By Nayera Yasser
Strokes of red, brown and green left everyone amazed by the amount of identity and history a painting can present.
Zamalek’s renowned art gallery Abuntu was completely empted to showcase Refki El-Razzaz’s paintings, which were arranged to create a glimpse of the Egyptian abstract scene. Refki El-Razzaz is a full-time artist who has spent the last 30 years defining abstract art in Egypt.
“Our national identity should be present in our work,” said El-Razzaz, who chose several paintings to sum up his work and leap to a new phase. “These paintings crown a 30 year journey. Some are new while others date back to 2003 for example; together they represent me and my national identity.”
El-Razzaz is a true advocate for art in Egypt. His method mainly depends on critical thinking and genuine identity.
“Having an identity that reflects your background is key essential before drawing,” El-Razzaz added. “Our national identity should be present in our work.”
Due to the current political issues less attention has been given to the local artistic scene. However, El-Razzaz argues that art should never be isolated from any current events.
“Art was part of the 25 January Revolution; I did a whole exhibition about it,” El-Razzaz explained. “I was right there on the sidewalk in Tahrir [Square], and right afterwards my exhibition took place at the Cultural Palace.”
Unlike other forms of painting, abstract is always much less popular in Egypt. In many cases it is even turned into a joke for being difficult to understand.
“We are the main reference for the European art, however they do not admit it,” El-Razzaz declared. “This country is 7,000-years-old, meanwhile Egypt’s history in abstract painting is only a 100-years-old!”
The pharaonic artistic legacy is quite extensive especially in the abstract topic. Nonetheless, most modern painters do not know this heritage sufficiently.
“Picasso wrote a whole article about Sphinx’s foot,” El-Razzaz said. “Then he said that he will not enter old Cairo because he will never be able to describe it.”
With that being said, current exhibitions rarely build on the historical references instead they copy the main lines of foreign cultures or work on alien concepts that do not represent their identity.
“Most of the current work is mere emptiness,” the artist said. “However, it has nothing to do with current events. It is all related to education.”
El-Razzaz believes that every artist that belongs to older generations has a duty to teach the upcoming painters how to solely be themselves.
“Before drawing the young generation should learn properly. I have a programme that aims to teach young artists how to think critically and creatively,” he said.
El-Razzaz’s educational programme takes students through a one-month philosophical course in order to help them realise their identity and goal. “Egypt is pharaonic, African and Islamic and we should always show this mix,” said the artist.
After this great event, El-Razzaz has no intentions to stop or even slow down his career. On the contrary, he is on the path to start a new chapter of his artistic life.
The leading artist plans on focusing on his national role of promoting our local masterpieces internationally.
“We should start creating our imprint on the world,” he said. “We are the source yet the historical setbacks, such as the occupation, has oppressed this nation’s artistic evolution several times.”