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Obituary: Salah Taher (1911-2007)
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 08 - 02 - 2007

Salah Taher (1911-2007)
By Aziza Sami
A stoic epicurean
Egypt lost one of its most prolific and versatile artists Tuesday, with the passing away of Salah Taher. Taher who started out his life as a sculpturer, was often described by others as an artisan. He himself defied labels, with a painting career that progressed from academic realism to abstract expressionism. A free thinker who impatiently shirked the confines of what he called the "bourgeois" mentality, Taher often asserted that he found himself in the abstract, what he called "the universal language". In the last two decades of his painting career, he often resorted to the Arabic script, using it as a medium to render a multitude of versions of the word "Allah" -- God. This was no relinquishing of his free spirit, however, but, rather, a vindication of religion as the ultimate experience of the soul that transcends the narrow boundaries of the intellect. An avid reader whose home library harboured more than 45,000 books, Taher drew upon the pluralistic legacy of human thought, incorporating philosophy, with literature and art to devise his specific concept of life. But he was also elitist in his outlook, harbouring disdain for all that he deemed "run of the mill". Of Syrian origin, he remained a handsome man until the last. When he was young, he was a body builder who strove for strength, and perfection: Neitzche and Schopenhauer were his favourite thinkers. But he was also dubbed by his critics as 'a bourgeois painter". He was undisputedly the darling of the rich and famous, if only for his undeniable talent in etching their portraits. His gallery abounded with depictions of Kings, princes, first ladies and leading men. Paradoxically, he left the petty calculations -- settling the price of a painting for instance -- to the middle men who flocked like moths to enjoy the fruits of his lucrative talent.
Taher combined administrative acumen with his art. He taught at the School of Fine Arts, and, his itinerary of civil service was immense. He was director of the Khedival Opera House in its still-golden years in the 1960s, before it was burnt down by virtue of sabotage, or negligence. He managed the Luxor Atelier in the Upper Egyptian village of Al-Gurna, as well as the Museum of Modern Art. In 1984, Taher headed the Society of Lovers of Fine Arts. An NGO was established during his lifetime, carrying the name Society of the Lovers of Salah Taher.
Despite his epicurean passion for life, good food and drink, Taher exercised a stoic self-discipline. He would wake up at dawn, practising yoga, and painting for hours with the fervour that was the one thing that could give vent to his immense energy. For all those who knew him, he will remain what he always was: a larger than life figure, whose pealing laughter resounds long after he has gone.
Salah Taher is survived by his son Ayman, and his two grandsons, Salah, and Alaa.
Salah Taher was interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly , issue 827, 11-17 January 2007

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