For decades, dozens of Arab generations grew up listening to the iconic voice of Um Kolthum. She stunned the Arab world with her unmatchable voice when she sang in a concert, the whole audience got mesmerized by her performance.
Like millions of others, the euphonious vocals of Um Kolthum were the companion of veteran artist Wagih Yassa’s long days in Canada. Through her songs, he escaped into a fantasy sphere in which vibrant colours, vivid images and uncertain shapes were the main surroundings. In his latest exhibitions “Saba” Yassa attempted to introduce his fantasy world to the public, presenting several Umm Kulthum portraits along with other artists from Egypt’s golden music era.
Inside Zamalek’s Picasso Art Gallery, one can run away from the dusty grey city of Cairo, into Yassa’s colourful world. Throughout his 40 on display portraits, he captures a moment of stillness in which veteran musicians are showcased in vibrant colours and vague shapes.
Most of the exhibition is dedicated to the legendary Umm Kulthum. Yet, few portraits were the exception and presented Yassa’a perspective of Sayed Darwish, Riad Al Sunbati and Baligh Hamdi.
“I’m head over heels for Umm Kulthum. Throughout my years of artwork, each exhibition of mine had to have one or two portraits of her. At first, I wanted the whole exhibition to revolve around her, but I was afraid of redundancy. Thus, I decided that this exhibition will be mainly about her but will also host some other artists,” Yassa told Daily News Egypt.
In his exhibition, Yassa features Umm Kulthum with her famous singing poses, with her head up, eyes closed, while holding her famous napkin in her hands.
“When you dig deep into her story, you would figure out thatUmm Kulthum is a remarkable woman; she is unbelievably strong, smart and powerful. It is not only about her voice, but all about her choices of the lyrics, rhythms, and orchestra that brings out the best of her,” Yassa said in a voice full of admiration for his beloved icon, adding “her performances of the songs are just tremendous that couldn’t help but leave you as a listener astonished!”
To feature her, Yassa dug into Umm Kulthum’s videotaped performances, in order to capture her movements and facial expressions. As he “could not find any pictures of her, so I worked on pausing her concert videos and paint from them.”
The bright contrasting colours are the main theme of Yassa’s painting, as well as the unshaped figures; something that, according to him, unintentional, but it is the way he sees artists in his imagination.
“All of the paintings appear like they are images from a dream; they are all brightly coloured, yet vague. One has to focus in order to see the figures clearly, and put more effort to detect their character,” he explained. Yet, for him, this was never a disturbing element, as he believes that figures he captures “are not the real stars of a portrait, but the combination of shapes, colours and contrast are the main focus in his artwork.”
As for the distinguishing colours, having all of the tapped concerts in which the figures he drew are captured in black and white, opened a wider window for his imagination to use nothing but shining, eye capturing hot colours.
However, Yassa assured that he never intended to have any of the final on display portraits the way they are when he started drawing them.
“This is what art and passion all about. You have an image in your head, you start working on it, your hands move you towards something else, to find out that the final result is way different than what you had in mind in the first place,” Yassa concluded.
The exhibition runs until 7 November at Picasso Art Gallery.