“Spirit of Egypt” blends Egyptian heritage with modern art

Rana Khaled
5 Min Read

The fine artist and novelist Abdelaziz Al-Samahy decided to dedicate his whole life bringing the old Egyptian heritage, lifestyle, customs, and traditions back to life and introducing young people to the simple architecture of old houses. His last exhibition titled “The Spirit of Egypt,” held in Cairo Opera House a few months ago, managed to gain the attention of thousands of artists and fans.

This was the first in a series of exhibitions that portray the glorious Egyptian heritage and identity. The exhibition presented 25 paintings, on which he had spent two years painting minute details into with bright colours.

“I graduated from the Faculty of Art Education in Zamalek, where I learnt from a number of leading artists such as Farghali Abdel Hafiz, Mostafa El–Razaz, and Salah Anany. However, I was always obsessed with reading about history and visiting museums and old places,” he said.

In his opinion, nowadays, the disgraceful circumstance of art education in Egypt is a mutual responsibility between schools and the media. “Schools never pay any attention to art teachers. Children always consider art class as free time for playing and eating. I wonder how such people would be able to differentiate between ugliness and beauty when they grow up?” he asked.

On the other side, the media does not dedicate any time for teaching art or rooting aesthetic principles. Therefore, he believes that art and literature can play a crucial role in changing thoughts and developing people’s lives and behaviours—as pens and brushes can be effective tools to fight backwardness.

“In all my paintings, I am always concerned with the changes that happened to the Egyptian identity. Three years ago, I started working on my exhibition to fight everyday destructive thoughts that aim to distort our Egyptian character,” he said.

Therefore, Al-Samahy decided to choose some scenes that reflect our distinguished Egyptian spirit and reproduce them using new tools and painting techniques. In his opinion, art is not just about presenting beauty to the audience; it must convey a strong philosophical message.

“We wonder why we started to see ugliness everywhere and why the morals and behaviours of people have changed over time. I always believe the beautiful life that people used to live decades ago was a result of a great Egyptian identity that people tried to commit to. I wanted young people to think of the glory of our old culture with the aim of encouraging them to restore our old heritage,” he added.

From his point of view, the Egyptian youth are the victims of globalisation as well as westernisation campaigns conveyed to us through western media and American lifestyle.

“We neglected our heritage and the beauty of our houses and streets. We even started to replace some cultural symbols, such as Ramadan lanterns, which used to be decorated with coloured glass, candles, and wood with Chinese lanterns that has nothing to do with our culture and religious traditions,” he noted.

Away from the art, Al-Samahy also published a number of novels and short stories that shed lights on some important periods of the Egyptian history. His novel “A newspaper on a boat,” published in 2006, tackled cultural and social changes that took place in Egypt during the world wars and how they influenced the lives of millions of Egyptians.

His recent novel that was published in 2014 under the title “Mimi, the Armenian White Rose” discusses the relationship between Egyptian and Armenian people through documenting some success stories that reflect a lot of human aspects.

“Usually, artists describe themselves as martyrs who spend years to produce one piece of art in a society that doesn’t appreciate arts and artists. I hope that artists from different fields would collaborate together to work on projects that touch the daily struggles and dreams of people nowadays. This would empower art to be more effective in people’s daily lives,” he concluded.

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