Mona Abaza: Twentieth Century Egyptian Art – The Private Collection of Sherwet Shafei
Located in the heart of Zamalek is Safarkhan Gallery,
one of the most prominent galleries of Egypt’s contemporary art scene. Owned by
art collector Sherwet Shafei and her daughter Mona Said, collectors and viewers
alike have frequented the gallery for many years. But little do many know that the
owner herself plays a major role in the Egyptian art scene with an extensive
private art collection that has never been fully revealed until the publishing
of her book Twentieth Century Egyptian Art.
Written by Mona Abaza – author and visiting professor
of Islamology at Lund University in Sweden – the book’s design presents
functionality as a pleasant coffee table book, where 150 glossy pages of art
work are simply organised and paired with short yet concise descriptions,
adding depth through criticism and explanations alongside each piece
pictured. Shafei’s interesting notes about the painters’ backgrounds and the subjects of their artwork are paired with pictures arranged thoughtfully to provide a
contemplative setting for the reader to engage with.
Page after page reveals Shafei’s impressive private
collection, featuring many of Egypt’s greatest artists
in all mediums almost like an art encyclopaedia.
The book’s introduction provides a quick overview of
Shafei’s life as an avid art collector, and gives background to the evolution of the contemporary Egyptian art scene over the past century, attributing societal shifts and various historical events, specifically the consequences of both
globalization and privatization, which helped get Shafei to
where she is today.
The book is divided into three chapters: ‘The Pioneers,’ featuring sculptures by iconic Egyptian artist Mahmoud Mokhtar and beautiful oil paintings by the legendary Mahmoud
Said, ‘The Innovators,’ which includes artwork by El-Hussein Fawzi, Tahia Halim, Hassan
Soliman and Anna Boghiguian, and ‘From the Orientalists to Egypt’s Foreign
Artists,’ featuring artists such as Pierre Beppi-Martin and Charles Boeglin, whose paintings
were inspired by Egyptian landscapes and people.
Due to the narrow scope of the historical perspective
used, the book does not neccessarily work as a comprehensive guide to art in Egypt; but rather as a reference
to the ever-changing art scene in Egypt and testimony to Shafei’s keen eye for valuable art and appreciation for a diverse portfolio of artists.
For art fans curious about the significance of Egyptian art and the stories and influences behind these beautiful works of art, the book is a delight to browse through.
Furthermore, having access to Shafei’s private
collection is a great opportunity to see historically valuable and impeccable
art pieces, some of which have not been made public before.