Along the entrance of the current Townhouse Gallery’s exhibit stands a smiling soldier with a bucket for a hat, a foil-wrapped gun, and a striped metallic skirt. Am Sayed, the artist, runs a Downtown liver sandwich stand but says he’s always enjoyed dabbling with arts. His soldier is a symbol of “love for peace, he says.
“He was a killer but now is happy to be able to stop fighting, Am Sayed explains. As he speaks to me, a young girl who has gotten to know him from the workshops compliments his work.
Though they are visibly from different backgrounds, the Sawa, or “Together, workshops do not discriminate, attracting young and old, rich and poor, professional and amateur, and Egyptian and foreigner, all in an open warehouse-type space which provides free art material hoping that inspiration will follow.
A good vibe radiates as all the participants celebrate each other’s accomplishment with certificates, music, and food among the creations hanging from the ceilings, lining the walls, and crowding the floor.
While the Sawa Saturday workshops begun last June (and two years ago for refugees) focused on paint and drawing, the gallery just concluded a 12-day concentrated workshop bringing piles of materials from Souq Al Gomaa (Friday market) for artists to include in sculptures, paintings, installations and conversation pieces.
The Friday market is known for selling anything and everything. Much of it is usually considered junk.
The result is as diverse as the people creating the work. Blow dryers, soccer balls, wires, and shredded paper are transformed into ducks, noses, ships, and hair. CDs and computer parts are handily integrated in artworks and old cut up dolls make a statement.
Osama Abdel Monaam, a graphic designer, took 12 days off work to participate in the program. “I forced them to let me, he says. His work integrates some of his own photography with paintings done in the workshop and layered with radio parts in a final work entitled “This is Cairo, named after a radio program by the same title.
A number of kids took part in the workshop as well as neighborhood mechanics and workers.
Professional artists also benefited from attending the workshops. Sudanese refugee Mudathir Ibrahim was not a professional before but after coming to the Sawa workshops and listening to the advice of gallery director William Wells, Ibrahim recently exhibited his works in Sequoia. The gallery provides free material, but more importantly it provides a stimulating environment.
Amado Al Fadni attends the workshops, even though he already has his own studio. He says the space forces him to produce something different from what he normally would.
“It’s a challenge because it’s difficult, he says.
While he describes himself as an abstract artist, with the Friday market materials he produced objects and concepts, revolving around the theme of the female body (de-limbed) as “the symbol of life itself. Fadni used a variety of dolls as the core of his pieces.
Along the walls and floors are some skillful works which communicate through both visuals and language, either making poetic statements or simply adding humorous captions.
Organizer Mena Mohsy explains that there was a “philosophical layer to the idea, whereby artists selected only neglected, defunct, or destroyed materials to recycle and fill with new meaning and purpose.
On display also are paintings in a variety of styles and skill levels produced during the Sawa painting workshops, many of which are remarkable. Accounting graduate Rihab Youssef painted a series of spirited skylines from a fantasy land.
Ibrahim paints warm traditional Sudanese scenes and faces, while others paint faces on different materials and different styles of depicting faces and people.
Others picture nothing at all but seem to be playing with ideas, materials, and perhaps also with the freedom they are allowed in playing and creating.
The exhibition will be running until June 1 and all pieces are on sale, with the proceeds going directly to the artists.
The Sawa workshops, attended by approximately 150 participants, are largely funded by Townhouse’s new Friends program, through which members receive benefits in exchange for program sponsorship.