February 1, 2007

Omar El Fayoumi

Omar is a familiar face who haunts downtown Cairo. He often sits at "Zahret El Bostan" Cafe (Garden's Flower Cafe). It seems to be one of his main sources of inspiration. While he is at the cafe, he is rarely sitting alone. In the rare remaining cases, he often takes the Egyptian version of the Rodin's thinker, it has a name in Arabic ... it is "idou 3alla khadou" (a hand on his cheek?). I personally suspect that the main sitting character in his "ahwas" (cafe) paintings is himself.

There is a dark mystical part to Omar, it transpires sometimes in his "ahwas" but mainly in what he is primarily known for.

Fayum Portraits
Original Fayum portraits The Met

Many of his works are based on the Fayum portraits, actually he does draw a lot from Orthodox iconography. This might be because he studied the art of frescoes in the Ripen academy of St Petersbourg and thus had to study thoroughly the history and artefacts of Orthodox Christian iconography or maybe because his surname is Fayoumi, might be a bit of both. This side of his work is one that for some personal ethical reasons I dread. I always hated the bazar stuff and the bad copies of pharaonic cats, "adorable?" post card style aquarelles, badly re-printed pictures or postcards, and all the other treasures one can find in any souvenir stall anywhere in the world, even Venice, and nowadays the invasion in these stalls of made in China souvenirs which by being made there nullify their original purpose of being a souvenir from wherever.
What I really fear is that the deserved success Omar is ripping from his researches into the Fayum portraits could flood the markets with crap copies made in Boulac , Choubra or even Omraneya. (Anywhere in Egypt or China)

The brighter side

There is a much lighter side to Omar.The man is someone who enjoys a good laugh, and has lots of appetite for all the pleasures of life. In 1998 in an attempt to fight his demons and frustrations he made a joint exhibition of sculptures together with nudes paintings. Although some established "professional" sculptors were a bit dismissive of his efforts, he succeeded very well in inventing a world of his own, with a few pieces of discharged iron rearranged into pieces. The simplicity of it was the best part of it. No pretense whatsoever, just someone enjoying playing and reinventing. The nude paintings also were quite a change from his usual subjects and somehow a revolution. It probably was a reaction against the irreversable invasion of the streets of Cairo by veiled women always veiling more. The breast naked nun above is the one I liked most because of its double irreverence to the rules of society while not being too provocative. The other nudes were more decorative and introduced references to Matisse and Klimt .

This was an exhibition I enjoyed tremendously, it was set at Espace Karim Francis (another Cairo downtown gallery who have problems connecting with the modern world or even just plain www it seems).

Omar Illustrator

Omar is also a prolific book cover illustrator. He has done cover illustration for many Egyptian books and was chosen by AUC Press to draw many a cover for their translation of their modern arabic litterature series. His first works as an illustrator though were when he worked as an assistant for Gassour (the famous cinema poster printer and designer). From this period he is proud of his design for "Al Mag houl" (The unknown).

Unfortunately, my cinema posters collection is a bit of a shamble, and I could not find a picture of it . It does give me a goal regarding my poster collection. UnEarth "the Unknown" sounds like an horror movie.

I also would like to find a picture of one of Omar's sculptures that emigrated with its owner to the US. It represented a dog in chains and was quite big.

Book covers designed by Omar el Fayoumi for AUC Press
To go directly to the books click on the covers.

Omar's Facts - Omar's Works - More Works - More Works II

Egypt Today: about Omar's last exhibition (2005) by Manal El Jesri

No comments: