George Bahgory, Sufi Musicians, oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm 2014. Image courtesy of Al Masar Gallery for Contemporary Art
CAIRO, EGYPT – Al Masar Gallery for Contemporary Art in Cairo, Egypt began its 2015 exhibition season with Fifty Nine Years of Art, a retrospective exhibition by renowned Egyptian artist George Bahgory. The exhibition features the artist’s artwork from the 50’s up to date which have not been exhibited before. At the center of many of the paintings are people engaged in everyday life and activities. People’s lives have been a major source of influence and inspiration for the artist for many years and have dominated his body of work throughout his 59 years journey of art.
Born in 1932 in the Upper Egyptian village of Bahgora, Bahgory was brought up in an environment that allowed him experience people engaged in everyday activities. That traditional upbringing influenced his artistic career. Bahgory’s paintings reflect everyday life of Egyptians and culture, with focus on Islamic subjects, politicians, motherhood, musicians, and many others. The more than 50 oil painting on display at the Al Masar Gallery for Contemporary Art in Cairo, Egypt depicts people and street life with all its diversified laborers.
Egyptians are people who love to have fun and enjoy their lives. That way of life is reflected in some of the paintings on display. One of the works titled Playing Cards, an oil on canvas, shows a group of men playing cards. Sitting in front of a parked car, two of the men vigorously compete to win the game. At the head of the table is another man who carefully records the scores. The angled position of the men on their chairs and their body language shows this is an intense game amongst friends. For those familiar with life in Egypt, this experience of people playing cards around their homes or tea places is not unusual. The only thing missing from the piece are the voices. What are they talking about?
In another painting titled Backgammon II, Bahgory captures several men playing Backgammon, one of the oldest board games for two players. While one of the players throws the dice, the other speedily moves his pieces across the board. He seems more excited about the game as he puffs from a hookah. While it is uncertain if the content of the hookah is responsible for the man’s excitement, there is no doubt that the men are having fun. From the movement of their hands, accentuated by continues flow of lines, it is clear that the men are having so much fun. Keenly watching the men are two people in a corner, perhaps waiting for their turn.
Religion is very important to many Egyptians, and every opportunity is used to present their religious affiliation. In Sufi Musicians an oil on canvas, Bahgory present a group of Sufi musicians deeply engrossed with their music. Armed with Daf, Tanpura Tonbak, Setar, Ney, and Rebana, the musician seem to be in a spiritual ecstasy. Sufi music has a root in Islam and has devotees across the globe. For many scholars Sufi is the inner mystical dimension of Islam. This theory is reflected in the devotional music of the Sufis inspired by Sufi poets including Rumi, Amir Khusrow, Khwaja Ghulam Farid, and Hafiz amongst many others. Dressed in Aba and long, loose white clothing complemented with Kofi hat, the musicians play their hearts out.
In The Two Violinists, an oil on canvas, Bahgory continues the conversation on music. In the painting are two violinists standing in front of a large portrait painting. The violinists, dressed in contemporary clothing, are in total contrast to the Sufi Musicians who are dressed in traditional Sufi clothing. What binds this two pieces together, however, is the passion and the spiritual impact of music on the human soul. From their body language and posture, it is evident that they are enjoying the performance.
A celebrated artist, Bahgory studied Art at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Zamalek, Cairo in 1955 and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris in 1970. Although well known for his panting focused on Egyptian lives, Bahgory is a very resourceful artists who has made a mark in other areas of art, including sculpture, writing engraving, marionette art and art criticism. Bahgory has also exhibited in France, Bulgaria, and Italy.
Fifty Nine Years of Art: From the 50’s to Date at the Al Masar Gallery for Contemporary Art in Cairo, Egypt is an artistic journey from the past to the present. It reveals how impactful people and everyday activities shaped Georges Bahgory’s artistic career. From his famous collection on Sufism & worship in Islam, to music, viewers are presented with the artist’s oeuvre through the years. The focus on Egyptian laborers, such as the mechanic, circus boy, laundrymen, the porter’s family, and many others executed after Nostalgic Dreams, the artist’s previous exhibition at the Al Masar Gallery for Contemporary Art reveal an artist fascinated by human experiences.