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Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 26 - 03 - 2014

Coinciding with Egyptian Woman's Day at the Salah Taher and the Musical Library halls on the Opera House grounds, two parallel ten-day exhibitions entitled Women and Creativity were held to celebrate Art Day — an event that has not been celebrated for 30 years. They included work by 127 artists, both male and female, contributing works in any number of styles that focus on women. Generations and schools of art are uniquely juxtaposed: established names like George Bahgory, Reda Abdel-Salam, Wagih Yassa, Essmat Dawestashy, Mohammed Tarawy, Salah Al-Meleigy, Mohammed Sabry together with younger artists like Eman Ossama, Muawya Hilal, Hend El Falafy, Maha Al-Attar. At the opening, which was unusually filled with artists and media figures, established artist Aida Abdel Kareem, a pioneer female artist, was honored for her great contribution in glass sculpture.
The classic vision present in Bahgory's portrait of the Egyptian diva Um Kolthoum stands side by side with Wagih Yassa's watercolor painting of a coquette's nude bust looking up, which drags your eyes to the beauty of the faint spots on top of the painting: a greyish space that invites you to meditate on woman's relentless longing for love. According to critic Venus Fouad, the commissar of the event, this is the second round of the exhibition, “but the first on such a big scale, and it will be scheduled from now on as an annual event. Through history, women have always been the subject of art; it is a very recurrent and prominent theme in the ancient Egyptian arts. Therefore, the idea behind this celebratory event is to observe this continuous, mutual and eternal relationship between women and creativity...” Last year the first round, entitled Woman = Life, was designed to combat the Muslim Brotherhood's tendency to marginalise women in society. “Contrary to the unique and live spirit of this year, last year's exhibition illustrated art that focused on women's depression and the conflict between modern culture and the suppression and restriction imposed by the patriarchal society,” Fouad explained.
There is no end of highlights this year. Mohammed Zakaria Sultan uses digital art in his 50 cm by 70 cm piece. Although experimental, the work has a humdrum title: Woman, family and society. “I used an abstract format in which geometric and organic-abstract techniques are blended. To add an artistic sense, I used different materials: a black outline for the female figure, and Arabic calligraphy items to signify her Egyptian and Arab identity,” Sultan said. “A small gear is also inserted to directly signify women's productivity in society. Using colours freely is another symbol to signify women's freedom and commitment.” Nadia Wahdan's 100 cm by 150 cm mixed media work illustrates an old picture of a woman in a white wedding gown dating to the early 20th century. “My piece is about pondering the Egyptian woman's psyche and an attempt to bring out woman's restrained energy, putting her back in her respectable position as a partner in society,” Wahdan said, in line with her attempt to explore a new approach to digital art that uses old portrait techniques in a contemporary format. “I tried to figure out the harsh contradiction in Egyptian women's characters, as they are cheerful and shy, open and conservative. There is a kind of connection, I believe, between women in the past, present and future. Therefore, I tend to choose characters from the 1940s, for example, dusting off the past to make them shine with new and fresh colours.”
Photography is weakly represented; Bassam Al-Zoghby's shot of a female dancer is the rare exception. The bluish picture, printed on canvas, shows the figure in motion and thereby featureless. What remains is the colorful movement and the viewer's bewildered eye. Amira Ahmed, one of the few photographers participating, shows four consecutive shots of different stages of the bread-baking process as a provincial woman performs it. The work, produced in black and white, lacks creativity and adds nothing to the viewer's vision. Eman Ossama's work, also printed on canvas, is one of a series of works entitled What if Adam and Eve lost the apple? In faint colors, the huge work illustrates a man, a woman, and an apple, in an attempt to capture the essence of life, death and resurrection. “It is not about romance; nor it is a visual narration of the male-female relationship,” she says. “I have a different concept here. It is about this volatile, spiritual, and dialectic male-female relationship.”
The choice of works was, generally speaking, very good. The only shortcoming is the lack of fringe events raising the issue of women and creativity; the event should have been a meeting point for creative women from all across the country, with the careers of prominent female artists discussed in seminars.
In the same vein, an exhibition entitled 9+1 was held at Art Lounge Gallery in Zamalek to celebrate Egyptian Woman's Day. The idea behind the exhibition is to feature art by nine male and one female painters, framing the vision of women in art. Omar El Fayoumy's fantastic oil painting reveals a three-way female conversation that tempts the viewer to listen. Other paintings are more experimental: Amr El Kafrawy's 200 cm by 120 cm monochromatic print is a portrait of a woman that looks like a vintage snapshot. Prominent calligrapher Sameh Ismail paints the back of a woman adorned with Arabic calligraphy. Paintings by Reda Abdel-Rahman and Hossam Sakr, on the other hand, are too shallow to compete.
Marwa Adel, the exhibition's only female artist, shows two unique pieces. Using graphic techniques, the works — produced in 2010 and 2011 — reveal women's unique feelings, ambition and dreams. “What counts is the story behind each picture. It is a kind of a digest of women's personal life,” Adel said. Photography, she added, is one of an influential medium, a kind of refuge for the female artists, and an optimal medium through which to express their vision on women's status in society. One of the pictures, entitled Whisper, reveals only the bottom half of a female face, with Arabic calligraphy running across like a tape. Moment, the other piece, features the profile of a naked woman, with a glimpse of sadness and challenge. As the background is garnished with greyish motifs, her body is decorated in the same way, with botanical elements stemming from her arm. While a big red spot covers her eye, calligraphy flows like tears — a luminous moment in women's contemporary creativity.

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