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Omar Abdel Zaher: Rituals of the South

Currently collaborating with leading online art gallery Arts-Mart, Omar Abdel Zaher's works speak volumes of the secrets of the south of Egypt. Joana Saba meets the artist in his studio to discuss the core elements behind his work.

Each of Omar Abdel Zaher's painting tells the story of a ritual; deeply personal and intensely evocative, each ritual holds within it a secret, a small hint, as though inviting you to the innermost details of the subjects' lives. Abdel Zaher's paintings feature on Arts-Mart - Egypt's foremost online gallery, which democratised the art scene when in launched in 2009, and will also be on display in their upcoming exhibition, The Artists of Tomorrow. The art show, set to launch on January 30th is already garnering alot of buzz around the city - they've selected seven of Cairo's most interesting and current up-and-coming artists, among them Abdel Zaher, to put their visionary pieces on display. 

Abdel Zaher's paintings tell a tale for every character that appears in them. Above all, they tell of the rituals of the deep south of Egypt, in Aswan where Abdel Zaher grew up, and where he derives the basic foundation behind almost all of his paintings.

“In one second I can find myself back in Aswan. My mind just takes me back whenever I feel nostalgic,“ he says. “Because I grew up in the rural areas of Aswan, the nature and traditions used to influence me. I was influenced by it all, by the environment, the waves, the bright sunshine and the shadows, the bright colours of nature as well as the colour of the Nile, the trees, the hills, the animals.”

Certainly, while his work has moved outside of this realm to a certain extent, the elements that are reminiscent of Aswan are never too far from any of his paintings. The people in his paintings - mostly women - are all seemingly real people, their rituals authentic, the stories behind them just as genuine.

Ever present in each of these stories is the female figure. “The woman plays a pivotal role in my art, the same way she plays a pivotal role where I come from. She’s the cornerstone to everything at home and in the life of the family. Women are crucial to the normal functioning of any home. And so she is instrumental in all my art.”

From his beginnings studying graphic design at university to his progression through years of creating art, Abdel Zaher’s women, his signature style, and the influence of Aswan have remained throughout. For him, it’s always a melange of these elements because the process is as intuitive as it is haphazard.

“My art depends on my mood. Sometimes I’m producing a lot of art and I find a lot of inspiration. And at others I have the canvas infront of me but I can’t paint anything,” he says.

“I also cant just work on one painting. Like for example yesterday while I was working on this painting I got the idea for another painting. So I just left off in the middle of this painting and started my next,” he laughs.

“The most important thing is the to grasp the idea when it comes to me and I can feel it. It’s a subconscious act. Afterwards I start to apply my skills in creation and colouring in order to present a completed work of art.”

But this subconscious act tells a great deal, both of the subjects of the paintings themselves, and of Abdel Zaher. It’s a process of selection that goes in, binding between his own nostalgia towards home and his daily interactions.

“Its not artists that have influenced me as much as places. You will, however, see people in my paintings and these are actual people from real life that I know and have names.”

Abdel Zaher has previously exhibited both in Egypt and abroad, and will be displaying his impactful pieces at Arts-Mart's forthcoming exhibition - you can find out more details about it here

You can see and purchase some of his work here.

Browse Arts-Mart's extensive collection of contemporary art at arts-mart.com or visit their Facebook page or follow them on Instagram @artsmartgallery

Photography by Mahmoud Asfour.


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