different tribes: oil plaster and oil paint. “I chose to use oil plaster for the portraits of the Bedouins because it reflects the rough environment they constantly develop in,” explains the artist, his cigarette quietly burning to its filter. The first portrait depicts the partly-covered face of a Bedouin woman from Sinai, showing dark and deep eyes. The traditional “burq” that covers her face from nose to neck is embellished with silver coins and sequins, while her hair is hidden by a modest dark fabric.
“I usually paint nude models, says the artist with a grin, "so this encounter with tribe people gave me a very different type of inspiration,” he confesses, laughing.
The portrait of a tribesman crouching in a position of rest with a bright white turban on his head conveys a feeling of stillness that only a desert environment can exhale. Using oil paint El Sayyed depicted a Bedouin family and their camels, apparently ready to leave the camp they were resting at. Dirty yellows, blacks and browns dominate the painting while sudden brushstrokes of red and blue appear in the fur of the animals and in the burden they carry.
A series of hastily drawn watercolor sketches by Ahmed Samih give a glimpse of young Bedouins in tranquility. One is sitting cross-legged, his palms turned upwards, while another young man is crouching, his features melted by a splash of blue watercolor.
A little further into the gallery, a pastel portrait of a man has been skilfully drawn by artist Asmaa Ahmed Said. His head, covered by a turban, is tilted while his eyes are closed, in an attitude of deep concentration. The hollow cheeks and the many deep wrinkles on the man’s face seem to have been carved by sand storms and biting sun rays.
These are the pieces that are aesthetically pleasant, but many others fail to convey the artists’ feelings for the desert and its people.
Mona Hassan’s abstract pastel drawings of dusk in the desert and dancers in motion lack attraction, and her expressionist style is blurry.
Finally, young and enthusiastic artist Birihan Abu Zid exhibited a few of her paintings depicting dry trees in arid sceneries.  Long roots planted into scorched soil and branches trying to bloom under the sun were drawn with an unsure hand, and the combination of purple, green and yellow is rather unfortunate.
At the far end of the gallery, a selection of  photographs taken by  participants of the festival scroll down a screen while a not so Bedouin music band is drumming.
The exhibition runs until the 27th of December.
The gallery will be open from 12 AM to 3 PM and from 5 PM to 10 PM every day except on Mondays.
Gauguin Gallery Samir Zaki Street, Zamalek


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