Ma'arad-ha: Egypt exhibition celebrates 16 contemporary female artists

Work by painters, sculptors and multimedia artists are being shown in downtown Cairo this month

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From a tour guide who changed careers after the 2011 Egyptian revolution to the Norwegian-born sister-in-law of former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the female artists showcasing their work at a new Cairo exhibition have varied backgrounds and artistic styles.

But consultancy Art d’Egypte has brought them together to celebrate a month that includes International Women’s Day on March 8, Egyptian Women’s Day on March 16 and Egyptian Mother’s Day on March 21.

Ma’arad-ha, meaning "her exhibition" in Arabic, includes the pieces of 16 local artists at Kodak Passageway, an open gallery space in downtown Cairo until March 30.

“This exhibition provides an opportunity for Egyptian female artists to display their latest works and creative ideas, and to emphasise that their creative superpowers will always help them fight for the freedom of expression,” says Art d’Egypte founder Nadine Abdel Ghaffar.

Bronze 'Cactus girl 2' by sculptor Reem Osama. Nada El Sawy / The National

Art d’Egypte has previously organised exhibitions showcasing Egyptian contemporary art at heritage sites, including The Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Manial Palace Museum and Muizz Street in Old Cairo.

It is also the organisation behind the exhibition of 10 massive installations of international contemporary artists at the Pyramids of Giza a few months ago.

Last March, Art d’Egypte celebrated the female form in an exhibition called Mu’anath, meaning "femininity" in Arabic, but the 20 artists included both men and women.

Quote
I paint freedom, like dancers. I paint lovers. And I paint loneliness. Those are my three themes
Monelle Janho, artist

“We are a team of all women, so for me this is a very important topic,” Abdel Ghaffar tells The National. “This year we decided to have an all-women exhibition.”

The 16 female exhibitors are: Aliaa El Greidy, Al Shaimaa Darwish, Britt Boutros Ghali, Eman Hussin, Fatma Abou Doma, Hana Afifi, Lina Osama, Marwa Adel, Monelle Janho, Nelly El Sharkawy, Nevine Hamza, Noha Nagui, Nora Baraka, Reem Osama, Rowan Al Dib and Weaam El Masry.

“We have a huge mix, from up-and-coming to established artists,” Abdel Ghaffar said.

The media and techniques used include photography, printmaking, sewing, acrylics, oil, gold leaf, digital collages, video and sculptures.

All of the pieces are for sale, ranging in price from 8,000 Egyptian pounds ($508) to 130,000 pounds ($8,275).

Exhibitor Janho, 56, used to be a French-speaking tour guide until the January 2011 revolution that removed then-president Hosni Mubarak from power and upended the country’s tourism industry.

“Then I left everything and turned to my first love, because I always dreamt of being an artist,” Janho says. “I paint freedom, like dancers. I paint lovers. And I paint loneliness. Those are my three themes."

Janho says she does not feel that Egypt’s art scene is male-dominated, noting the influence of pioneering Egyptian women artists such as Inji Aflatoun and Gazbia Sirry.

“For me personally, I’m not a feminist … but it’s the month of women. So I like the idea of women exhibiting here,” she says.

El Masry, 45, holds a doctorate degree in media art from the Faculty of Applied Arts at Helwan University. In addition to being an award-wining visual artist, she is a professor, curator and gallery owner.

She has more than 70 local and international exhibitions under her belt and was selected to represent Egypt with a media art installation at the Venice Art Biennale opening next month.

Nevine Hamza with her acrylic and oil pieces on canvas: 'Healer', 'A Dialogue' and 'Unleash'. Nada El Sawy / The National

At Ma’arad-ha, she displayed three collaged drawings on paper entitled Thin slices, examining feelings around obesity and the female body.

“This work is really feminine, calm and soft and sweet. This one is really aggressive and in pain. My psychological status is really reflected in the outcome of the artwork,” El Masry says.

Some of the other artists’ pieces depict women in numerous forms, from pregnant to faceless and deformed to coquettish, but others examine various themes, such as the interrelation between human beings with nature.

Norwegian Boutros Ghali, who has lived in Cairo for more than 40 years, often paints women using strong and vibrant colours.

In contrast, sculptor Reem Osama’s pieces in bronze seem muted and meditative.

“You feel the feminine touch in the works, and the feminine spirit, the hopes, the desires, the victories,” El Masry says. “Each artist is representing her inner feelings in a different way.”

Ma’arad-ha is open Monday through Saturday, 11am-4pm and 5pm-10pm at Kodak Passageway, 20 Adly Street, Downtown Cairo through March 30. More information at www.artdegypte.org

Updated: March 16, 2022, 12:31 PM