By Sharif Paget
When the visitor enters the warehouse they are immediately transported to a serene atmosphere complete with high ceilings, a warm ambiance, and some terrific curation, making it an ideal venue to host art lovers to enjoy the ever-evolving art of Mohamed Abla.
With over 500 pieces in their collection, Arts-Mart owns and operates the largest online gallery in Egypt and the region. It is the go-to place for anyone looking to access some of Egypt’s most cherished fine art. So an opportunity to see such incredible works hanging on a gallery wall is a treat.
Showcasing the largest exhibition of works from pioneering Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla, Arts-Mart opened the doors to its first ever gallery space on Friday.
For those familiar with Abla’s work, the Arts-Mart gallery will not disappoint in delivering some of his most masterful paintings. There are around 140 pieces of Abla’s works, according to Lina Mowafy, co-founder and curator of Arts-Mart.
Mowafy added that the plan is to keep the gallery as a permanent fixture, with revolving work from artists from all over. Dina Shaaban, another curator and co-founder of Arts-Mart, said that she wishes to continue curating with Mowafy on future exhibitions but she is “certainly open to other options if an artist feels more comfortable with their own curator”.
Abla’s earliest artwork was destroyed in a fire, turning his life’s work into a heap of ashes in October 1998. Over 500 paintings were lost in the fire and the distressed artist stopped his artistic endeavours entirely.
Men and women who are inspired to continue, despite the odds, are what make great artists, and Abla is no exception. Hence, his great return.
Possessed to continue creating, Abla said it was “hope, hope that things will be better, hope that change will come.” With this hope came the change, and with that, a myriad of pieces.
Those being introduced to Abla’s work for the first time will walk away with a great understanding and appreciation of his art – in large part due to the magnificent curation put together by Mowafy and Shaaban.
They ground us in Abla’s creative journey; they seamlessly take the viewer by the hand, showcasing Ablas’ entire evolution as an artist. Starting with the artist’s rebirth in “The Nile Series” collection, the exhibition continues to his ongoing “Cairo From Above” series, which encompasses all the elements he has acquired over the years.
Each collection represents an event that occurred in his life. Our first stop on the exhibition is “The Nile Series”. After the tragic fire, Abla found refugee on a small island in the centre of the Nile in Cairo. The island was the perfect place for him to rebuild.
The Nile, “which has always been a mesmerizing subject for Abla” would lead him to work relentlessly. There, he started photography, which would later be intertwined with his painting. “The Nile Series” collection has been acquired by institutes and museums worldwide.
The journey does not end there; from one collection to another, layers of Abla’s work are peeled back. From “the Crowds”, a collection showing the inhabitants of Cairo, to his orchestrated chaos in “Labyrinth”, and his political
paintings in “Newspaper Talk”, to his desire for the familiar in “Nostalgia”, one gains a balanced look into the life of an Egyptian artist.
“The Crowds” collection is radically different from that of “The Nile Series”. This time the artist leaves behind the serenity of the river and takes on the hot pavements of Cairo. He would visit the Friday market and excitedly sketch away. What he noticed though disturbed him – people did not smile as they used to. This was when he began painting people without faces.
As for the collection “Labyrinth”, which has a touch of Pollock but with less drip and more stream, was initially not well received by art critics even though it won the First Prize at the National Exhibition that same year. These distorted but carefully planned works perfectly reflect the bustling streets of Cairo.
Rounding out the gallery is “perhaps Abla’s most [well] known series”: “City Lights”. This series of paintings showcases Cairo when the sun has set – a vibrant portrait of the city at
night. In his next collection, “Buildings: The Inevitable Collapse”, Abla saw this series as “a premonition to the revolution that followed years later”. Then comes “the Fayoum Landscapes”, a return to nature, or as Abla calls it, “simply [his] celebration of Fayoum”.
Finally, the journey comes to end with a collection titled “Cairo from Above”, an ongoing series that combines all the elements explored in the other series.
According to Abla, the hardest obstacle for any artist in Egypt is “the lack of collectors, [and] the lack of art critics. There needs to be more of an appreciation for the arts”.
When asked about his inspiration, Abla‘s response is simple: “The streets”.
Arts-Mart Gallery is located on Cairo Alexandria Road and the Mohamed Abla exhibition is open every day from 11am-8pm till 19 of December.