CAIRO: “The city of radiance and luminosity, history, nature, purity and beauty, says Farghali Abdel Hafiz, his eyes lighting up as he describes the ancient city of Aswan, in the south of Egypt.
The acclaimed artist chose Aswan as the theme of his latest exhibition for numerous reasons, which extend beyond the aesthetic.
Aswan was the southern frontier of Pharonic Egypt, and today attracts millions of visitors with the vast amount of history it displays, such as temples, tombs and ancient artifacts.
Along with its history, Aswan offers an abundance of nature; the Nile, the greenery, the desert and pink and black granite are all factors that lead to this fusion of raw materials that end up looking dramatic, explains Abdel Hafiz.
The people of Aswan are themselves intriguing. The tranquility apparent in their faces distinguishes them from other citizens of Egypt; they are calm, content and, like Aswan itself, genuine.
“When those three things come together it is very strong, says Abdel Hafiz. “In my art I express the love and beauty of Aswan with a message that we must preserve it.
Every one of Abdel Hafiz’s paintings has its own concept. One, for example, shows the tourists in Aswan sitting on the terrace of an old cataract overlooking Elephantine Island (Jazirat Aswan), on which stand the ruins of the ancient city of Yeb.
Abdel Hafiz uses sand to create the island in his painting, and draws a temple which is a symbol of ancient Egypt. These symbols are apparent in all of the paintings, maintaining the historic theme regardless of the concept of each individual painting. Another painting featured is of a local boatman and his content features. The dominant color is yellow, representing serenity and the brightness of the Aswan sun. In the corner of the painting it shows night, with locals gathered together, singing and reading poetry; another way of life in Aswan.
Many of the paintings have a similar style, lines, which are created in one shot. This is a form of art that Abdel Hafiz himself chose; to echo the purity of Aswan.
The materials used in this project are mostly acrylic, as well as oil sticks, sand (colored or bona fide) and tamr (mud from the Nile).
Among the paintings that stand out is “Fatat El Sad El Aly (Girl of the High Dam) and what Abdel Hafiz refers to as the Mona Lisa of Aswan. It depicts a beautiful Nubian girl made out of authentic mud from the Nile, as well as paint. Parts of the woman are three dimensional as she protrudes from the canvas.
Another painting on display is one made out of sand, mud and corn-stalk. “It is not about the composition, he explains, “It’s about the message.
Abdel Hafiz was one of the first Egyptian artists to put together an exhibition based only on instillations in 1983. He feels that they are true Egyptian art; as Europeans created paintings, ancient Egyptians created instillations.
Born in Dairout, Middle Egypt, in 1941, Abdel Hafiz is a graduate of the Institute of Art Education and the Academy of Fine Art in Florence. He was elected in 1989 to be Dean of Faculty of Art Education until 1994, and ever since has been a Faculty Professor of design for graduate studies.
Although Abdel Hafiz is a supporter of all forms of art, and is worried that modern art is too concentrated on technology and weak on the spirit.
“This exhibition is all about pushing art in the direction of authenticity and advocating emotions, he says. “Art is not simply about aesthetics; on the contrary, aesthetics is the technique used to reach a certain sensation.
Aswan is the newest addition to a series of work Abdel Hafiz has done around Egypt, following his work on Cairo and Alexandria. He has also previously done life on the Dead Sea and Petra in Jordan, and Florence and Venice in Italy.
Visit the exhibition at the Zamalek Art Gallery 11 Brazil St., Zamalek. Open until April 20.