By Heba Elkayal
Once a practicing dermatologist, Khaled Hafez is now primarily a painter, and informally, a sentinel of the Egyptian art scene.
His artwork has garnered him much attention in international art biennales such as Singapore and Dakar, in prominent art fairs such as Art Dubai and in art festivals such as the recent Shubbak in London. Hafez’s list of credentials reads as a long laundry list of solo and group exhibitions which includes some of the world’s most prestigious art galleries. The Saatchi Collection of London’s public set features one of his works.
At Shubbak, he showed “Tomb Sonata in Three Military Movements (and Overture)” which was completed in December 2010. The themes and imagery of tanks, snipers, helicopters and running figures were relevant to an audience broader than the cohesive Egyptian one. Its statements are multi-layered and complex, its execution borrows from both American superhero comic books and Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
In the words of the artist, the multiple motifs and figures are “an affirmation that my art — which draws on ancient Egyptian symbolism and simulates ancient painting techniques — remains relevant to international audiences, far beyond the borders of Egypt.”
Just like his artwork, his daily routine is relevant both locally and globally as he shares his extensive experience with other artists. He is a silent observer of the many characters that continuously traipse across the art stage in Egypt, keen on supporting rising talent from the wings by introducing young journalists to established artists and young artists to established gallerists with avuncular sincerity. He is perpetually keen on helping the local art scene to develop in any way he can, and because of his advice and support, the work of many young artists has been recognized abroad.
No surprise then to learn of his popularity amongst young artists who look up to the 47-year-old. They come in droves to his studio to discuss the convoluted politics of the current art scene, seek advice, receive both praise and criticism, and ultimately connect with other artists and members of the community.
As Hafez works on his pieces — oftentimes large canvases replete with bold reds, blues and blacks — elements of what he has dubbed as the “political studio” unfold. It’s in his converted apartment, plastered with magazine images of buff heroes and sexy heroines, with colored tubes of paint suspended on nails from the wall around a room, that a different sort of political discourse takes place.
In the following interview, Daily News Egypt discusses with Hafez the origins, objectives and goals of his groundbreaking project.
Daily News Egypt: How did the idea of the political studio come about for you?
Khaled Hafez: My political studio is a space where young artists, from all disciplines, can come together in a safe environment to discuss art and politics and exchange ideas with their peers. The idea came about as a small mentorship initiative in 2008. Back then, I decided to open my studio every Friday for younger peers to exchange ideas and get help with their careers if they needed it.
Two years later, these Friday encounters had become so popular that sometimes we had 20 artists meeting in a 130-meter-square studio space, discussing the concepts and craft of art production. After the revolution, the numbers attending the open studio rose dramatically and the subjects being discussed turned from art to politics. One Friday, we had 45 artists, writers, musicians, and two international TV crews, all discussing politics, and the future of the country and its cultural institutions.
Why are you so eager to have the studio always busy and buzzing with artists and people?
When the open studio started more than three years ago, it was meant to be an informal, technical, and conceptual platform where knowledge and artistic best practice are disseminated from older to younger artists. I felt the need to offer this kind of exposure to my younger peers, as I was entirely deprived of this type of mentorship.
The revolution brought with it a new need for active political participation. It is no longer enough to be an artist — I realized that I am capable of assuming my responsibility as a citizen too. In my studio, we discuss ideas and concepts, and share thoughts on the future of the country. I must confess that I learn a lot from my younger peers. It was this younger generation of artists that led me to Tahrir Square.
What does it mean for you to have your space bring together the different characters? What do you think is the importance of having something like the political studio in Egypt at the moment?
It means more knowledge and more ideas, more possibilities and more creative solutions. The dynamics of each informal encounter is unique and specific to the session according to who is attending. There are several brainstorming corners and dialogues; all without any commitment, just bringing more ideas to the table.
What do you expect to happen with the political studio, how do you think it might grow?
More and more people come and go, in and out, some out of curiosity and others out of commitment. The whole environment is informal, and attendance is optional; we agree on dates of work, of editing, of music rehearsals and of writing proposals; the only commitment is to have the studio open each Friday. The warm atmosphere allows for better trans-generational understanding, something I have personally missed during the 24 years of my professional career.
For more information about artist Khaled Hafez, visit his Facebook page: Khaled Hafez Studio.