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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.
While many lament Zamalek as an island of sidewalk-encroaching loiterers, many forget that it is also home to some of Cairo’s most active and prolific galleries. One such example is often overshadowed by its more established peers: Ubuntu Art Gallery.
Filling the walls of the gallery right now is Refki Al Razzaz exhibition, The Spirit if Civilization – the name alone inspires ones imagination.
We imagined a number of paintings taking inspiration from Egyptian folklore, but what we found was a much larger amalgamation of historical civilizations throughout time, all embodied in oil paintings of different sizes.
In one painting, Al Razzaz draws on the Assyrian civilization, showing with a mythical creature with a raised tail drawn in the foreground, while the background consisted of shapes resembling an ancient language. Deeper into the background are palm trees painted with striking hot colours, contrasting the earthy colours used in the rest of the painting. While the description of the painting may sound erratic and unusual – it’s true that words can never really do art justice – the piece flows consistently as the artist creates a natural amalgamation of imagery, drawing on the symbolism, and at times ambiguity of, ancient iconography and folklore.
Some of Al Razzaz's smaller pieces are just as striking.
In other paintings, however, Al Razzaz deviates from this approach in slightly using more modern elements, like one piece which shows woman drawn in stripped down geometric form. It’s just one of the pieces that resembles Picasso’s cubist style, specifically in the way in Al Razzaz depicts the female form.
In one painting, three women are shown standing with arms linked as if in some kind of dance or skip and a turquoise figure that resembles a primitive drawing of an Ancient Egyptian boat.
Al Razzaz’s approach is an interesting and unique one that demands that you pay attention to its detailing. Said approach – from the moment of interpretation of inspiration or source, to its subsequent interpretation onto canvas – is like a metaphorical collage, but one that begins its fusion in the mind of the artist first and foremost. In theory, it could well have made for messy, disorientating pieces, but the end result is, in fact, is a graceful and effortless collection of work.