Homage to Al-Wasiti: Exhibition Takes Inspiration from ‘The Assemblies of Al-Hariri’
With a collection of mixed-media on canvas, Egyptian artist Ahmed Abdel Karim pays his tributes to the 13th-century Iraqi painter, Al-Wasiti, in an exhibition called Homage to Al-Wasiti at Zamalek Art Gallery. Famous for citing Islamic arts, Abdel Karim in his new collection reproduces Al-Wasiti’s prominent illustrations of The Assemblies of Al-Hariri, the renowned prosimetrum written by fellow Iraqi poet and scholar, Abu Mohamed Abu Al-Qassem Al-Hariri.
The celebrated literary masterpiece, which gathers a collection of narratives, comprises a variety of brilliant illustrations from which Abdel Karim chooses a number of elements as a base for his paintings in Homage to Al-Wasiti.
Conceptually, one expects to see the gallery’s walls filled with derivative work which, by any means, cannot surpass the originals. However, Abdel Karim’s wise take on Al-Wasiti’s artworks adds an Egyptian twist, without deforming the structure and style of the original illustrations. In many of the paintings, Abdel Karim uses many Coptic and ancient Egyptian symbols, including fish, bird and plant patterns from the first and the eye of Horus from the latter.
For example, in one of the paintings where the artist reproduces a view of a camel herd on a textured background of browns, Abdel Karim adds a decorative band of plant pattern, fish and birds. The dark-brown band arches above the animals and a scatter of stars that simulates the stars painted on the ceiling of the temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor.
In another painting showing a horse-mounted banner-carrier, Abdel Karim uses the same textured background and the same decorative band that emerges from the ground on which the carrier stands, all the way up to his banner.
In the first two, Abdel Karim harmoniously blends Islamic art with Egyptian art, but in other paintings he reproduces the original scenes with minor changes. In a scene of a group of men sitting by a bush, the artist changes nothing but the background of blue and purple, which works very well with the bush painted in white and light blue, both letting the colourful attires of the men standout and catch the attention of the viewer.
While the concept of Homage to Al-Wasiti is interesting and excellently executed, the paintings’ titles, however, are vague; each painting is named after the number of the narrative and relies on the viewer knowing what each is about. An outline of the story behind each illustration could have engaged the viewer all the more – especially given that, without the narratives, Al-Wasiti’s originals wouldn’t have existed in the first place.