There is a sense of familiarity that hits you as soon as you enter Dr Saria Sidky’s new exhibition at the Picasso Art Gallery in Zamalek. It is as if the characters in the paintings are inviting you to come and chat with them. Indeed, the animated women featured in the exhibition, titled “Intimacy”, seem ready to jump out of the paintings and into your life, and if you focus, you might just see them walking across the gallery, with their smiling faces beaming at you.
Mirroring her work, Sidky herself is a warm and inviting person. When I entered the gallery she was filming with a TV channel, but as I stood and watched her speak, she instantly took notice, smiling at me as if we were old friends.
Her passion for sculpting is apparent. She talks about how sculpture was the main topic that attracted her attention since childhood, recalling the trips her father used to take her on to Ancient Egyptian monuments. She believes that the art of the Ancient Egyptians had a great influence on her style. “I never copied the [artistic] method of the ancient Egyptians, but when I am affected by something, it is usually of an emotional nature,” she explained.
Sidky believes in the spontaneity of her work: “I talk to these characters, and that is a type of meditation,” she said. She also explained that there is no particular influence in her paintings, but that she gets inspired by people who pass through her life. While she admits that her work draws inspiration from a number of cultural influences she has studied, Sidky does not intend any one influence to supersede the rest, and if this happens, it is by mere chance.
“If any style or influence can add to your work, then what would be the problem?” the artist exclaims. She credits the Faculty of Art Education at Helwan University, where she studied, for encouraging her to experiment with unconventional artistic methods, free from the constraint of any “taboos”.
Sidky describes her painting process as a “stream of consciousness”, explaining, “I never know if the statue will be a woman or a man or old or young as long as I am still working on it. There is a constant dialogue between me and the form.”
She admits that her method is unconventional, pointing out that “most people would sketch their statues first, and then proceed accordingly, but even when I use a sketch, I alter it as I am working.” Sidky credits surrealist Joan Miró for inspiring her to follow the spontaneity of the subconscious. “He would paint a form and then this form would inspire the next form he painted,” Sidky explained.
She styled the paintings to be so pronounced that they appear to resemble sculptures. “If you look at all the forms and then extract them from the paintings, they will emerge as statues,” she said. “Look at this painting; the woman’s body is actually flat, but your eyes think it is materialised.” She artfully uses meticulously-placed lines to trick the eye into seeing 2-D paintings as 3-D.
“I learnt this when I studied Islamic art, which transforms the [artistically] cheap into something precious, by using metal sheen. I started reading things about Gestalt theory, and how the eye shuts down on the figure. So, for instance, if I leave one line out of the painting, the eye won’t be able to form the pronounced figure,” Sidky explained.
Another very noticeable aspect of the exhibition is the colourful nature of the paintings. “These are my colours, the ones I wear daily,” she commented. It is her first coloured-paintings exhibition. She credits her husband, Dr Mostafa Razaz, for pushing her to use colours in her paintings. “I told him that I do not paint with colours, so he opened my closet and said ‘aren’t these colours?’”
“When I want to paint a woman that is fully-covered, like many women here, I used the lithograph technique, which employs the use of tar to create shades; the heavier the tar, the deeper the shade,” Sidky explained. “For instance, the painting of the peasant carrying a water jar, the woman is dancing, and that is optimism.”
Cats are also present in her artwork. She explained that she loves cats and one Siamese cat in particular, which she had before getting married. Although Sidky never paints Siamese cats because it is too painful for her, she says that all the cats she paints are this specific cat, who was her constant companion.