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So Surreal: Gee el-Sheikh

Moving away from the local arts scene, with its endless pretentiousness with only a sprinkle of gems in between, Joana Saba sits down with Gehad "Gee" el-Sheikh, an amateur artist with her very own unique brand of artwork.

You can't really put your finger on it, but there's a certain inconsistency about the art scene in Egypt. Yes, we've produced some groundbreakers, like Youssef Nabil and Nermine Hammam, who are actually changing the art scene internationally and really pushing the envelope in a lot of ways. But outside of a certain framework of established names that have either found major success abroad or are espoused by major galleries in the country, there are very few outlets for a young, burgeoning, and somewhat subterranean arts scene that we all know exists in Egypt.

But within this atmosphere Gehad "Gee" el-Sheikh is still regularly producing her own artwork - but on her own terms. She remains not fussed by the uber-theoretical, conceptualised art that you'll find in almost any gallery you walk into. Rather, hers is a more visually-driven practice that aims for a physical effect, instead of throwing people off into an endless lacuna of pseudo-intellectualised piffle that a lot of art has been ever since Jeff Koons decided inflatable balloon-flowers were the standard form of art (no disrespect to Koons intended). 

"I find it weird when people say, 'What do you mean by it?' No, I can tell you what I put into it, I don't care if you completely misunderstand what I'm saying, as long as [the artwork] made you feel something," she says. Her general approach is to avoid thinking about the theory to take to her art, and what kind of symbolism it has, and instead to focus on the creative process of it - finding an idea, getting inspired, and executing it in a way that is both visually captivating and intuitive.

"It's not about theory because a lot of the artists I like, when they talk about their artwork, they don't talk about what comes out of their artwork, they talk about what they put into their artwork. And there's a big difference with that."

It's not that her work lacks methodology. If you look at one of her latest series that is still ongoing, you can start to get a glimpse of the thought process that governs her work.

The series is based on single quotes given to her by friends for inspiration, around which she builds each work respectively. Each work is different, even wildly so, but each is compelling in its inventiveness.

"Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: 'Here are our monsters,' without immediately turning the monsters into pets." - Derrida

Gehad's interest in art peaked when she was around 12-years old, and she attributes this to the discovery of the internet, and finding a community of artists whose work used a similar approach to hers.

Where a physical outlet for amateur artists is sorely lacking in Egypt, she found hers in cyberspace in her youth, and this seemed to fill the gap by giving her a place where she could feed off of other people's creativity. Though she received her B.A. from AUC, she described her experience there are somewhat stunted, whereby she had hoped for an opportunity to grow in terms of skill and creativity, but was afforded neither.

She would only find the freedom to move past the limitations she felt there, which she attributed at least partially to lack of interaction with other artists on her course, after graduating from university and moving past the academic and commercial demands. Gehad was recently part of a comics' workshop held in Poland called Women for Democratic (R)Evolution, which resulted in an exhibition under the same name in Darb 1718 last April.

The workshop gave her the opportunity to find the right creative environment. "I think it was the best art program I've been part of for a really long time, because of the people," she said. "[My supervisor] was great because rather than talking about our artwork we started talking about ourselves and just channelling our experiences and thoughts and ideologies into our artwork."

"I don't have much to cry about, but i have so many tears that need to be let out."

She attributes her distinctive style to a series of influences; mainly comics and graphic art, with a "surrealist" or fantastical twist, but always with an individual touch or story behind it.

Zen Diagram

"They're very personal. A lot of the time it's more what I like to see myself as. That doesn't mean that they're self-portraits, and not necessarily the standard definition of beauty or anything," Gehad says of her approach. "For example if I draw something with the theme of light in it, it's more like I wanna be a little more free. You don't wanna make something up when it's not there, or you don't wanna theorise too much so it takes away from it."

You can see more of Gehad's artwork here.