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Zamalek Art Gallery: Gamal Al Sagini Exhibition
Gamal Al Sagini was very nationalistic and incredibly passionate about his home country, Egypt – and its people. Having been born in 1917 and dying aged 60 in 1977, Sagini lived through, and was inspired by, many historical events. His sculptures are generally large and abstract, made out of bronze, portraying many messages in the intricate detailing.
In 1969, when Gamal Al Sagini felt he was not getting enough recognition for his work, he threw some of his work into the Nile as an act of rebellion, claiming that if people cared, they would stop him. This certainly got him noticed and we're glad not all of his work was swept away.
The events of the Suez crisis in 1956 are represented by a tall, thin sculpture titled 'Port Said', completed in 1957. The front of this sculpture is a tall man wearing a traditional, long galabeya brandishing a gun above his head to signify the brutality of the war. There are also a number of descending parachutes in the sky above him to represent those used by soldiers involved in the conflict. Using the entire 3D model as canvas in itself, Sagini used the rear side of the sculpture to further depict the Israeli attack on Egypt, with the Star of David prominent amongst other emotive illustrations. An eagle-headed man stands at the base of the statue, with his arms outstretched signifying the freedom and power of the Egyptian land.
Another significant sculpture was one dedicated to the internationally recognised Egyptian singer, Om Kalthoum. It's a beautiful and detailed statue that was obviously created with a lot of care. Her body is made up of chunky triangles etched with Aztec patterns, glinting with the shine from the bronze. Her importance and popularity was prominent throughout Sagini's life and we assume that this, and her meaningful music, led to the sculpting of her almost shrine-like piece. Although we didn't immediately recognise this piece as Om Kalthoum, once we did it made sense that, judging by Sagini's patriotism, he would admire such a strong and iconic woman.
There are also numerous other sculptures on show, with significant stories behind each one. For example, a sculpture of a mother and baby entwined symbolises the gift of motherhood and the importance of nurture. His piece named 'The Nile' personifies the river into a wise, old bearded man, giving it a mythical feel.
Because little information on his sculptures is offered at the exhibition, Sagini's work requires visitors to carry out their own research. We're glad we did as it helped to uncover an eye-opening, opinionated and interesting history, confirming that each piece was an important outlet of expression for Gamal El Sagini himself.
Art awakens the senses; it provides an alternative insight into the world around us and brings enlightenment to those who delve into its forever widening porthole. Fortunately Cairo does not run short of galleries and one of the most popular art complexes exists right here in Zamalek at the Cairo Opera House. The latest exhibition to take place at Al Bab Selim Gallery, one of the Opera House’s smaller exhibition spaces, is by the talented Sayed Khalifa.
Born in Cairo on September 21st 1933, his education in the arts is a vast venture in itself with a diploma from the Faculty of Applied Arts at Helwen University, an MA from the Public Institute in Florence, and a PhD in the Philosophy of Applied Arts back at Helwen University where he later became a professor in 1982. During the opening of his exhibition at Al Bab Selim Gallery, Khalifa was present and gave a passionate speech about each piece of work on display.
His current collection shows a great interest in birds and flowers. Many pieces portray birds taking flight or returning home, some with a single bird surrounded by blooming flowers, and others portraying a flock in motion. One rather sensual creation depicts the idea and importance of motherhood through one large bird soaring above three smaller birds in a serene and sunny setting.
In this exhibition of work it’s not only the subject that draws interest but also the method and mediums used to create the final pieces. One of these methods that Khalifa favours is called Batik. Batik is an art process where material is used as a base and wax is used to draw and create the desired image, whatever it might be, patterns, swirls or clear images. Next, once the wax is dried, a wax-resistant colour is used on top of this to give a background and when the wax is removed, there remain the drawn-on images, creating a rather unique effect.
Khalifa’s love for shape, colour and design are also visible throughout each piece that is displayed, in particularly the ones created using batik portraying twists and swirls of pattern, colour and visual confusion. Some pieces, for example the ones titled: ‘Flowers’ and another titled: ‘Tree’, portray a ray of multi-coloured swirls and beautifully applied marks that from afar appear as rippling water, almost moving on the material.
Despite the majority of Khalifa’s work focusing on nature, there are several pieces entwined within this exhibition that are based upon Cairo’s man-made structures though they are not apparent at first sight. One fairly large piece shows a zoomed in entrance of a building; the entrance is arched which immediately conjured up ideas of old Cairo where many of the doors are also rounded at the top. Furthermore the artwork shows an Islamic symbol above the door way which also suggests it is of a building in Cairo – Egypt.
Most of his pieces are created through printing though there is a small selection of detailed, figurative drawings: two are still-life pieces with one a bowl of fruit drawn in ink and the second a simple plant on a table top drawn in pencil; both are very detailed, life like and differ from his other work displayed in the gallery. The other three are portraits also done in pencil and ink.
The exhibition at Al Bab Selim is just one of many in a rich history of both local and international exhibitions which include exhibitions throughout Italy, Czechoslovakia and Germany. Another interesting fact we discovered about Sayed Khalifa’s artwork is that it is currently displayed within the Marriott Hotel right here in Cairo, as well as the Sheraton Hotel and the Meridian Hotel.