Ayman El-Semary and Rural Minimalism
Ayman El-Semary represents a gen¬eration that came of the Youth Salon which I consider as the break through that provided a serious and vital opportunity of unprecedented exhibitions and workshops for El- Semary's generation and his col-leagues. He was one of those who shined at the sessions of the Youth Salon with his successful experimental paintings.
El-Semary started his experience within experimental abstract framework, using natural materials which fulfilled their original functions for long decades through usage, coexistence with humans, with layers of coatings and scratches over their surfaces like the wood panels, extracted from ruined houses, with the big iron nails and the successive holes, which belong to the same kind of usage by human generations with the different kinds of wood panels.
El-Semary is obsessed with his rural roots and looks for the natural coexistence be-tween materials, humans and time as well as the effect of each on the others; his works are considered as a parallel record to the Egyptians’ life in the Delta from a point of view that was never considered by those interested in studying the heritage of this vital region of the homeland. Unlike other folk art and folklore experts, he was interested in neither the pilgrimage murals nor the houses decorations referred to by either using direct symbol or showing the advanced social status and the types of decorations made by the folk artists, he rather chose such a distinctive and thoughtful point of view, which is perfectly compatible with his shy and, even so, ambitious character. With contemplation and sensitivity, he went through that daily relation mentioned before between materials, walls, humans and effect of the accumulation of time and behavior.
Although his message was so mysterious and difficult to be understood by artists and critics, he continued his path and got the appreciation from an aesthetic and technical perspective, which reflects his humanitarian message and intimate feelings for the walls and ceilings that carried burdens and needs of the countryside sons and were covered with signs of affection expressed through their attitude towards them.
El-Semary has contemplated the walls with the lime paints accumulated over time and has become able to feel that intimacy and the will for change and survival at the same time. The palecolored walls, which are exposed to sun rays and fire smoke, and isolated from each other by few pieces of furniture, had some vividness of color compared to those which are fully subjected to sun light.
Within a state of reflection and real coexistence filled with nostalgia and affection, murals tell their inspiring stories, not boasting with the different sorts of luxury and embellishment. It is a minimalistic reduction of subject, sources of expression, and nostalgic reflection of what he witnessed at KafrShukr and other towns around.
In his archeologically-natured works, the human action carefully considers his in-timate living environment within the barely-decorated highly-expressive memo-rizing poor walls. The rough wood panels are collected and pierced in harmony, and squares are placed in relatively wide circles and sometimes the forged iron nails are harmonically distributed among them either sticking out of the surface or being implanted into it.
El-Semary was keen that his works neither are ornamented nor inspire with a meaning or symbol. This is another minimalistic feature of his art; he chooses a simple source of inspiration and reaches a simple way of expressing it and tends to avoid using decorations, drawings, and even symbolic gestures.
Despite the well-known differences between his works and the western minimal-ists’ works, the minimalistic feature, which is based on minimizing the shapes to their most basic qualities by either symbolic or intangible implications, appears in his works.
And that is the trend which agreed with the newly-established barely-decorated huge skyscrapers and the project requirements of the intercontinental companies, like the architectural designs, furniture, etc.; it has neither regional nor traditional features.
In the practical, economic and cultural fields, it makes the human taste unified and neutral, inspired by simplicity and directed by common humanitarian values, without neither giving any chance nor promoting any dominant culture or style, as the American globalization sought to, rather it is a humanitarian style that brings people back to the usage of the minimum number lines, spaces and masses
For El-Semary, Minimalism has different meaning and at the same time similar to what is mentioned before: avoidance of decoration, extravagance and symbol, so as to reach the aesthetic values that were never observed by anyone before him in the most functional, simplest, and poorest things, to which the Egyptian peasant are profoundly accustomed.
cheapness, and by the time their color turns to be like old copper and the more time passes, the more they coexist, like the walls and wood panels which spent their lifetime and served their functions at the rural houses.
Developed in his works, these totemic scratches can be interpreted as if they are primitive graphic symbols representing the village’s world in fresh air, especially at the fields where the houses, the pigeon towers, the boats, the palms, the granaries, the trees, the rolling water waves, different plant and herb beds are seen. And the peasant is using his axe, as well as the women are carrying the jars from the waterway to their homes or taking lunch to their husbands at the field, also the village’s animals, the plough, the livestock barns, and the birds are seen.
The village’s houses are portrayed far away from the field with symbols of the spirals, primitive bewitched figures, the oud, and other relations inside what re-sembles the ancient Egyptian cartouche. Around them, there are other marks over a black area on a background of peeling lime-painted walls.
In his new paintings at Ofok gallery in 2015, El-Semary depicts the peasants wearing the blue galabias while working, carrying water and baskets, and using long sticks for many purposes and around them are the totemic symbols mentioned before.
Other times, he draws the sun disk as an indication that these veils of signs are stretching over the water as much as they are stretching over earth and water bodies, or surrounds them with an oval frame which dominates most of the painting’s area as if it is an island seen through the eye of a bird.
Also heritage features are shown when El-Semary uses primitive symbols of totem, drawings of boats with oars and the Ancient Egyptian peasant with the plough and the axe drawn on the surfaces of earthenware of Naqada and Nubia in Pre-dy-nastic eras. In one of his paintings he has used the shape of the Ancient Egyptian astrological disc in Abydos Temple, where he has engraved astrological signs in its overlapping circular grooves, and in the central circle among the palms there is a peasant holding an axe and a female peasant carrying his lunch. (It is well known that the hope of the Ancient Egyptian peasant and his dream of heaven in the afterworld are to return to his home, field and neighborhood.) This is shown innately in the artist’s works.
In one of his previous exhibitions in Cairo, El-Semary used wall colors which un-cover layers of colors of various techniques as if they are a testimony to longevity. Also we can see them on the trees where each line represents a year of their life. On them, he has painted very small segments of human body such as palm and shoulder or leg and toes etc.
In this exhibition, He has painted the Egyptian female peasant carrying clay jars of water and milk, coops, frails or bundles of plants and a baby. Also she weighs sacks of cotton and sometimes she holds bunch of flowers in her hand and clay jar of water on her head coming from the river or the canal with a small girl.
Also she is rolling the dough and preparing the rolls to be baked and behind her the one who carries the clay pot of dough.
Male and female peasants are baling the cotton and weighing it. Female peasants are standing on a background of canal’s water and trees embroidered with his symbolic stenographic signs, or they appear through the view of the canal and the squared lands of plant and alluvium, and in the sky, he scatters those symbols which have become familiar in his artworks. There is a female peasant standing on the left of a circular lake of these symbols. From a distance, while crossing the field two female peasants are carrying metal buckets of water.
The other prominent feature I can see in El-Semary’s works is his distinctive ex-pression which is in line with his artistic character. It is observed in this exhibition his reductive expression of the rural sceneries: water with alluvium, warm sky, flowerpots and the successive strips of land, water, sky and clouds which extend along the azure canal flowing between alluvial banks.
Above a building, the sun disk in the symbolic sky is coloring the water on an area of silt. All of these are visual mysteries, worth contemplating and firing the audience’s imagination to see the world of Engy Aflaton and Tahia Halim in their paint-ings about village, peasants, weighing the cotton and baking.
Let us contemplate Abdel Wahab Abdel Mohsen’s experience in expressing the lakes of Kafr El Sheikh, flocks of birds and schools of fish, in order to distinguish the characteristic of El-Semary and Abdel Mohsen in dealing with the same theme and places. Also let us meditate on the symbols of magic in works of Mahmoud Hamed and Adel Tharwat to see the connection between them and El-Semary, and also to observe El-Semary’s peculiarity, uneasy to recognize, of reductive trend and avoidance of decoration to delve deep into people’s life around him in KafrShukr. He has painted minimalist contemporary icons replete with feelings without in-cluding symbols or writing. This artist himself is as a group of layers of which he is peeling some to uncover underneath, considering the relation among the ma¬terial, Man and time, and this is the predominant characteristic in his art which varies in types, phases treatments and materials.
Even in his video (Without Covers), he narrates uniquely the condition of the peas-ant, divesting him of all signs of good life, who is satisfied with living at the sub-sistence level and having satisfaction of God. This is the human feeling which El-Semary, the inspiring professor of painting, has towards the simple peasants
Mostafa El-RazzazJune 2015