Love and Marriage: new show laments state of the family

Jered Stuffco
4 Min Read

Overly idyllic but charmingly fuzzy family memories of a time gone by

While the disintegration of the traditional family is a cause célèbre among conservative politicians, Christian evangelists, and religious groups in America – it s not usually a topic discussed in Egypt s liberal art world.

Still, the unusual nature of the subject nature hasn t stopped the well-known and established Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla from tackling the topic in his latest exhibition, appropriately titled The Family.

The family is disappearing in Egypt and everywhere. And this is affecting the society. That s what I m trying to show in this exhibition, Abla tells The Daily Star Egypt.

If the traditional family is dying in the real world, it s alive and kicking in Abla s world.

The collection features dozens of smiling, happy families lovingly rendered in Abla s broad, breezy acrylic brushstrokes.

In some ways, the idyllic and nostalgic collection resembles a giant photo album, filled with fuzzy memories of long past vacations and family picnics.

Clutching a bouquet of flowers and standing amidst his work during the collection s opening on Sunday evening, Abla is clearly happy with the results.

He says that the collection was inspired by pictures of both his own family and the families of his close friends.

It s a collection of photographs, says Abla, taking time to sign a few autographs and mingle with fans and supporters. I m trying to draw comparisons to show their lives.

For all of the collection s scruffy charm and childlike exuberance, however, some of the paintings may seem a little too nostalgic and Utopian for their own good. After all, familial love has always been imbued with struggle, conflict and pain. Just ask Hamlet.

Amy Sharif, an art student at the American University of Cairo who was checking out the collection last Sunday, agrees.

I thought he was being cynical, she says, referring to the idyllic and surreal nature of the collection. I thought he was making fun of the Utopian family of the past.

Abla, however, doesn t see this optimism as detraction. He simply says he sees the good side of family life.

It is positive and it is full of hope, he explains.

Many of the paintings also feature backdrops of Cairo s cityscape – snapped by Alba and silk-screened in color onto canvas, creating an effective contrast and counterpoint to the scenes of smiling families.

It s a dialogue with history. This builds a bridge with the past, says Abla, who adds that he works very fast.

Hailing from Belqas, Mansoura, Abla began his career when he enrolled as a painting student in Alexandria in 1973. Six years later, he had his first solo exhibition at a gallery in Germany, and in 1985, he won first prize in the Cairo Seen by Artists contest.

Since then, he s traveled and shown his work widely through Europe and America, dabbled in video and sculpture and become one of Cairo s most respected and established artists, with some of his work now fetching up to LE 70,000 a pop.

The Family runs at the Zamalek Art Gallery until Nov. 22.

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