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The other side of the canvas
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 25 - 04 - 2019

“Beyond form” is the title of a new exhibition by artist Said Abu Raya, currently held on the upper floor hall of the Ubuntu Art Gallery in Zamalek. With 51 old and new works in various sizes media, as always Abu Raya is keen on provoking the viewers and offering a fresh perspective. All are informed by the same guiding principle of what is hidden beyond form. “It could be a concept,” he says, “or the the artist's life and soul, a reality he cherishes.”
In sometimes empty small spaces (a bedroom, a flat, a garden), using a cartoonish style of drawing, Abu Raya twice paints The Artist's House using ink and watercolour on paper. Recalling Gwen John and Van Gogh's takes on the same theme, he emphasises telling details like an old fridge, speakers and small paintings dispersed on the wall. In one, perspective is used to show a lit upper level contrasted with the dark and messy lower level. Like other pieces from “The Places”, these paintings were made back in the 1990s, and they reflect the theatrical awareness of a puppeteer and interior designer as well as painter and cartoonist.
Said Abu Raya
Colourful though nude, human figures appear in a huge new oil on canvas made this year. With hands that are larger than their heads, they are caged in a kind of display box. Another new painting, The Dice Players, features a living room with five men in blue stripped pyjamas. They are disconnected, two of them watching television, even as they supposedly engage in the game. The screen features a male news anchor who takes it all up, evoking the idea of a single source of information and a totalitarian patriarchy. In The Poet, a headless man sits in a cheerful and pretty garden with his head looking very sad in his right hand.
The Dice Players is in conversation with The Only Actor, a smaller ink on paper piece from 2001, in which a chubby man in a classic stripped suit bearing a strong resemblance to then president Hosni Mubarak takes up the whole space, with a sliver of a stage curtain and black and white stars behind him. But there is more to Abu Raya's political perspective, which is informed by the early influence of social realism. In a series of monochrome drawings called “The Members”, a group of men in black suits have heads like – condoms. “It's about the first revolutionary parliament, which was a great disappointment after the noble January Revolution.”
Said Abu Raya
Born in 1956, Abu Raya graduated from the Faculty of Art Education, where he has taught since 2009. He is an engaged artist who believes art must reflect social issues, and political power is one of his recurrent themes, with the clown and the football player standing in for the dictator. But it is in the effortless execution and the balance of elements, including form and content, that this work really shines.

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