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A safe way out

Samah Ismael’s new collection does not surprise in its minimalism

Sameh Ismael combines various elements of Arabic calligraphy in his new collection (Photo from Zamalek Art Gallery)
Sameh Ismael combines various elements of Arabic calligraphy in his new collection
(Photo from Zamalek Art Gallery)

Artist Sameh Ismael decided to take a different path from densely packed paintings with complex compositions, and instead went for the minimalistic approach. Despite his classical training – he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Helwan University in 1997 – Ismael has had a more modern approach in his artistic career. In addition to being an artist, he is a musician and also dabbles in graffiti and photography.

His new collection at Zamalek Art Gallery, “A safe way out”, marries his two major interests, minimalism and Arabic calligraphy. On his website, he explains his obsession with the Arabic language: “Arabic letters have entered my surfaces as a recognised cultural form, a visual element that could be pronounced. I introduce elements that can be perceived and recognised in ways that extend beyond simple visual legibility: elements that actually move with the brush strokes and represent the energy by which my abstract painterly techniques construct my canvases. The versatility of form of the Arabic letter, and its 1500 years of vocalised and painted history, plus the centuries old visual culture of ‘Khatt’ –or Arabic calligraphy—all complement my inspiration as a painter.”

For someone who is not a fan of minimalism, the collection might seem only to be squiggly lines with intermittent appearances of letters from the Arabic language. It is hard to extract meaning from the paintings. A brochure on the exhibit claims that the collection “addresses the dialogue between the angularity of a letter form and the cursive quality of pseudo calligraphy”.

The paintings do have some beautiful splashes of colour every now and then, but that’s about it. The problem with the collection is that it suffers from repetitiveness, with every painting greatly resembling the one before. Going through Ismael’s website, you also find out that the collection is similar to his work from 2007. The method has obviously worked for him since he is a successful artist who had his collections exhibited in many prestigious places, such as the Sharjah Museum and the National Museum of Jordan. However, to the ordinary viewer, the paintings are not very appealing.

Given his extensive experience, we would like to see him try to add some new elements to his paintings, or even combine two methods of art – such as minimalism with classical – in new ways.

The exhibition will be held up through 28 January at Zamalek Art Gallery.

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