Young artists who held their stand in Tahrir Square with the thousands of other demonstrators from 25 January and throughout the uprising are holding a memorial exhibition to commemorate the life of their much-loved colleague Ahmed Bassiouni, 31, who was killed in the first few days of the revolution. Bassiouni left a wife and two young children.
The artists are showcasing their revolution- inspired paintings in the Khan Al-Maghraby gallery, whose director is artist Shaker El-Idresi. The exhibition, "Egypt Our Homeland: In honour of those who lost their lives during the 25 January Revolution", features paintings by veteran artists from the senior generation including Mohamed Abla, Adel El-Siwi and Reda Abdel-Salam, as well as young artists including Ahmed Talal -- who was injured during the demonstrations; Mohamed El-Masri; Tasnim El-Meshad; Hani Rashed; Ahmed El-Gaafari and Sabah Naem.
Idresi said the initiative was also supported by Salwa El-Maghrabi, the owner of the Khan Al-Maghraby gallery. Maghrabi has pledged that the entire revenue from the exhibition will be devoted to the families of those who gave their lives for the revolution, including Bassiouni's family.
The exhibition is showing 10 works by Idresi on the revolution that apply the direct expression technique, although not a naïve style; in some of his paintings he used photographs of Bassiouni with his children that he painted over. While Idresi was in the midst of the action he created some stimulating sketches as an instant reaction, and afterwards he applied his inner feelings freely over the canvas; he created some of the paintings during the 18 days of the revolution, while others were left unfinished and then were continued before the exhibition. As an expressionist, Idresi's style requires a skill in colouring because the paintings are overwhelmed by action where feelings and colours are parallel to each other.
Visitors to the exhibition will notice that the Egyptian flag is a recurrent motif in a large number of the works, such as those created by Ahmed El-Gaafari and Hani Rashed. "The significance of the Egyptian flag has been revived and people have started to feel about it in a different way these days as a symbol of belonging and the need for change after long years of futility and passiveness that existed in Egyptian society," El-Idresi said.
Words are not enough to convey the feelings of artist Sabah Naem, 44, a professor of fine arts at Cairo University. Bassiouni was not only Naem's assistant and student for four years, but was also a close friend who cooperated with her on several art projects. She said all the exhibitors wanted to express how much Bassiouni meant to each of them, and what a remarkable person he was: diligent, sensitive and ambitious artists.
"Bassiouni's work spanned the mediums of installation, photography and video art and concentrated on experimentation in sound as an integral part in all modern art mediums whether photography or visual arts," Naem added.
She added that her friendship with Bassiouni was unique. "We were together with a group of artists who slept in Tahrir Square," she said. "We lost Bassiouni on 28 January, the Friday of Anger. The tragedy is that he was killed by a bomb while he was shooting with his camera in Tahrir Square."
Naem contributed five small pieces to the exhibition, all portraits from photographs of Bassiouni. She created these works specifically to document the event and to honour Bassiouni's name, but she believes that it will take artists -- including herself -- a long period of time to be able to absorb the 25 January Revolution and its repercussions in order to create deeper and different personal art experiences.
Like many other artists, fine arts graduate Tasneem El-Meshad, 27, was inspired by the turning events of the 25 January Revolution. "His action was purely an art initiative; he wasn't practising an act of sabotage or violence, he was simply carrying a camera and taking pictures of what was going on, so it was a peaceful act that was faced with aggression," El-Meshad said. She is exhibiting four portraits depicting Bassiouni in various phases during the days in Tahrir Square. The first shows his peaceful, serene and optimistic expression; the second work reflects a sharper, more serious look, and has spots and drips of watercolours; the third reflects his persistence in the face of violence; while the fourth shows the end of his life on earth and the beginning of his new life in heaven as a martyr of the revolution. In the four paintings El-Meshad used the same colour scheme, brilliantly illustrating the state of transition that Bassiouni went through in moving from the initial stages to the end of his revolution.
"It was easier for me to use the transparency and delicacy of watercolour and soft pastel as mediums that expressed my inner and uncontrollable feelings of pain towards the martyrs of the revolution, rather than using acrylics or oils," she said.
Veteran artist Mohamed Abla, 58, was pleased to make a contribution to the exhibition, especially since he had worked with Bassiouni on the beautification project at Fagala before the outbreak of the uprising.
"Bassiouni was a lovely, cooperative person, and as an artist he had lots and lots of artistic ideas and ambitions. He believed in the uprising of Egyptians and was very enthusiastic about the results of this 'white revolution'; he dreamt of a better and more progressive art scene in the future, and he lost his life as the price for changing Egypt," Abla said. The works Abla has placed in the show are part of an oeuvre he began using years ago to predict the revolution. In several previous paintings of Tahrir Square he predicted that Egyptians would gather in streets sooner or later, and one day would be able to express themselves. Abla is working today on a new group of works entitled "The Square Diaries" that depict Tahrir Square in different moods, styles and emotions.
The exhibition will remain on show for some time, and it will be open for new artists to participate and for new works that are still under completion to be displayed. According to Idresi, a number of Bassoiuni's friends, led by artist Shadi El-Noshokati, are arranging for a larger exhibition due to be held in a wider space that can accommodate Bassiouni's video arts and installations as well as his other sound-related artworks.
*Published in the Egypt-based AL AHRAM WEEKLY on 17 - 23 March 2011