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Mohamed El Damarawy: Tales in Technicolour

We meet with the blossoming artists ahead of Arts-Mart the Gallery's new exhibition, and talk marriage, merriment and making sure everyone has access to art.

Another top artist from Arts-Mart’s The Artists of Tomorrow group exhibition, 34-year old Mohamed El Damarawy’s work already graces the walls of those in the know. Undoubtedly, his unique approach has made him one of Egypt’s most talked about young artists of this generation as he has a knack for taking every day Egyptian scenarios and elevating them, using colour to breathe life into his canvases. But it wasn’t always that way – “I’ve always been painting the same characters, but it used to be darker… a little duller,” he explains. So what changed? Where did this ray of light and explosion of hues that characterise his latest collection come from? “Well, I recently got married,” he says with a sheepish grin. “And that’s not the only thing that changed – look how much weight I gained!”

Graduating in 2003 from Luxor’s Faculty of Fine Arts, El Damarawy shied away from the spotlight, honing his craft before making his gallery debut in late 2005. Since then, his work has made appearances in some of Egypt’s most prestigious galleries, quickly garnering a following among connoisseurs on the lookout for the next big thing. As his skills developed, so did his style. “The difference is that the first stage was simple, with little thought, but the new stage is more mature, more pure colours, more life,” as the man himself puts it. 

As for his subjects, El Damarawy is a pro at pulling from real-life, relatable cultural elements of Egyptian living, while being able to add his own point of view. “I try to make reality crazier. Reality is crazy already, but I try to add my feelings to it, I try to add colours to make it more alive. We always see dullness around us, especially during the recent period,” he explains, inadvertently commenting on the state of Egypt’s rapid yet low quality infrastructural development. “Happiness, loving life, our Egyptian identity… These are all issues that I’m trying to emphasise in my work,” adds the artist, who seems to be of the glass-half-full variety. We guess marital bliss helps his optimism…

A full-time artist now, the Beheira native clearly draws inspiration from his hometown.  “I lived in Cairo for almost 10 years, but I was fed up, it was really overcrowded, so I had to find where I’m most comfortable. In Beheira, there’s a lot of agricultural land, and people don’t follow fashion trends – they’re still wearing the colourful abayas and intricate, handmade accessories,” he says. “I even understood Cairo more when I left it and settled back in Beheira.” Scenes of traditional celebrations recur in the collection being prepped to debut at Arts-Mart’s Artists of Tomorrow exhibition, launching 30th January. From a bride and groom exchanging loving glances at their zaffa to a Moulid inspired scene, complete with an accordion player, the Egyptian obsession with outlandish festivities is clearly communicated. “My paintings are expressionist,” he says simply.

“I like to let every person analyse my paintings their own way, but I sometimes like to pick their brains about it,” he says when our conversation turns to art criticism and appreciation. “But I don’t really like praise, though. I believe there’s more I can offer, and that every stage will gain me more experience and understanding.” The humble painter also seems to share Arts-Mart’s philosophy of bringing down the barriers between art and the average citizen. “There are two types of artists, the first one is the self-centered, narcissistic type, and you’ll see that in his/her paintings. Then, there’s the type that loves reality and people, and you’ll see that in their paintings as well. I’m from the second type. The role of an artist is to make his message reach the whole society within which he lives; he has to offer simple art that both intellectuals and normal people can understand,” he explains. And there’s no better place than Arts-Mart the Gallery to offer exactly that.

For more about Arts-Mart and the upcoming exhibition, check out their Facebook page here.

Photography by Mahmoud Asfour.