It may be a set of decorative utensils. On the other hand, it might be a man and a woman looking at each other. Yet again, it just might be whimsical, 3-dimensional Rorschach test, in which case it would probably be better to keep quiet.
Natural materials merge with commercial objects harmoniously, all draped in striking colors and evoking movement.
While Ashraf Abd El Kader’s artwork is abstract, he says it is “not so distant . there is a visible source to everything.
Still, he says he would “never look at an object while he is creating his own. Instead, he uses memory, imagination, and feeling. “Sometimes things you had forgotten about return while in the process. Often, the end result of the picture is not preconceived, but instead, creates itself.
Many of his semi-sculptural pieces in his “Conversations with Bamboo exhibit can be seen to represent, albeit obscurely, one or more different objects, while other works represent feelings or themes.
But rather than use titles to clarify which is which, El Kader says he abstained from naming his works so as not to constrict the viewer’s imagination. “If I tell him this is a picture of a soldier, and he says, ‘where is the soldier?’ He will start only looking for the soldier.
El Kader amuses himself by listening in on conversations discussing all the different interpretations of his work. He says what one sees is based on one’s level of artistic culture, imagination, and taste, and he values the opinion and enjoyment of the simple viewer as much as the sophisticated one.
While leather, hemp, and metals, are used alongside random odds and bits, the main character throughout the exhibit is bamboo, cut, sliced, painted, or combined.
The bamboo’s immediate practicality lies in affordability and availability. While art materials are often imported and costly, El Kader was able to hand-pick his 4-meter tall bamboo for free at a relative’s house by the Nile.
The romantic aspect of the bamboo goes deeper however, stretching even to the ancient Pharaohs. The artist uses bamboo almost as a tribute to Egypt. Because bamboo only grows in specific locales, he says its use here should not be limited to lawn chairs and he himself uses it to ‘Egyptianize’ his art.
El Kader hopes that his university art students and other artists, who often cannot afford expensive imported materials, further discover and utilize local materials. “We should discover our own materials rather than ‘Westernizing’, he says, “to give it an Egyptian flavor.
What he mentions as ironic is that foreigners appreciate and want to seek local cultures and materials.
“Common culture shows in all my work, says El Kader. And what forms Egyptian “common culture is not so common; El Kader says proudly that Egypt has been influenced by so many sources and societies, from the Pharoanic and Greco-Roman, to the Coptic, Islamic, and popular cultures, philosophies, and arts. This is why the simple Egyptian man with no training can produce great art “by sense.
El Kader is a trained artist who graduated first in his class in ’84 from the Faculty of Arts Education, where he currently teaches Handicrafts and Folkloric Tradition.
“Conversations with Bamboo will be on display at the Sawy Culture Wheel until Jan. 30.