American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “A man finds room in the few square inches of the face for the traits of all his ancestors, for the expression of all his history, and his wants.
Handicraft artist and professor Ashraf Abdel Kader attributes no less importance to the face – glorious, expressive, and telling.
“Faces are the registers of human presence within life struggles, he explains in his typically philosophical artistic manner. Life is but the “meeting and parting of faces.
In his latest exhibition entitled “Etlalat Insaneya (loosely translated as Human Visions ), Abdel Kader utilizes his usual vivacity to create semi-abstract portraits reminiscent of Picasso’s jarring works of the same subject.
Twenty portraits line the gallery, alternately expressing humor, wile, sexuality, and forlornness. Others are less clear and one must search for form or meaning within the composition.
“We can see mythology and fantasy intertwined in the works, with signs and symbols and human reactions which reflect the pulse of real life, says the artist.
Eyes are particularly prominent in these portraits, reflecting Abdel Kader’s own appreciation for the “keys to the soul. They can express “surprise, dreams, and discouragement. No set resembles another and the result is as many different faces saying different things.
One portrait recalls a belligerent aristocratic old woman, with her white face, fur hat, and sour expression. Another seems to be a confident young village girl. Yet another appears to be a sleazy admirer of a female passer-by.
While the paintings are most immediately reminiscent of Picasso, Abdel Kader explains that his work is primarily inspired by a mix of Eastern and African folkloric styles and forms, which he says include both simplicity and deviation.
He argues, in fact, that European artists like Picasso were themselves influenced by African art. Most important for Abdel Kader though is that he moves away from conventional and classic technique and form. The outcome is uniquely his own.
The artist once again draws on his bank of scrap materials – fabrics, beads, wires, and sequins – evoking the texture and style of rich Indian patchwork. He explains that such a process allows the materials to express their own ideas, emotive in and of themselves through their colors and textures.
Abdel Kader is a trained artist who was top of his class when he graduated in 1984 from the Faculty of Arts Education, where he currently teaches handicrafts and folkloric tradition.
Etlalat Insaneya will run until Jan. 10 at El Sawy Culture Wheel.s