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Al Bab Selim Gallery: Ali Nabil Wahba Exhibition
Graduating from the Faculty of Art in 1962, Ali Nabil Wahba is no stranger to the galleries and venues within the Cairo Opera House grounds. In 1992, he was the director of the Egyptian Museum of Modern Art, right here beside Al Bab Selim Gallery. He was also a teacher at the General Education Administration, and in 1974 he taught Art at the University of Riyadh. Wahba is well known as both a painter and a sculptor with equal knowledge and skill in both areas.
Before even entering the gallery, his vast paintings can be spotted a good ten meters from the tiny entrance as some stand at a mighty 122cm X 244cm taking up a full wall.
The paintings produced by Wahba are created on a huge scale which implies a bold and important statement is being made before we even begin to focus on its content. It is also apparent from first glances that he uses paint (Acrylic) on canvas but rather than applying it with a brush, he uses a palette-knife creating a rough surface with thick, cement-like affects. The marks are large and expressive implying that the artist is moving his whole arm in the process rather than delicately applying the paint with his hands only.
This series of paintings can be classed as Abstract-Expressionism. Abstract-Expressionism is a mid-20th century art movement that portrays both attitudes and emotions in a way that is not easily recognised and understood due to bold marks, splashes and other abstract forms; it can be more simply defined as 'Action Painting' and Wahba can most definitely be described as an Action Painter. Upon first inspection these paintings look like merely lines and marks ravishingly applied to the surface though it soon becomes apparent that most depict figures outlines with thick strokes of dark paint.
The themes of this series are varied as some depict Egyptian scenery; plants, palm trees and even the pyramids can be seen in the far distance of one painting and there are others with sailing boats and the sea in the distance. Some of these paintings however appear to have a political essence to them as the image of the Egyptian flag can be seen draped over an object, which may be a coffin though this is not notably clear. Several others appear to have a religious meaning behind them as a man is shown hanging upon the cross, one would assume this to be the image of Jesus, and then in front of him is a man with a hideous face and large red horns sprouting from his head; he appears as the devil and looks triumphant, waving his arms in the air; a sword in one and a wound in the other identical to the ones Jesus would have had as a result of the nails knocked through both hands and feet.
One of the slightly smaller, though equally powerful, paintings depicts a large blue bird in contact with a crowd of people though the bird is much greater in size than them - clearly this is an indication of power, importance or that it is sacred. A large bird, blue in colour is often the symbolism of a positive transcendence over negativity.
Abstract art is not always clear in meaning, but that allows viewers to use their own psyche and subconscious to find meaning within that ambiguity.
Wahba's exhibition is a clear indication of his vast education and dedication. Since 1962, Wahba has held many group exhibitions in both painting and sculpture and from 1968 his own private exhibitions, winning several prizes for his work.
Gypsum Gallery is currently displaying its first ever group exhibition in co-operation with Nile Sunset Annex to mark the end of the season. What Are You Doing, Object? is the bizarre and controversial title that has been given to this showing and immediately implies a sense of confusion.
A series of sculptures and installations make up the open space where visitors can walk around to inspect the art at every angle. The first piece to greet our eyes was by Hassan Khan, titled Double Mirror, which featured a large wooden frame of some sort; a mirror on a brass stand and a miniscule head made from mud and straw. Usually when a mirror is present it signifies that the artist wants the viewer to be part of the artwork itself though seeing all of these objects together evokes many questions and screams doubt and confusion. What is the purpose? What is the meaning?
Upon further research it seems that this doubt and confusion is actually the entire purpose of the exhibition. When we see a table our eyes immediately send a message to our brain outlining the purpose of a table and stating the obvious fact that it is indeed a table, the same with a chair; a fridge, a shoe, or any known object. Yet what happens when we are met with an unfamiliar object? Our mind will work and work to try and solve the mystery. It seems that it is a code to be cracked and a puzzle to be solved… or perhaps it is simply art. Art does not require a purpose to exist nor does it need a name, but nevertheless it is there.
Ironically further into the exhibition there is a piece titled ‘Navigation’, by Sarah Samy; a kappa foam cut-out situated on the floor and resembles a jigsaw puzzle yet it is an incomplete puzzle without an answer.
Another interesting aspect about What Are You Doing, Object? is that all of the materials used to create each piece are those familiar to us: wood, brass, mud, plastic, foam and fiberglass; this gives us a tiny piece of information to work with, though much like the jigsaw puzzle by Sarah Ramy, the rest of the information is missing. What Are You Doing, Object? is an aesthetically pleasing collection first and foremost, but the beauty of it is that each piece in its autonomous state could mean absolutely anything, or nothing it all.