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Safar Khan Art Gallery: 'Le Nouvel Orientalism' by Katherine Bakhoum
With the pleasing new influx of local talent, it's often easy to overlook the old hands of arts and culture in Cairo - not unlike Katherine Bakhoum . Known for displaying some of the more interesting exhibitions, Zamalek's Safar Khan Art Gallery is currently showcasing the French-Egyptian artist's latest collection, 'Le Nouvel Orientalisme'.
After growing up in Egypt, and going on to live in France, elements and influences from both cultures are visible in her vibrant canvases; by incorporating the increasingly forgotten Oriental themes into her work, Bakhoum's pieces are intricate and unique, complete with a sense of nostalgia.
A large majority of the pieces layer busy backgrounds with strong, brightly-coloured portraits of Middle-Eastern and African individuals. The colour combinations used are often warm and exotic, furthering their Oriental feel. 'L'Homme En Noir' (translated to, The Man In Black) and 'La Femme En Jaune' (The Girl In Yellow) use similar, collaged backgrounds of strips of magazines, coupled with patches of different paint techniques and subtle drawings. The models in both pieces stand out with their traditional clothing painted in bold colours.
'Le Jeune Garçon' (The Young Boy) and 'La Paysanne En Vert' (The Farmer in Green) are both placed on tea stained backgrounds, which appear similar to a double page spread of an antique book. Along with elaborate calligraphy, individual brush strokes make up different shapes, filling the background with oriental patterns.
In contrast to these portraits, Bakhoum also paints tranquil scenes using a cooler paint palette. One of our favourite pieces, 'Le Ciel Des Danseuses' (Heaven of Dancers), shows a dream-like scene of silhouetted ballet dancers, prancing in the clouds in pastel-coloured tutus, alongside a flock of birds. Another, 'Les Arbres' (The Trees), uses greens and yellows to portray a picturesque, countryside landscape, complete with herds of white fluffy sheep in the distance.
Similarly peaceful, 'Le Peer' is created using a wash of blues, showing a rowing boat and two people heading out to sea, towards a grand building on a distant pier. Another soothing scene, 'Les Pieds Dans L'Eau', sees two figures paddling ankle deep in water; a familiar and simple pastime for many.
Despite a certain feeling of repetition, in incorporating both Oriental and contemporary elements, Katherine Bakhoum's work is creative and imaginative, exhibiting good use of colours and techniques.
While the late Inji Efflatoun has become known for her colourful paintings, Safar Khan Gallery’s current exhibition shines a light on Efflatoun’s ink-on-paper collection, ‘Freedom After Prison’. Utilising the chosen materials through different techniques, Efflatoun created a diverse collection of sketches, which depicts life in the Egyptian countryside.
In some of the paintings, Efflatoun used staccato pen strokes to form the scene. One of them is ‘Rest Time’, in which the artist drew the masses of resting workers, adding a touch of detail here and there to break the detachment of the outlines.
On the other hand, other paintings boast a flowing outline, especially the ones including palm trees and greenery. In one of the best pieces in the exhibition, Efflatoun not only studies the form of palm leaves, but she also adds a creative touch to this simple form, filling the thin outline of the element with waves of ink, using the wide tip of a black marker.
Merging between the previous two techniques, Efflatoun drew a number of scenes that portray the dwellings of the peasants. For example, in one of the paintings, the artist used a continuous outline to draw the houses, while pen strokes were used to form the shape of other details, like palm trees or straw ceilings. Where necessary, Efflatoun used the wide tip of the marker for creating shades.
Though the different shades of ink are dominant in this exhibition, the gallery shows four paintings in colour, three of which are by Efflatoun herself and the fourth is by the exhibition’s guest of honour, the late Taheya Halim.
While two of Efflatoun’s were placed in near the front desk, making it difficult for the viewer to have a close look at them under the stares of the curators, the third, which portrays the artist while working in a simple set of brush strokes, is placed amidst the other ink paintings. However, being the guest of honour, Halim’s Painting, which depicts a Nubian couple seated on a bench, is centred on the wall facing the entrance.
And whether in colours, or merely painting using ink, ‘Freedom After Prison’ is sheer proof of the artist’s brilliant ability to create animated paintings using different mediums.