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Zamalek Art Gallery: Masterpieces with Egyptian identities

Showcasing both paintings and sculptures in vibrant colors, the Zamalek Art Gallery’s eighth Masterpieces exhibit attests to the versatile nature of the contemporary Egyptian art scene. From Mohamed Abla’s futuristic abstracts to Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni’s panels of color to Zeinab al-Sageny’s poignant paintings, it is a dynamic promenade through the cultural interpretations of prominent Egyptian artists.

Each canvas carries a trace of the artist’s own life and experience of their home country. The painters draw upon Cairo’s city lights, the intricacies of life in the Egyptian countryside, and local phenomena like the ironing man, the fisherman, and the batata man, to create paintings which delightfully reflect Egypt.

The subjects of painter Hamed Owais’s work–a muscular fisherman, an ironing man in a striped galabeya, a seated woman in an orange dress–possess subtle expressions in contrast with the bold palette. Owais, one of Egypt’s leading artists, was influenced by Alexandria’s sunshine and strident colors. Sharp shadows, yellow backgrounds, and bright blue water feature in these paintings.

In contrast, Rabab Nemr uses black ink to create two still lifes of plant and flower pots with impeccable technique. A noteworthy contemporary Egyptian artist, Nemr uses ink–a challenging medium–to bring serenity into her pieces. The work’s fine detail makes each piece wholly compelling. However, the enigmatic quality which usually radiates from Nemr’s color renderings of people in action–sailing, biking, playing cards–is missing from these monochromatic canvases.

Zeinab al-Sageny contributes a vibrant oil painting of a brightly dressed woman on a chocolate-brown cow and a softer piece depicting a mother embracing her daughter. She borrows elements from nature to produce expressive artwork loaded with clues to her Egyptian identity. The Nile, the countryside, and Egyptian families appear again and again in her paintings. But perhaps the most recurrent theme in al-Sageny’s work is the relationship between mother and child, which she depicts as one of love and compassion. Al-Sageny paints a mother and her baby girl, intertwined, almost as if sharing one body, their eyes disturbed yet finding comfort in each other’s embrace.

Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni contributes an interesting abstract piece. Three equal sections of sand yellow, green, and black are interrupted by black strokes, possibly evoking Hosni’s days of painting landscapes and seascapes in the 1960s, at the beginning of his career. Hosni’s abstract paintings invite a variety of interpretations from his broad audience.
Hopelessly devoted to Cairo and one of the city’s most prominent contemporary artists, Mohamed Abla paints the bright lights and indelible presence of the city.

“All my paintings are about Cairo,” explains Abla. “The Nile, the bustle of traffic and the people on the move, it’s all in my artwork.” Loving it in all its forms, Abla seeks to illustrate Cairo “at night, during the day time, when it is full and when it is bare.”

Living and painting on an island on his beloved Nile, Abla is bombarded daily by inspiration from the city. Growing up in Mansura, he graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Alexandria and studied in Europe for seven years before deciding to make Cairo his permanent home.

Abla believes that much is needed to improve the lives of Cairenes, and he seeks to gather support for Cairo through his work. “I am an artist with a cause, as I believe every artist should be,” said Abla. “Through my art, I strive to raise environmental and social awareness, and inspire people to look closely at the range of serious problems in Cairo.”

The threat to the Nile’s water supply is one of Abla’s primary concerns. In a 95×155 cm canvas on the walls of the Zamalek Art Gallery, Abla paints the Cairo skyline at night with unstructured blue, orange, and red strokes. A huge, bright bouquet of flowers is stretched across the painting as a “gift to the city.” The painting was inspired by Van Gogh’s post-impressionistic “Starry Night.”

“I believe that art cannot be separated from emotion, and that art is an integral part of any human being,” Abla said.

Also inspired by Egyptian society is prominent artist Georges Fikry Ibrahim, who often walks around Cairo and freezes scenes from daily life in mixed media.

“The streets and alleys of Cairo captivate me,” said Fikry Ibrahim. Reflected in his paintings are countless elements of Egyptian folklore, painted in bold scarlet, orange, and blue brushstrokes which overlap to render a crowded snapshot of Cairo life.

“Using collage, pastel, and acrylic paints, I created a scene where a narrow Egyptian alley screams out with its vivacious spirit, the houses interlinked, the laundry hanging, the passersby creating commotion, the batata man pushing his way through the crowd, while the children run around and play,” said Fikry Ibrahim.

While depicting the piercing color of the Egyptian street, Fikry Ibrahim's images are lasting, yet somewhat hyperbolic in their use of an abundance of material, color, and texture matching the dynamism of the Cairene street.

Moved by a different aspect of Egypt, Emad Ibrahim uses acrylic paint and charcoal to represent daily life in the countryside.

Against a wash of shades of pink and blue, Emad Ibrahim borrows from Pharoanic art, using charcoal to outline a woman grasping her cow against a background of trees. The color intensifies in the middle of the canvas where the woman’s galabeya turns a deep yellow and the cow’s neck a deep blue.

“I am aiming to depict the simplicity of life in the country,” stated the artist. “Peace and beauty, along with a lack of trouble, is reflected in my paintings.”

Standing out against the showroom’s white walls, and contrasting with the constantly moving streets of Cairo, the work, on display until the end of September, displays scenes from contemporary Egyptian life by the hands of the most prominent contemporary Egyptian artists.

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