Ahead of her participation in Arts-Mart's upcoming The Artists of Tomorrow exhibition, we settle down with the blossoming Aya El Fallah to talk inspiration, energy and offending people...
We meet Aya El Fallah in a gorgeous studio in the arts district of 6th October’s Haram City, where her vibrant painting are stacked, one after the other, like a man-made rainbow creeping out from the clouds of this sprawling city. Even her adorable pixie haircut, uber-cool slouchy pants and the fact that she’s visibly well into her pregnancy can’t distract from the kaleidoscope of colours that surround her, weeks before her participation in Arts-Mart.com’s new gallery space’s first group exhibition – The Artists of Tomorrow – kicking off this January 30th.
“I’ve always been messing around with colours since I was very young, experimenting and figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” she says as we settle down in the midst of her art. Studying at Cairo University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, despite coming from a family of architects, Aya El Fallah always felt that her approach was different to others. “I wasn't creating the same kind of work. I wanted to paint, yes, but I wanted to do something more contemporary; something that's mine, not something that resembles what's in the books. I didn't like all the artists. In the beginning, I didn't like the academic stuff. I was more interested in contemporary artists like Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach, and impressionists to a certain extent,” she explains.
Having begun exhibiting when she was still in university, her style turned heads early on. “A lot of my work isn't liked by a lot of people,” El Fallah says quite abruptly, after mentioning a few controversial photography collections she produced. “I took a picture of underwear, and it wasn't sexy or anything, and a Muslim prayer hat hung behind it. Simply, the idea was that even a man who is supposedly religious and conservative is a human being and has a female in his life. The period afterwards, I photographed people who were fully dressed, with underwear above their clothes, and I got the same negative reaction, even though nothing shows; there was no skin revealed.” Having swayed more towards painting in recent years, El Fallah insists that her works is very personal. “For a very long time, my work was a form of documentation. If you look at most of the work, you'll find that it's my life,” she explains. “But I think I'm past this period; my approach has started to change, and I focus on bigger issues more. They're still my own issues, but they're not as personal as they used to be, they concern other people. It's as though I needed to remain within that internal space for a while, but now I'm coming out of it.”
This coming of age as an artist has seen El Fallah’s style become more and more recognisible, regardless of the subject. A master of portraiture, her protagonists might be a little abstract in form, but the emotion and context conveyed by every piece is abundantly clear, proving finesse for capturing the essence of a scenario, rather than just the aesthetics. As for inspiration, El Fallah is a born traveler, wondering the deserts of Egypt and beyond and having recently returned from a trip to the Ivory Coast. However, as she explains, stimulus doesn’t have to be so grand and poetic. “I could be driving and see something that catches my eye; an ad on the street, or even on television. Music also inspires me. And also, when I see my friends creating good work I go home with a really good energy.”
Having been on Arts-Mart.com’s books for some time now, Aya El Fallah’s work already graces the homes and walls of art aficionados across Egypt, and her latest collection, entitled Faisal Microbus will surely be highly sought after at The Artists of Tomorrow exhibition. “My idea was spurred by the fact that while you are on public transport, you come along a lot of different things; Qur’an, Swearing, good music, bad music, good people and bad people…” she explains. This daily cacophony that makes up Cairo life is so vivid on her canvases, you can almost hear the hustle and bustle of the streets and their vehicles. Featuring script and text, as well as her signature use of colour, the pieces are bound to stand out. “This time I’m working with mostly acrylic and plastic materials, not oil, so that makes it look less dramatic on first sight… it’s just more dramatic when you start reading the text…” she says cryptically.
Find out more about Arts-Mart the Gallery here.
Photography by Mahmoud Asfour.