Playing with Saculpture and Form
How does one approach the works of Gamal Abdel Nasser? How does one perceive them?
With paintings, you stand in front of the collection of works, almost eye to eye. With Abdel Nasser’s artworks, you can walk around them, contemplate their mass & volume, yet if you see them in a picture you must be reassured that they are in fact sculptures, not paintings.
The artist subjects his wooden sculptures to a number of processes, the last of which is coloring. His choice being vibrant lively colours that have an overwhelming presence which push the limits of his sculptures closer to painting. This is further enhanced by the fact that no scratches or protrusions are spotted at the surface of his sculptures and the colors are treated with astounding smoothness.
When I saw Abdel Nasser's exhibition "Fish" in the city of Bisceglie in Southern Italy one fine summer, the colors in his sculptures with their curves and curls, caught my eyes for the first time. In this present exhibition, he focuses on faces.
Abdel Nasser’s works are distinguished by a rare balance between craft and culture, which sets him apart from other artists whose work lacks craftsmanship. In fact, some artists only design their artwork and leave the implementation to their assistants. This makes it difficult to truly study the work and connect it to the artist, since in such works an integral component of fine arts is missing: the craft, the work of the artist’s hands.
None of Abdel Nasser's works discard this component. On the contrary, each of his sculptures demonstrates the skills that resemble those of traditional Egyptian craftsmen in whose hands lay the core of their art. Abdel Nasser’s hands obey his eyes’ choice as the latter decides what he is about to sculpt, for he combines his academic knowledge of art and his professional expertise with his manual skills. He is both the artist who is exposed to the latest developments in the artistic scene and the craftsman who gives free rein to his dexterous hands.
What Gamal Abdel Nasser does is far from easy. Over the years and for centuries, sculpting has had its rules which can be detected in statues from different civilizations. The most acknowledged of these rules is holding the body erect whether in full-body or bust sculptures. Changes to sculpture were introduced in Africa where artists did not abide by the shape of the human figure, but rather presented it in peculiar formations that even Africans cannot interpret. The works of Henry Moore provide another example of the departure from major sculpting rules, for he would seat his sculptures. The same applies to Giacometti who rendered human figures fragile and fragmented. Despite such attempts, sculpting witnessed few transformations throughout its history, mainly owing to the fact that statues were erected in public spaces and in front of temples and palaces, therefore sculptors needed to cater to the taste of the majority and were given limited opportunities to make radical changes.
Gamal Abdel Nasser is a sculptor with a prominent contemporary perspective. This can be seen in his choice of small sizes, the use of a ceramic tile as a base, and the coloring of his sculptures. All of these features constitute a mixture of what he desires and what responds to the artistic needs of our time.
In his manipulation of sculptures, a pattern of child-like playfulness can be felt. He seems to be dealing playfully with a long history of strict rules and formal perceptions of sculpting, by creating works that are more familiar for viewers and which break these centuries-long distance established between sculptures and their audience. With Abdel Nasser’s works, you no longer feel that a sculpture is a formidable figure that inspires awe and demands respect, but rather an amicable one that you can approach, touch, and interact with. That is why you can easily envision his sculptures placed inside houses, which again breaks another major rule associated throughout civilizations with the positioning of such artworks.
Through rebellion against convention abd tradition, and the discard of the rigidity of historical rules, Gamal Abdel Nasser endows his sculptures with a playful character that takes his Art to a different level, allowing them to become the mouthpiece of contemporary culture.
Dr. Charbel Dagher
Poet, novelist, and professor of the philosophy of art