ArtintheCity speaks to artist Mohamed Abla, currently on show in ArtSpace
Egyptian born and based artist Mohamed Abla first gained fame in the 1980’s for his unique style of blending European influences into traditional Egyptian ways of painting. His work has been exhibited internationally, and they are very much influenced by the past, Egypt’s wealth of traditions and symbolic references. His artworks form a narrative, a record of the past and present like a personal entry into a diary. His current show, entitled ‘My Family’, features family portraits that give the viewer an insight into family life in Egypt, and also political pieces inspired by the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
‘My Family’ is on show at ArtSpace now until 20 May.
Your new exhibition at ArtSpace includes a mixture of your older and more recent works. Can you explain why you chose to include artworks from different periods of your life, and what do you think viewers will gain from this?
Exhibiting my work in a new place is a great opportunity for me to show my background and history. It creates a relationship, a rapport and a line expresses a longing for communication & relationships between people. It’s about people coming together, talking, communicating and interacting. You will feel it in each piece, I can have 1000’s of figures and they are all together as individuals.
This exhibition is entitled ‘My Family’. What inspired you to create a series of family portraits, and are the figures based on your own family members?
'My Family' started with my small immediate family as a subjects, then the circle increases to a larger family, the nation and the world, starting with one figure to 1000’s all the figures come together. I only paint people I know or who I have a close relationship with, whether it is a human or a city. I paint and am inspired by many old family photos collected and handed down through the family.
Many of your artworks feature a bold use of colour. Can you tell us the significance, if any, of the floral backgrounds, and also the figures which you have chosen to leave blank?
For me I leave some blank to emphasis and highlight something that are more important, to lead the viewer to the main subject. The floral background I use is actually fabrics such as curtains. I use these homely familiar fabrics instead of canvas as I feel again it brings back the elements of family and home, and has a nostalgic familiarity. The background is as important as the foreground and the subject. I try to build a kind of relation to each part and I must have a common history to each part of the painting. My paintings are very rich with material and experiment and experiences that take the spectator back down their own memories. As for my political work it discusses the political situation in the Arab world, and the work deal with the past, present and future.My recent work focuses more on the future and shed a hopeful light; hoping for people to come together in unity and the Arab world be in harmony with the rest of the world. I try to build a large open space for these figures to come and communicate. Photography has also become an essential part of my work, as it’s an important medium for a contemporary artist because it reflects reality. My work is real and it deals with reality.
You have spoken previously about your involvement in the Egyptian revolution at the beginning of 2011. Can you describe how your work has been influenced and inspired by these events?
From the first day of the revolution I started working, going to Tahrir Square, taking photographs, sketching, watching these 1000’s of figures moving, documenting what was happening, it was as if these figure were dancing. I noted the mood as it changed day to day and how it was reflected in people’s body language. I was full of hope watching these people come together, everyone was convinced that he/she is playing a very important part in this movement, each individual was respected, that they were part of history. I hope my work will become part of history too because I too was there.
Some of your works appear to feature military or authority figures. Can you explain the significance behind this?
This stands for the situation inEgypt, where there is a big question mark about the future. In the mean time, I choose represent the people in a kind non-aggressive way, I think of the individual army soldiers, for me they are not the power they are the tool, so I concentrate on their human side in my paintings.
Whilst you are now based in Egypt, you previously spent time in Europe and founded the Fayoum Art Center in Egypt after being inspired by the International Summer Academy in Salzburg. Can you tell us more about the Art Center and the programs that it runs?
It is a space for artists, from all over the world to come and discuss ideas, to communicate their thoughts. It is a live workshop where artists can share life experience as well as art experience. The individual experience is a very important element when sharing thoughts and it affects how you tell the story later on. When the artist goes back to their home country they can discuss what they have seen and heard and the circle grows..