Heritage Conversing with Contemporary Society: Alaa Awad’s Stunning Neo-Pharaonic Murals and Paintings

Alaa Awad

We all are aware of the fact that art overall suffers in politically tumultuous nations. Yet, some forms of expression may still find a way and break into the open. Not so much literature and film—both of which require a great deal of investment in production, marketing and distribution—but certainly things like murals and graffiti that can blossom with limited resources, almost anywhere and everywhere, and be replicated quickly through photographs.

The last decade or so in Egypt has been a difficult period but from within this disorder has emerged a new generation of street artists. In a 2013 article on BBC Culture, British art critic Alastair Sooke writes that “influenced by ancient culture and contemporary politics”, this group of talented individuals has been “delivering potent messages of protest”. One of the most prominent stars of the Egyptian street art scene is Alaa Awad (born 1981), who was educated at South Valley University in Luxor and Zamalek Helwan University in Cairo. He is currently an assistant lecturer at South Valley, where he is also working on his PhD.

Alaa revealed his neo-pharaonic style on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2012. Over the years, he has participated in a number of exhibitions and auctions locally and internationally, and has gained wide recognition for his symbolism and bold colours. His murals and paintings reflect a great love of the past and, at the same time, make an attempt to speak to trends in contemporary society. Elongated figures straight out of a pharaoh’s tomb merge with mythical and folkloric creatures and elements of Sufism to create a grand visual vocabulary that looks both familiar and fresh.

 

Marching Women (2012), acrylic on wall, Cairo (destroyed). An expression of the women of Egypt carrying the papyrus, the symbol of knowledge, and the stick, the symbol of self-defence.

 

White Horses (2016), oil on canvas. An expression of the popular celebrations of the Egyptian society of workers, farmers and women. The painting depicts familial relations between men and women in a procession with white horses, that are a symbol of freedom and beauty. The group is looking towards morning light.

 

“My desire is that people know the truth,” says Alaa. “I want to express the facts through my art. I also want people to enjoy the beauty and understand the magnificence of Ancient Egypt. I enjoy highlighting the sense of justice found throughout the teachings and philosophy of Ancient Egyptian culture. However, everyone will have their own individual experience with my art and I welcome this as well.”

Alaa admires Modigliani because he didn’t adhere to the rules of classic art and was influenced by Ancient Egyptian figures himself. And then there’s Klimt, on whom he comments: “I believe he was an important artist for the Vienna Secession. I studied him for my master’s. He has strong messages in his paintings, which include the revolution in Vienna. He created his own style while pulling inspiration from eastern civilisations—Babylonia, Japan. He fused his inspiration with the modern culture of his time. Similarly, the social and political climate of today provides me with the motivation to create art about modern life, the ideas and issues and celebrations of our culture…with a touch of history.”

What are his views on the current socio-political situation in his country? Alaa continues: “It is a challenging time for Egypt and I respect the current political condition and government. I support the Egyptian army and the President, Sisi. We are against terrorists and any affiliation that doesn’t support our country. I support our approach to fight the terrorists, build the economy and develop education.

“In 2011, there was one revolution in Egypt to change the regime. In 2013, there was a second revolution against the new regime spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood. Fourteen million Egyptian people flooded the streets against the brotherhood in support of the Egyptian army. They requested that the Egyptian army protect the country from any plans for the brotherhood and their supporters to destroy Egypt. This is my opinion and the general opinion of the Egyptian people.”

Images used with permission.

 

Elmermah (2016), acrylic on wall. This is a part of the Sufi festivals in Upper Egypt. The public celebrates by horses, racing, dance and fencing by long sticks, with Sufi music, drummers and pipers. This celebration takes place every year in each town and city, at different times.

 

Battle of the Sea Peoples (2015), acrylic on wall. This is inspired by the relief mural on Habu temple of King Ramses III. The Sea Peoples are a purported seafaring confederation that attacked ancient Egypt and other regions of the East Mediterranean prior to and during the collapse of the Late Bronze Age (1200–900 BC). Since the nineteenth century, this has been one of the most famous chapters of Egyptian history, given its connection with the work of Orientalist Wilhelm Max Müller. Their origins uncertain, the various Sea Peoples have been proposed to have originated from places that include western Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Mediterranean islands and Southern Europe.

 

Memorial of Justice (2015), acrylic on wall, West Bank, Luxor. The left of the mural is inspired by the war at the Habu temple. In the middle is Ma’at—both the ancient Egyptian concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice, and the personification of these concepts as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, who set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation. The war was fought to protect Egypt and achieve justice. On the right of the mural is the public celebrating justice and the victory of Egypt.

 

Memorial of Justice (Left)

 

Memorial of Justice (Right)

 

Cache (2013), acrylic on wall. An expression of the society of Egypt, inspired by the heritage and culture of Ancient Egypt and modern life. Depicts the women and Buraq of Sufi culture (horse with the face of a woman). People wait for a leader (the large portrait of a man), then workers, farmers and soldiers fight Terrorism.

 

Cache (Left)

 

Daughters of the Nile (2016), oil on canvas. The history of Ancient Egypt is filled with fascinating queens and goddesses portrayed side by side with their male counterparts as equal partners, each playing a different and distinct role in society.

 

Playing stick, “El Tahtib” (2017), oil on canvas. Tahtib is one of the oldest forms of martial arts in Egypt and is an important part of Sufism in Upper Egypt .

 

Elmormah (2017), oil on canvas. The festival of mormah includes horse racing and fencing.

 

Elborak (2017), oil on canvas. In ancient Egyptian legends as well as mystical art, they mixed the human with the animal. The horse with the face of the woman could be a symbol of freedom and beauty.

 

Eldora (2017), oil on canvas. After the horse race and fencing, people walk around the village. Music players are on the street with flags, palm fronds and flowers, women sing.

 

 


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