Mohamed Abla’s artwork
As Egypt undergoes massive changes in both politics and the art scene, artists are increasingly finding new outlets for expression, forming creative structures through which they interact with
the revolution and help document it.
Over the past year, social media has echoed with the voices of digital activists, while the arts carried reflections of rapidly changing events. In a creative merge between two largely revolutionary forces, social media and art, one of Egypt’s most established contemporary artists presents a massive audience with artwork that not only documents, but also condemns a recent violent crackdown by the ruling military council on free expression.
Mohamed Abla’s most recent collection of paintings was exhibited on Facebook Saturday, in a virtual show entitled "Wolves". Abla’s artwork, always politically charged, now comments on the violent December attacks on peaceful protests at the Cabinet sit-in, which lead to 13 dead, left hundreds injured, and many more furious.
Exhibiting only three pieces from the collection in Abdeen Square as part of El-Fan Medan on the same day, Abla decided to post the remaining artworks online for the masses to see, share, and comment on.
“The Facebook exhibit was a chance for people to see the rest of my collection,” explains Abla. “I felt that no gallery would allow me to showcase my work in their space.”
Abla’s collection blatantly and boldly criticises the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the army, portraying them as beastly wolves. He believes that private galleries would refuse the scathing works.
One of the paintings in Abla’s album shows the iconic blue-bra girl — known as "Tahrir girl" — being beaten and dragged across the ground, this time not by military soldiers but by multi-colored wolves. The brushstrokes appear to be (as far as the computer screen reveals) frantic and rushed, reflecting strong emotions.
Other paintings show wolves beating protestors with long rods in silhouette, their elongated faces standing out. Dramatic, the pieces, which are mostly based on actual photographs, portray reality through a painful metaphor. Like the villain in a fairytale, Abla’s wolf scares and unsettles.
While the revolution has been given credit for elevating levels of freedom within the Egyptian arts and the media at large, forces remain that constrict the scope for expression. Self-censorship still takes place as artists and media personnel struggle to escape the shadows of decades-long scrutiny by the former regime.
But while galleries and the media may still be censored, the Internet, which incubated the revolution in its earliest phases, remains a platform for free expression.
In the wake of the still unfolding revolution, Abla is intent on “starting a new page”, through a commitment to creating a truthful and constructive art scene that openly addresses local events and helps reveal flagrant human rights violations. “The role of art is to comment on things, and to document a country’s history,” says Abla.
After a few hours at El-Fan Medan, where Abla happily interacted with a large audience eager to learn about his artwork, Abla was glad to return from Abdeen Square to many comments on his Facebook exhibition. He admits that he was scared his daring excursion to Abdeen would not end well.
The virtual exhibition is a novel idea in a city accustomed to gallery showings. Openings in Cairo are typically rowdy occasions, with an idle guestbook laid out for people to write their congratulatory notes. But on Facebook, comments pour in, conveying genuine reactions. And there is no page limit.
“Facebook is a much more interactive way to exhibit my work. When I walk into a gallery I don’t get nearly as much feedback,” says Abla. “This new platform is the future of art.”
The artist says he plans to hold many more exhibitions on Facebook, sounding overjoyed with the outcome.
In such highly volatile times, frustration overflows, and so does creativity. Desperate to find outlets for expression, artists find new ways to present their truth. Facebook accommodates such free expression well, as it has recently acted as an arena where opposing opinions collide. But with artists still avoiding traditional gallery spaces for fear of official retaliation, one wonders how much the revolution really liberated the arts.