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Summer exhibition displays Cairo's contemporary art scene

Zamalek Art Gallery's traditional summer exhibit brings old masters together with budding young talent in Cairo.

One of the large paintings on display in Cairo’s Zamalek Art Gallery shows a circus, painted in bright colors, where belly dancers dance joyfully as a band of elephants makes music and acrobats and a unicorn entertain a stone-faced audience. The prominent figure in the painting is a richly dressed clown, with a hat that resembles the pharaonic headdress.

“The clown symbolizes Egypt,” said Carelle Homsy, the artist. “Both Egyptians and foreigners think that Egypt is a poor country that does not know which direction it is heading — just like a clown. But, in fact, what the clown shows is the mask.”

“In my opinion, Egypt conducts its affairs in the same manner of its ancestors, the pharaohs. That is why the clown carries a royal crown and the scepter. Egypt will also punish anyone who thought that it [was in decline], and I expressed them by prisoners in the clown’s cloak,” she told Al-Monitor.

Egyptian expressionist artist Homsy’s work is part of the exhibition entitled “Masterpieces XVII” at the Zamalek Art Gallery in western Cairo. It is the 17th edition of the gallery’s summer exhibition. This year’s edition brings together 70 different paintings and sculptures of 36 artists.

“The aim of this summer exhibition is to display the variety in the Egyptian art and the works of different generations, not just for locals but also for a foreign audience who spends the summer in Egypt,” Hani Yassin, the manager of the gallery, told Al-Monitor.

The works span over several decades of Egyptian painting and sculpture. Included in the exhibit are a painting and sculpture by Gamal El Sagini (1917-1977), a veteran of the Egyptian art scene since the 1940s. Both of his works are being displayed for the first time. The painting features life around the Nile. A bronze sculpture is a stylized female figure in a sitting position, holding a child. In this sculpture that was made in 1956, the two figures merge into one, symbolizing motherhood.

“[These two works] by El Sagini are displayed for the first time in this exhibition. We borrowed them from one of his cousins to put them on display,” Yassin said.

"Last Supper" by Syrian artist Souad Mardam Bey is one of the works on display in the Zamalek Art Gallery in Cairo, Egypt. Image by Zamalek Art Gallery

Alongside El Sagini, a bronze sculpture showing two figures in a Spanish dance is on display. It was created by Yasmine El Hazek, an Egyptian artist in her 20s whose work often shows lively scenes, real or imagined.

The guest of honor of “Masterpieces XVII” is Egyptian sculptor Abdel Hady El-Wechahi (1936-2013). El-Wechahi’s sculptures are displayed with the corresponding sketches he made while preparing for them. One of the displayed works is called “Attempt to Find Balance Between Man and Woman,” while the other is “Confrontation,” reflecting the artist’s focus on balance and tension in his works.

The exhibition also includes works by non-Egyptian artists such as Souad Mardam Bey, a Syrian painter based in Cairo since 2000. Her work entitled “Last Supper,” which uses oil and mixed media on canvas, shows Jesus Christ and 12 apostles sitting around a table. All wear the traditional Syrian costume of the galabiya, a loosely stitched garment, and look around with haunted eyes as if they know the end is near. The figure second from the left is Judas Iscariot, who wears a coin-shaped ring on his finger, reflecting the 30 pieces of silver he got for his betrayal of Jesus.

The exhibit will remain open until the end of August.

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