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Ancient Egypt comes back to life
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 10 - 04 - 2010

‘UNBELIEVABLE' is the word that best describes his works, a new incarnation of Ancient Egyptian history. Obsessed with the notion of Egyptian identity, he is deeply inspired by the Ennead of Egyptian mythology (the nine gods, Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys), which is why you can find them disguised in his paintings.
Egyptian artist Khaled Hafez, an abstract painter, was born in Cairo in 1963. From 1981 till 1990, he did evening classes in Cairo University's Faculty of Fine Arts, while studying medicine at the same time.
For more than two decades now, Hafez has been pushing painting techniques to the limit. In 1995, he moved from total abstraction to a neo-figurative style, based on collage and flat imagery.
For his first solo project at Al-Masar Gallery, Hafez has synthesised a series of acrylic-on-canvas compositions with military elements like snipers, ground infantry in combat positions, tanks, helicopters and fighter planes.
Those are extracted from media sources, digitally manipulated, printed and hand-painted then collaged on the canvas, in Ancient Egyptian-hieroglyph-like assemblages.
“In Ancient Egyptian arts, a painting has to tell a story.
There was always a reason. Pharaonic paintings tell us how the Pharaohs lived or delivered a message. They are documentaries. Their painting were stories and mine are too,” he says.
“Comic strips, as we know them nowadays, use pictures to describe texts, just as Ancient Egyptian drew pictures to deliver a message.”
Inspired by Ancient Egyptian wall paintings, Hafez uses ideograms and pictograms.
"In my paintings, I use sacred icons of the religion of Ancient Egypt, and probe the similarity between gods like Anubis and a superhero like Batman, an overt symbol of a consumer-goods culture. I try to break the barriers between East and West, past and present, as well as the sacred and the ephemeral/commercial," Hafez told The
Egyptian Gazette in an interview.
He also uses old paper in his collages, yellowed either naturally or by age or artificially by excessive solar exposure, or sometimes by actual burning. These yellow pages remind one of the mummified past.
Hafez explained why he decided to name his exhibition ‘The First Temple of Flight'.
"‘Flight' means travelling, which refers to immigration.
It also means escape. My exhibition is about flight from
one identity to another," he said.
"For over a decade my work, whether paintings, installations or videos, has dealt principally with ‘identity', all possible aspects of identity.
“I believe that Egyptian artists enjoy a multiplicity of identities, because of Egypt's geography, history and culture.
“Egypt is in the African continent and the Middle East. Itwas Pharaonic, then Christian; now it is Arab and Islamic. Egypt has been influenced by many cultures,” he stressed.
In his huge painting, The Second Book of Flight, which took him about six weeks to complete, he has used photos of female models and male bodybuilders.
“I use them because they are real but fictional at the same time. I mean you can't see them in the streets. Ancient Egyptians used to draw their kings, queens, gods and goddess with perfect bodies, just like the men and women in
my paintings, even if they didn't have perfect bodies," he added.
The same painting also features soldiers in battle. "Ancient Egyptians used pictography. Every letter was represented by a picture. And that's what I'm trying to do.
These military ‘idioms' are my pictography, derived from the media," said Hafez, who has learned hieroglyphs in order to be able to read pictography. “The impact of this old language on Arab culture is very deep; the more you read, the more you realise this.”
Ancient gods and goddess are also appear very clearly in Hafez's paintings, especially the goddess Isis.
“Isis has many incarnations. When referred to as the goddess of war, she wears the mask of a lioness and is known as Shekhmet; when domesticated, she wears the mask of a cat.
She also wears the mask of Hathor, who personifies the principles of love, motherhood and joy. When referred to as a sexy woman, she is drawn only as Isis, a woman,” he explained. Sekhmet is used as a ferocious female element to represent female supremacy; male figures are used in smaller figurations to enhance this female supremacy, reflecting the visual challenges to the prevailing conservative, sexist, mainstream culture.
"My initial worry before starting a project is to create an intelligent work, not an aesthetic one. Visual illusions often provide an interesting outcome," he said.
The exhibition ‘First Temple of Flight', by Khaled Hafez, is being held at Al-Masar Gallery for Contemporary Art, Behler's Mansion, 157b, 26th July St., ground floor, Zamalek (02/2736-8537). The exhibition runs until April 18.

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