Mashrabia gallery in Downtown Cairo is currently exhibiting Sahar Abdallah’s illustrations from her newly-released children’s book, A Picture and a Book. The gallery features the book’s illustrations in their full glory, accompanied with captions and descriptions. The book may be aimed at children, but the exhibition is for everyone.
Abdallah studied at Helwan Univeristy and now works as a freelance illustrator in Cairo. She has illustrated an impressive array of published children’s books.
The Mashrabia gallery was empty when I walked in at midday; understandable since many art-goers do not wake up before 6 pm (naturally). The place looks nice enough but oddly lacks air-conditioning, which can turn the mostly-wooden room into a sauna as well as provide a nicer habitat for the local ants, who had turned out in all their glory to enjoy the illustrations.
The Italian lady who manages the gallery had a friend over and their conversation dominated the entire space: no quiet contemplating here. Strangely, the one person from the gallery who was available to talk to me did not seem to know that much about the exhibition and instead pointed me to the artist’s CV and the book itself, which although admittedly helpful, did not provide the information I had hoped for from the gallery.
The book and the illustrations are lovely enough and intended to take children through a fascinating, though slightly challenging, tour of art. It showcases different artists from George Bahgoury to Helmy El-Touni and even Andy Warhol through the eyes of the protagonist Fannoun (wordplay on the Arabic word for ‘artist’), a child who enters an art competition at his school.
The book explains the different styles to children from the juxtaposition of different art forms, from using nature as a model to completely disregarding realistic proportions. If the book and the illustrations are quite charming, the artworks are even more so in real life. Take note that the book is completely in Arabic, and so are the captions for the exhibition’s artworks. A nice touch is that the book’s Arabic is written with the proper short vowels marked to encourage children to read correctly.
It takes less than 20 minutes of your time to view the lovely illustrations and they are worth seeing in actual size and colour. We would advise, however, that you go when the weather is gentler and be sure to ask for the book while you are there; it will give you a much better understanding of the exhibition.