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Al Bab Selim Gallery: Sayed Khalifa Exhibition
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.
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.