Khaled Hafez: Art and Revolution in Egypt

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Khaled Hafez (12 min, 5.6 meg)

CAIRO — Khaled Hafez — charismatic painter and multi-media artist, in his regular Friday salon or master class with most of a dozen students and colleagues — strikes me off the bat as one of those best friends I’ve never met before. “Aha,” I’m thinking: “This is the man I came to see.”

Khaled Hafez with a few of his studio colleagues in Cairo.  From left, Fatma Sabry, Osama A'Moneim, Taghrid Al Sabban and Ahmed El Shaer.  Mark Rendeiro Photo

Khaled Hafez with a few of his studio colleagues in Cairo. From left, Fatma Sabry, Osama A’Moneim, Taghrid Al Sabban and Ahmed El Shaer. Mark Rendeiro Photo

We called this venture in North Africa “Arab Artists in a Revolution” for all the obvious reasons: that novelists, architects, poets, musicians and painters might each tell us some original truth in the turmoil, something beyond politics and the news cycle. Suddenly Khaled Hafez is driving the point several jumps ahead. Here’s what I’ve been seeing, what you can see in the slide show below:

Art, imagination and expressive freedom still set the pulse of Tahrir Square two winters after the revolt that broke a 30-year dictatorship. That 18-day siege, at grave risk to lives and limbs of hundreds of thousands of citizens without a leader or a plan, makes sense only now as a kind of collective artistic breakthrough: one giant stab in the dark by people at the end of their wits, at the edge of both madness and inspiration. Further, the art and artists that crucially defined the event — in graffiti, Facebook photos and slogans, videos, urban murals still freshened continually overnight — are a peculiar fusion of digital media and Egyptian tradition: we’re seeing tomb paintings at Twitter speed. I was afraid of discovering mere local adaptations of Western hip-hop, rap, comedy, and other imported forms, but how little I knew. Ganzeer’s “wounded cat”— a version of the common Cairo street cat, but equally of Egypt’s sacred symbol of freedom and wary survival — is but one genius instance of a tremendous revival of an Egyptian aesthetic. It is context of all the public cartooning, painting as narrative, pictographs and ideograms, storytelling art in which brush-strokes are not highly refined and painterly process is not the point at all. The art of this revolution, derived straight from mankind’s first paintings and oldest “viral” story-telling tricks, may be the means of keeping the emergency fresh through President Morsi’s ups and downs and long afterward.

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  • Robert Zucchi

    What a masterful and deeply affecting exhortation to enlist the arts in the struggle for liberty. The passion and high intelligence displayed by Mr. Hafez would be welcome by democratizing forces anywhere, but it’s especially heartening to discover it right now in Egypt.

    Democracy is hard, as even the citizens of a certain First World democracy have lately been rudely reminded. And in another Arab country, thousands of citizens have been done to death for demanding an end to tyrannical rule.

    The “master class” has my cordial good wishes for a future worthy of their talents … and their courage and passion in fighting for an equitable reordering of their society.

  • nother

    It strikes me after watching that slideshow that the unblinking eye is a powerful force. If painted right, it’s piercing and infinite and a mirror. Also it’s on a wall, so it’s big and looking down. Collectively, all those painted eyes add up to an unassailable consciousness…symbolizing the conscience of these people, and it’s up to each individual to reconcile how they choose to return the gaze.

  • Potter

    Painting always has had the ability to add emotion through images color composition. What is different today and here from ancient Egyptian painting is that the ancient artisans were anonymous worked in groups or workshops supported by the Pharaohs, part of that system, their work, both content and style prescribed.

    Cavemen did wall painting as was said — perhaps proto-religious? So yes it goes back tens of thousands of years, to be fair, but in ancient Egypt this was supported as even our WPA was admirably created to keep artists employed and deliver a message.

    Our National Endowment for the Arts is always under attack for supporting any and all individual expression. So the freedom of individual expression in these works of art are maybe going under the radar of the powers that be at the moment, and are especially potent in this revolutionary time. The work for me is amazing artistically. But at the same time the styles all show the influence of modern (Western) art styles in painting, very sophisticated: I see 19th century poster art (the cat), German expressionism, abstract expressionism, drip painting, silk screens, “posterization”,.. all in a new context. At a time that painting as a form seems almost dead, these works are so alive,.. and disturbing. What faces: the horribly bashed in lower jaw, the bandaged head. I was especially caught by “The Struggle is One..The Borders are Dust,” the wall painting showing the now iconic image of Mohammed Al-Durrah and his father under attack in Gaza in 2000. In the fog of that incident, not withstanding where the bullet came from (we still don’t know), this image enduresa; it is bound up in these revolutionary times as part of the struggle, felt as regional struggle, one meant to spread and keep on.

    Thank you Chris. I look forward to maybe more online gallery here featuring the art of the revolution? Thank you Mark for the excellent photo show.