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Capturing Ramadan on canvas
Published in Daily News Egypt on 21 - 09 - 2007

Unearthing a singular identity from the heaps of Arab, African, Western and Ancient influences that pervade Egyptian culture is no simple task. Yet it's one to which Egyptian artists have dedicated themselves in droves.
So perhaps it's not surprising the Gauguin Gallery has devoted its most recent exhibit to a theme undeniably central to Egyptian life: Ramadan. The two-room show entitled "Ramadaniyat, which opened last Wednesday night, showcases a wide range of interpretations of the holy month, both literal and abstract.
Seated in a room strewn with brushes and canvases, Gauguin's owner, Mona Hassan, explained the exhibit's theme. Typically, galleries like Gauguin use themes based on seasons, she said; for instance, a spring show may have a floral theme.
"It's by coincidence we're starting our season with it, she said of this year's overlap with Ramadan, which began one week before the opening.
While Ramadan is a Muslim holiday, Hassan stressed that Ramadaniyat is not necessarily religious. The term refers to the atmosphere and spirit of the month, which affects all Egyptians, Muslim or not.
"It's not a religious thing. It's the atmosphere of the whole [period], she said, explaining some of the more festive scenes, which include large dinners and people smoking shisha.
Ramadaniyat encompasses a wide school of art, she said. While most exhibits at Gauguin and similar galleries will focus on one or two mediums, Ramadaniyat includes a wide array of visual mediums: Sculpture, glasswork, watercolor, acrylic, digital art and ink etchings all mingle along the gallery's walls.
For most of the evening, Horriya Mostafa, a Cairene sculptor whose background includes a PhD in Philosophy, lingered near her display - a trio of glass-blown figures - and chatted with visitors.
"A lot of people want to talk about why it's transparent, why it's made of glass, she said. "It's because our spirit is transparent.
The themes of her sculptures are rooted in Ancient Egyptian philosophy and art, she said. Many are tall and thin, a visual interpretation of the human struggle to transcend purely physical existence.
An upcoming exhibition of her work will be shown in Japan, France and Denmark, among other countries.
Hassan, herself a painter, writer and jewelry-maker, said she gained a deeper appreciation for art while traveling abroad. "Art is very poor over here, she said. "It's not everywhere like in Europe.
She said popular understanding of contemporary Egyptian art and its nuances - such as its roots in Italian and French practices - is growing in this country and abroad, but slowly.
"It's a short tradition, but one people should know, she said. "People have to realize there is art here as well.
In its mission to improve Egyptian arts, the Gauguin Gallery houses a small school and publishes a magazine. The goal is ambitious, but one Hassan believes is worth chasing.
"I can't control the whole world, she said, laughing. "But so far I am succeeding.
RamadaniyatGaugin Gallery37 Mohamed Mazhar St, Zamalek, CairoTel: (010) 816 2949Daily 11 am-2 pm & 8:30-10:30 pmExhibition runs until Oct. 11

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