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.