Ahmad Farid, Escaping the Light 2014, Oil on Canvas, 80x120cm questions migration and the search for Utopia. Image courtesy of AL Masar Gallery for Contemporary Art
CAIRO, EGYPT- In the face of war, civil unrest, poverty, and rebellion against an oppressive government, many Egyptians have migrated across territories and borders to escape violence. The urge to migrate is not just to escape hostility but also find Utopia. The notion of migration and the quest for that unattainable Utopia is at the center of a new exhibition at the AL Masar Gallery for Contemporary Art in Egypt. Titled Migration, the show features recent works by Ahmad Farid, one of Egypt’s foremost contemporary artists.
Migration is the second solo exhibition by Farid at the AL Masar Gallery for Contemporary Art and a follow-up to Urban Diversity, a show that examined how modernization was redefining Egypt. In continuation of his evaluation of changes in Egyptian lives, Farid’s recent works investigates the incessant movement and instability in the face of unrest climaxed by the Arab Spring.
Each work of art in Migration reflects the artist’s profound insight and representation of his ongoing exploration of the collective pursuit to acquire the unattainable superlative. For the artist, “Migration is the instability and continues movement of all; whether it is people, birds, animals, wind or ideas.” While there are many reasons for migration, the question is what happens after the movement from one territory to another.
Has there ever been a migration from better to worse? This is one major question Farid wrestled with in his preparation for this exhibition. A carryover from Urban Diversity where he examined the migration of Egyptians from slums to opulence, and home to abroad, Farid wonders if migration is always the best way to deal with untenable situations in societies. While many may see migration as the only way to escape violence and poverty, Farid notes that the quest to discard the visually unpleasant for the superlative through migration, altering, approaching often ends without attaining Utopia.
That sense of uncertainty that comes with migration is revealed in Escaping the Light 2014. This oil on canvas painting presents viewers with the dangers faced by migrants as they try to escape before daylight. Traveling at night not only provides coverage for people escaping dangerous zones like war, it also ensures that those who have the intention to help can get to migrants before they are cut down by brutal warlords. Dominated by white behind which are blue, green and red skyscrapers, the rich brazing impasto and violent brushwork suggest that this is a migration to tarnished Utopia.
Farid examination of the concept of migration and unattainable Utopia stems from his background as a social scientist and traveler. It is the clear understanding of the experience of what happens to migrants within and outside territories that engendered the search for answers. As an informed Egyptian traveler, Farid notes that “Egyptians might migrate from one country to the other, yet they never cease to carry their identities along. If we decided, for example, to move to New York City, we will certainly redecorate it as we fancy it.”
Migration to Times Square, an oil canvas painting created in 2014 buttresses Farid’s argument of the fluctuating and yet fixed identity. At the height of the Arab Spring in Egypt, many Egyptians gather at the Time Square in New York in solidarity with the freedom fighters who had converged at Tahrir Square in Egypt to fight injustice and oppressive rule in Egypt. All the lights and glitz of Time Square did not change Egyptians who continue to have an affinity for Egypt.
Although a self-trained artist who apprenticed with other art masters in Egypt and abroad, Farid has over the years developed his own identity as a painter. His paintings are characterized by broad brushstroke, textures, and high impasto. Influenced by Egyptian abstract expressionist Gazebia Sirry and the European expressionist Nicholas de Steal, Farid borrows from American color field to present his thoughts about his country.