Days ahead of the biggest exhibition of his life's work to date at the grand opening of Arts-Mart.com's new gallery space, we sit down with the legendary Mohamed Abla for a little insight and a lot of inspiration.
Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla needs no introduction if you fancy yourself a bit of a culture vulture. But if you’re more of a culture egg waiting to hatch, let us tell you the tale of one of Egyptian art’s modern pioneers. A Mansoura native, Abla graduated from Alexandria University’s faculty of fine arts during the educational establishment’s heyday. After completing Egypt’s dreaded military service in Cairo, he would then embark on a seven-year journey around Europe, soaking in the continental arts scene both past and present, even putting on his first ever solo exhibition in Germany before moving to Vienna to study graphic design. A year later, he was in Zurich where he turned his attentions to sculpting and art therapy, before returning to Egypt following the birth of his son. In the decades that followed Mohamed Abla became the name on everybody’s lips with a slew of exhibitions and accolades under his belt, before launching the iconic Fayoum Art Centre in 2007. Today, he prepares to present his life’s work in a massive retrospective inaugurating the launch of Arts-Mart.com new physical gallery space, launching on the 5th December. We sit down with the legend ahead of the big exhibition to talk inspiration, innovation and his undying love for the motherland.
We meet on the Cairo island of Qursaya which Abla calls home. His studio ticks all the boxes when it comes to an artistic space. Bohemian? Check. Littered in art supplies? Check. Stacks of works of art, books and easels? Check, check and check. The 60-years-young artist clearly lives the life millions of young, dreamy-eyed artists fantasise about – not in New York, Paris or Berlin, but right here in the middle of the Nile. “An artist can’t leave his soul; it’s always with you no matter where you are, it’s in you. And I know it shows in my work how interested I am in Egypt,” begins the endearing artist. “I love the Nile and I love drawing it. The relationship between the city and the countryside is very obvious here; I live in a village inside the city.”
Indeed, Mohamed Abla’s work screams the Egyptian experience without shoving political or social messages down the audiences’ throats. This is the man that wandered around Tahrir, soaking up the emotions of the thousands of people around him; the man who set up an impromptu art school for children in the centre of the square, right in the thick of things. Yet his work remains rooted in capturing the sentiment and movement of every day Egyptians, whether it’s a portrait of a police officer or abstract landscapes of Cairo in motion, letting the viewer make their own conclusions. “I was drawing the revolution before it had happened,” says Abla, almost cryptically.
“Any artist usually passes through different phases throughout their career, where he or she is concerned with certain things whether they be social, political or just everyday life,” he explains. “This exhibition reflects how I feel about the persons painted and the city.” The enigmatic character is fan of oil painting, using unique brush techniques that connote action even when his characters are sedentary. Occasionally branching into mix medium pieces, he layers unique use of colour on top of printed backgrounds, faded photographs and even newspaper clippings. Meanwhile, his Labyrinth collection, some of which will be on show at Arts-Mart The Gallery from this Friday onwards, forgoes characters all together and instead takes familiar Cairo landscapes and propels them into movement with long strokes and splatters to capture the energy of a city constantly on the go. “Whatever I draw, I’ve either lived it or done it and I’ve I loved it. I love expressing it even more,” he adds.
Having worked closely with Arts-Mart.com for over a year now, Mohamed Abla is no stranger to the daunting digital world either. “It’s the language of this time. We can’t judge the internet generation now and say if it was good or bad but we all know is that life is becoming more and more virtual as we speak. Virtual galleries have become a reality that we should deal with and embrace,” he says. However, with Egypt’s revolution came a boost in the traditional art scene too. “I realised that the Egyptian youth had become desensitised and out of touch, which is a dangerous thing. But post-revolution, artists became more aware; more awakened. There was a period of time where artists only dreamt to travel abroad and exhibit there, where the foreign institutes often dictated what they wanted you to do. Now, we have the opportunities right here,” elaborates Abla. Arts-Mart’s new physical gallery space is hoping to provide just that, combining exhibitions, studios and educational facilities in an elaborate warehouse-style space. The sheer size of the arts hub will allow Mohamed Abla to branch even further out, as he’ll be displaying a rarely-before-seen installation for two weeks after the opening night.
Find out more about Arts-Mart.com's new gallery on their official Facebook page here.
Photography by Mahmoud Asfour.