Friday, May 16, 2008
He started with Venice, moved on to Aswan, and last year he presented a series of astoundingly sensitive and nostalgic works on Cairo. This month he pays homage to Florence, a city that he first visited back in 1964, and which, since then, has become a living, breathing creature in his imagination.
The most conspicuous feature of Abdel Hafiz's city series is the successful use of several media. With oils, crayons, watercolors and acrylics, he creates exquisite, multi-layered works. The works that grab your attention in this exhibit are two huge canvases placed on two adjacent walls. The first initially gives the impression of a beautiful, bustling city. Using pastel crayons on top of the painted background, Abdel Hafiz adds in architectural details.
Every window and every line is accounted for. But these lines are not rigid; they are soft and malleable, as if they were breathing. The third layer of this work presents three human figures. On the left is a huge female figure blown out of proportion.
She seems like some ancient vestige from the past, dressed in Roman attire. On the right, another woman takes over the scene. She is swathed in a gauzy fabric and is holding a flower. Is she love, is she beauty, is she art? Maybe. In the middle, a third element is imposed over the painting. It is the image of a couple walking arm-in-arm. Executed in red and blue, the two people look like elegant fashion models judging from the stylized way they seem to be moving.
In this work, Abdel Hafiz tries to assemble all the elements that make Florence special to him, whether it is history, beauty or modernity. He recalls his first impressions of the city upon stepping off the train: "I paused and examined her profile and her features. She stood proud of her historic background and dignified beauty. I shared such pride, since I hail from a land steeped in history and civilization. It was a friendly encounter full of emotions teeming with waves and vibrations that stem from the depth of history."
To him, Florence soon becomes a woman to be wooed and loved. And in the adjacent canvas, he tries to put a shape to this woman. The canvas is transformed into a map of the city with a rich earth-colored background on which buildings and streets are drawn in thick yellow brushstrokes. Superimposed on a large section of the work is a voluptuous woman dressed in fashionable modern clothes. Although she is blond, her profile portrays an Ancient Egyptian face similar to those beauties engraved in our 5,000-year-old temples.
The smaller works are also fascinating because of the spontaneity and intensity of feelings divulged through the vibrant, powerful lines. And in these works, you also begin noticing some Florentine landmarks. Here the artist makes interesting use of white, which becomes more than just a color.
Abdel Hafiz utilizes a thick, dry brush to lay on the white, and then adds lines of blue and black on top of it. The result is new and fresh. Through his loving eyes we see lovers, we see joy, we see art in progress, and in every single painting, the elegant architecture of Florence is there. Sometimes it encircles the work, as if it is embracing anyone who reciprocates her love.
Scattered throughout the works are the sweet horse-drawn carriages Florence is known for. One of the most romantic of these is a drawing of a park in which the artist reveals the beauty of black wrought-iron designs. The curves and lines intimate movement and in the center he paints three pink roses. The juxtaposition is simply breathtaking.
Abdel Hafiz portrays the classic sculptures of Florence in a way that makes you forget these figures are statues, not the people of Florence. "Sounds emanating from its profound history and chants of its artistic glory found their way to my ears," the artist says. "I heard dialogues by Michelangelo and Da Vinci."
For Abdel Hafiz, "Florence is part of the spiritual energy that feeds my mind." After seeing the exhibit, his comment seems to crystallize.
Date of birth April 5, 1917; Daqahliyah; Egypt
Mini-biography 1944: Graduated in the Faculty of Islamic Sharia, Azhar University 1946: Obtained his Alameya Degree
History of employment 1946: Judge, Islamic Sharia Courts 1953: Secretary of Fatwa, Dar al-Ifta, Egypt 1976: Counselor, Court of Appeals 1978: Mufti of Egypt (In his capacity as such, he sought to revive the role of the fatwa (opinion)-giving establishment) 1982: Appointed Minister of Waqf (from January to March 1982) 1982: Became Grand Imam of al-Azhar (His appointment marked a revival of al-Azhar's role) Under his tenure as Grand Imam, many Azhar Institutes were established throughout the country.
Awards Order of the Nile from Egypt (1983) Order of Intellectual and Scientific Excellence from Morocco The King Faysal International Prize (Service To Islam) (1995)
Died on March 15, 1996
With a unique style, a distinct way of presenting ideas and commitment to the cause, aspirations and concerns of his country, Dr Youssef Idrees is a glittering star in the realm of contemporary Arabic literature, both as a short story and novel writer and playwright. He has left a rich legacy of writings, including novels, short stories, plays and essays. Youssef Idrees is considered a turning point in the history of Arabic short story and novel. Thanks to his contributions, the Arabic novel evolved from "pathetic" romanticism to realism. He was born on May 19, 1927. Throughout his school years, he was an intelligent, talented and distinguished student. He used to read stories, scientific and literary books where he got acquainted with major contemporary Arabic writers. He also read translations of foreign literature.
During his study at the Faculty of Medicine, he became more interested in literature, psychology, poetry and other arts such as music and painting. There, he started to write short stories and show them to his colleagues. In his last year at the Faculty, he participated in the students' demonstrations against British colonisation; he became the executive secretary of the committee defending students. He was engaged in clashes with the British soldiers. On account of his revolutionary activities, he was patsiotic from pursuing his study for several months.
While he practised medicine during the period from 1951 1960, he remained committed to the patriotic cause of his country and took part in the secret meetings of the liberation movement until the July, 1952 Revolution took place. He took part in editing "Al Tahrir", the first magazine published by the Army in September, 1952.
Landmarks along his career
Youssef Idrees started writing short stories, while still a student of medicine. His early short stories drew the attention of critics, many of whom foretold he would reach outstanding status especially after he wrote "The Strangers' Song" published in "Al Qissa" magazine in 1950.
Idrees' stories were published in "Rosel-Yousef" magazine , then Abdel Rahman Al Khamisi introduced him to "Al Masri" newspaper.
He published his first collection "Cheapest Nights" in 1954, which contained short stories previously published in "Al Qissa", "Rosel-Yousef" magazines, and "Al Masri" newspaper. Then he began to publish his works in "Sabahel-Kheir" magazine . He was appointed as Editor in "Al Gomhouria" newspaper where he started his career as a journalist and a writer.
He was entrusted to write a book on the Suez War, to be translated into English, and another book on the National Union. He made a successful debut in the theatre when he wrote his one-act play entitled "Farahat's Republic".
In 1973, he was appointed as writer in Al-Ahram newspaper. In his late years, he had a special interest in writing articles as he used to write weekly articles which were published in Al-Ahram every Monday. These essays, published under the heading "From My Diary", with their rich and daring subjects and elaborate style, constituted another form of Idrees' writings.
Ph.Ds. on literature of Youssef Idrees
Youssef Idrees's literary works were the subject of about 95 Ph.D. theses in and outside Egypt. In foreign universities, these works were subject to more than 22 studies. For example, the Spanish researcher Pilar Liro El Elegado made her Ph.D. on "The Dramatic World of Youssef Idrees". Owing to the significance of this Ph.D., it was printed and published in a book by the Egyptian Institute for Islamic Studies. It was discussed in a seminar in Taha Hussein's Hall at the Institute, attended by some of the Egyptian and Spanish university professors and orientalists.
Merits and awards won by Youssef Idrees
- Order of Algerian Militants in 1961, in recognition of his contribution to the independence of Algeria. - Order of the Republic in 1963. - The annual prize in 1965 from "Hewar", a Lebanese magazine, which is dedicated every year to eminent writers in the Arab world. Yet, he declined the prize.
In 1970, he was unanimously elected a Director-General of the Society of Dramatists.
A Russian sculpturer designed a medal for Dr. Youssef Idrees. This sculpturer is famous for his designs for prominent figures in art and literature.
Works of Youssef Idrees
Youssef Idrees started his career writing short stories and articles as early as 1954. He continued writing articles to the press until shortly before his death in 1991. He made rich contributions to "Al Qissa", "Rosel-Yousef", "Al Tahrir", "Al Hadaf" , "Sabahul Kheir", "Al Masri" and "Al Ghad" magazines, and "Al Gornhouria", "Al Shaab" and "Al Ahrarm" newspapers.
Idrees published about 12 collections of short stories, 8 plays, 6 novels, 11 books containing his essays. Besides, he wrote on childhood, its innocent world and awareness of the surrounding reality. He took part in most of political, literary and intellectual seminars organised at his time. He also co-authored some books.
Short story collections include:
"Cheapest Nights", "Love Story", "Isn't It?" , "The Hero", "Too Far", "The Oh! Language", " An Accident of Honour", "Al Naddaha", "A House Made of Flesh" .
Plays: "Farahat Republic", "King of Cotton", "Critical Moment", "Al Farafeer" ( common people), "The Earthly Farce", "The Stripped", "The Third Sex", "Towards an Arabic Theatre".
Novels: "The Prohibited", "The Wrong", "Men and Bulls", "The Black Soldier", "The White"
Reflections: "Limited Frankness", "The Discovery of a Continent", "Dr.Youssef Idrees's Diary," in three parts.
Stories for children: "Right", "A Look", "Is It a plaything?" , "Play" and the "Grey Triangle".