Egyptian artist Eveyln Ashamallah has been creating wonderful and imaginative paintings for 20 years, and the fruits of this labour are now on display in Zamalek. The exhibition, 20 Years of Evelyn Ashamallah, opened on Monday 2 June at 6 Contemporary Arts gallery, with Ashamallah on the scene to answer questions about her work.
“The collection is 20 years of my artistic phases; each phase is a little different than the one before it, but when they are exhibited together, they create a [complete] image of my artistic career,” Ashamallah explained, “There are 45 paintings, [besides] a huge painting, which is a collage of 10 smaller paintings, entitled Creatures of Life.”
When viewing the collection, one is struck by the fanciful characters of each painting, each telling a different story. Although at times appearing distorted, they are inviting in their child-like appearance. Ashamallah creates her own world in each painting, populated by heroes and heroines who always seem to be smiling and alive.
Ashmallah describes her artistic process as fluid and adaptive. “No painting really has a specific subject,” she says. “When I start to paint, I depend on my memories, what the eye notices, my personal history, the place in which I live, my travels, my readings of philosophy, and my points of view. Basically, my reactions to life, the way I act, my thoughts… they all go into the painting. There is usually just a general outline,” she explained.
When asked about Creatures of Life, which is located near the entrance of the gallery, Ashmallah explained, “This time I decided that I wanted to create a very large painting that has some details of life’s games, and of the moulid [a celebration of a saint or prophet’s birthday]. That was the general idea, and from it, I went into specifics when painting, which was done with great freedom and fluency.”
At the end of the gallery, there are three consecutive vertical black and white paintings, entitled Singing, which seem connected. “They tell the story of a musical world, with singing and noise. At the same time, there are many conversations taking place. I painted these after I painted Creatures of Life,” she explained.
Creatures of Life and the three Singing paintings are two sides of the same coin. “I wanted to contrast the colourful, boisterous life in the Creatures of Life with the possibility of creating a life as just as noisy, but in black and white. They represent two different moods. At the same time, when you look at the Singing paintings which are black and white, you sense a high tone and noise,” Ashamallah said.
The gallery also includes paintings of a more personal nature, which was the main subject of the last artistic phase that Ashamallah experienced. “The three circular paintings that look like icons; these were faces of children with whom I played in the street when I was a kid. I lost them when I moved away, but they remained as heroes in my life,” Ashamallah explained, “I also painted my house in which I used to live with them, and how it looked with its doors and windows, and its oven room. I am from Dessouk, and there, each house had an oven room. [In the paintings] I recalled my childhood activities and how that time was an intimate phase in my life.”
Ashamallah’s paintings seem deceptively simple, but also clearly display the generous thought and effort that went into their creation. One of the more wholesome paintings shows a family standing side by side. “This was my father’s family: my aunts, my father, and my grandmother and grandfather. They all died really young, and so I wanted to give them life once more by painting them,” Ashamallah said.
The exhibition runs until 23 June.