The year 2012 will mark one hundred years since Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso made their first collages and introduced this medium that had been practised for centuries before,into the realms of Fine Art.
In close association with each other, both artists pioneered the Cubist style; the first phase of which was analytical and the second synthetic.
In Synthetic Cubism the artist “synthesizes” an object out of a mix of abstract parts as seen in Picasso’s “Glass and Bottle of Suze”(1912) where he built a picture of a café table and related objects by “collaging” together newspaper, wallpaper and scraps of black and blue paper. This iconic example of synthetic cubism was a milestone in establishing the significance of Collage as a fine art medium.
It also gave artists and designers alike a new-found freedom of expression, a medium where they could experiment , mix real and imagined , cut , deconstruct, glue and reconstruct images that blurred and crossed the borders of actual and invented , past and present , factual and fantastical all reassembled within the same frame.
If up until then pictures made in that manner were attributed as “folksy” or “craftsy” then the advent of the twentieth century avant-garde artists would change all that and elevate it to a new artform.
Collage has permeated every artistic movement since then in one form or another from the Italian Futurists to the Dadaists, the Russian Constructivists through the Pop Era of the Sixties to this day of digitization and electronic “cut and paste”.
Although Collage has gained a lot of momentum and attracted a lot of attention worldwide over the course of the 20th century, it remains nevertheless underrated and unappreciated in the Middle East and Africa region .
This phenomenon is not only an indication of the public’s lack of knowledge and understanding of this medium but also because truly deserving collagists have carried on working conscienciously away from the artistic limelight and curatorial attention .
This region and its people have been scarred over generations by political strife and upheavals, bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption that spilled over into the Arts resulting not only in a fragmented artistic community where cronyism favoured those artists who paid allegiance to the incumbent regimes but also to the demise of all original artistic creativity and articulate artistic dialogue.
The exhibition “Collage:100 Years On” showcases the work of eight artists ; Mounir Canaan (1919-1999), Hisham El-Zeiny, Hassaan Ali ,Mohamed Abou El Naga , Huda Lutfi ,Mutaz El-Emam , Hany Rashed and Maie Yanni , and hopes to show how far we have come as proficient collagists in this part of the world. These artists’ innate need to communicate their message has been the springboard to their creativity and through their artistic expression they have explored endless possibilities of pattern , colour , texture and composition in building collages of sublime beauty and integrity.
In “MIGRATION”, Sudanese artist Hassaan Ali touches on the dislocation and fragmentation of people through wars , famine , drought or in search of a better and fairer life. As a printmaker and children’s books illustrator and narrator he integrates all these issues into his collages .
Hany Rashed on the other hand has a lighter and more “tongue-in-cheek” approach in his mixed-media collages . He uses magazine images from various western publications and paints over the collaged papers communicating very astute criticism that illustrates the concept of “Occidentalism”; how the Levantines view the Western World and its “policies”.
In his work (“UNTITLED”) , Egyptian artist Mohamed Abou El Naga who studied papermaking in Japan , conveys the beauty of paper which he makes from first principles using rice straw , by incorporating it into his collages . Zen-like muted colours and Japanesque serenity permeate his layered works together with a deep respect for the impermanence of time and fragility of our existence.
Huda Lutfi’s three-dimensional works touch on local and regional iconography from gender differences to football as a national sport that unifies the masses no matter what their socio-economic backgrounds all the way to her collages portraying the ambivalent presence of the police force on Egyptian streets .
Hisham El-Zeiny who is of mixed German and Egyptian heritage and an architect by profession creates canvas-on-canvas and mixed-media with sand collages of exquisite beauty – ( “TILTED WHEELBARROW”).As a postgraduate student he worked with the late Hassan Fathi whose extensive research in vernacular architecture left a profound impression and a distinct cachet on El-Zeiny’s work.
Mutaz El-Emam who is a Sudanese artist born in Kassala , a place of infinite beauty and colourful vegetation pays homage to Picasso through a beautiful dichromatic collage “reconstructing” Guernica on a salmon-pink and flowery background.
Lastly, in “SYMPHONY IN BLUE” , British-born Lebanese artist , Maie Yanni who works with the city’s recycled posters, postcards , flyers and discarded papers shows that so much beauty can be created from refuse and waste. Her work is a hybrid of personal and environmental experiences that draws on the vocabulary of pattern and geometric abstraction and is a metaphor that beauty can be inherent in the ugliest things and saddest situations .
Ultimately , this show pays homage to the late Mounir Canaan (1919-1999 ) whose collage work and creative output has proved to be of the most exquisite standard not only in the region but equally on a global international perspective .
If Collage by its nature is a process of layering and construction akin to the rebuilding of a nation from historical scraps , then in the light of the “Arab Spring” we hope it will mark a huge milestone and development in the 21st century history of Art of this region by ripping apart historical conventions and preconceptions and recombining their elements into something fresh and new .
This exhibition was at the newly opened art space, THE GALLERY- 6 Salah El-Din Street- Zamalek-Cairo and concluded on the 15th of January 2012.