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The art of lore
Published in Daily News Egypt on 24 - 10 - 2007

George Fikry is an artist and teacher, but his current exhibition at the AUC Falaki gallery singles him out as Egypt's visual storyteller. The story that Fikry tells is what every legend is made of. In stark black and white, the simplest and yet most powerful tones, he narrates a story of birth, life and death.
Fikry's quartet is a series of four wall pieces, each with a different theme but all pertaining to the four essential ingredients of the mythological trail. The first, From the Earth to the Wall, stands 15 meters wide and 2.25 meters high. At first sight one is confronted with what appears to be a take on Normandy's Bayeux tapestry. Abstract figures fill the scene in various forms.
Dark silhouettes with long distorted faces are donned in tall Viking-esque helmets and an imposing royal air, their elongated faces proud against the white background. This, explains Fikry, is the story that is narrated in every lifetime. The king, possessing ultimate power, is recreated in every generation. And sure enough, the figure with large open thighs at the other end of the wallscape sits on a litter of mini-kings, their tall crowns the signature of their royalty to be. She is mother earth, the symbol and agent of man's security in reproducing himself in his own image.
As far as contemporary art is concerned, I cannot claim to be an expert. Although as a frequenter of galleries and exhibitions, I can only claim to speak for the layperson of those on the peripheries of the art world. But the transformation in Modern art over the past two decades has not escaped the attentions of even the most primitive Neanderthal. No longer is it based on some kind of flat aesthetic appeal, but it is the idea behind the art which is the sine qua non of its success. Fikry's idea is in itself an expression of the most fundamental tenet of mankind, delving deeply into anthropology, psychology and literature through visual art.
His second panel is a series of smaller pieces made with thick lacer and gas. The Heart to the Wall are sketchy yet thick scrawls of black ink, in morbid and near coherent depictions of a human face. It is a painful set, and there is something deeply moving about the figure that haunts each perverse portrait. In one particular portrait, the figure appears to be crying black blood, his eyes chaffed in oil and ink. Morbid sensibilities aside, that particular set is the most compelling of the exhibition, however, it is difficult to see how it connects with the greater mythological theme.
The third and fourth panel, Soul to the Wall and Eye to the Wall, respectively, are both expressed through the medium of charcoal on a blank wall. Both are covered in furious wisps of charcoal peppered with black pellets, and both display forlorn figures in archaic form reminiscent of primitive depictions of the body. The fourth is the most intense, a romance between two entwined figures and the aesthetic metaphor of the first loving gaze between a man and woman.
Fikry's multifarious work brings to the fore timeless themes in what he describes as "from a certain Egyptian perspective, in a changing society and political context. Yet his unmistakably abstract style belies any sense of something inherently Egyptian about the piece. Is Fikry in fact saying that despite the evolution (or indeed, devolution) of the political and social system, some basic facts will remain unchanged.
But something that Fikry is certainly sure about is the existence of the Faris, the knight, who "may or may not come in the future, yet he belongs to history and defends in the name of the good, he smiles. "We are all knights.
Fikry's concern to preserve and give expression to the mythical memory forms the thrust of his artistry, and in this exhibition there is no doubt that this sincerity is realized.


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