The Unique Magic of Arabic Art
By: Pamela Dimtirova/ Arab America Contributing Writer
Art has always been one of the strongest weapons to fight the brutal face of reality and to bring people closer together. And wile most of the galleries around the world are proudly showing the works of artists such as Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh, Arabic art is starting to get more recognizable among the art lovers, impressing with it’s unique shapes, style and colours. Here are few of the most famous pieces of Arab art, that you should know about:
Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life
Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life is the work of theTurkish/Jordanian artist Princess Fahr El-Nissa Zeid from the Prince Raad bin Zeid Collection. Embedded in the Paris art world, Zeid was the only female artist from the Orient who managed to record her name in the history of the Abstract art movement and its consequent cultural discourse categorised in the period from 1944 until 1966. Her oeuvre reveals the inspiration of the melting pot of styles that came to be known as the École de Paris in the first half of the twentieth century, which in turn influenced several generations of artists.
The painting is also one of the most expensive pieces of art ever sold, bought for the record price of $2,741,000 and estimated for more than $3,000,000.
The Whirling Dervishes
No other artist managed to capture as many layers of Egyptian life in the years preceding the Revolution of 1952 as Mahmoud Said. The painting depicts six Mawlawi dervishes, each identically clad and with similar features but subtly different postures, they perform a Sema (dance) around the circular stage of an Ottoman-Era Semahane (ritual hall).
The tradition was found in Konya, central Anatolia, by followers of Jalal al-Din Mohammed Balkhi-Rumi, and arrived in Egypt in the wake of the 1517 Ottoman conquest of Cairo. Much of the Egyptian aristocracy had Turkish and Ottoman roots, Mahmoud Said’s family was no exception. In the earlier part of the twentieth Century Ottoman traditions were still very much prevalent in Egypt, including the Mawlawi order performing in their Semahanes, these falling into decline with the advent of the Revolution.
The piece was sold for an astounding $2.54 million at Christie’s auction house in 2010.
Icons of the Nile
The painting consist many iconic figures such as:
- Umm Kulthoum (Egyptian ,1904-1975) known as “the Shining Star of the East” (kawkab el-sharq). she is still recognized as the Arab world’s most famous and distinguished singer of the 20th century.
- Asmahan (Syrian, 1918-1944 ) was born Princess Amal member of the famous Druze family Al-Atrash was a famous Syrian singer and actor who lived in Egypt and sang most of her songs in Egyptian Arabic.
- Laila Mourad (Egyptian 1917-1995) Born to a Jewish Egyptian family, it was Jewish composer Dawoud Housni (who had composed the first Operetta in the Arabic language) who helped her start her career by composing two songs, Hairana Leh Bein El Eloub (Why can’t you choose from among lovers), and Hoa el dala’a ya’ani khessam (Does daliance mean avoiding me?).
- Layla Fawzi ( Egyptian 1925-2005 ). Born to an Egyptian father, and a Turkish mother, Layla Fawzi was one of the most beautiful actresses in the history of the Arabic cinema. In the 1940s she was voted the most beautiful actresses of all time by an Amercan magazine.
- Zaki Rustom ( Egyptian 1903-1972 ). The iconic actor starred in more than 30 films.
- Faten Hamama ( Egyptian, b.1931) Egyptian producer, and acclaimed actress, Hamama made her screen debut in 1939, when only nine years old. Revered as an icon in Egyptian and Middle Eastern cinema, Hamama has substantially helped in improving the cinema industry in Egypt and emphasizing the importance of women in cinema and Egyptian society
Construction of the Suez Canal
Despite his tragic death at the young age of forty, Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar is unquestionably one of the most important figures of the Egyptian Modern art movement. His legacy has left behind a national artistic wealth that has only recently been acknowledged and appreciated.
Construction of the Suez Canal from 1965 is a study for perhaps one of the most monumental and referenced works ever to have been painted by the artist, which is now part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Cairo. The painting was commissioned by the Maritime Museum in Alexandria to honor one of the most important events in Egyptian history, and accordingly acknowledge the contribution the Canal imparted to both Egyptian trade and industry, particularly at a time of political instability in the country. However, it was precisely the socio-political issues following the Revolution in 1952 and the Suez Canal Crisis that inspired El-Gazzar in 1965.
Les Chadoufs is one of Mahmoud Said’s finest paintings, exceptional both in its carefully studied geometry and in its iconography. Its controlled and coherent design recalls principles of the Italian Renaissance, whilst its iconography evokes prototypes from key periods in Egypt’s long history. In this painting, without doubt, one of Said’s most classically inspired compositions, he links Egypt’s antiquity to her present as a powerful metaphor for an Egyptian renaissance.
What first strikes the viewer is the pyramidal alignment that dominates the painting. Bounded on the left by a male figure in the foreground and on the right by a water-carrying woman and a donkey, the summit is formed by a second man drawing water from a well at the top.
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