Zamalek Art Gallery is proud to present “Retrospective of Watercolor, Intaglio and Sketches”, by Gazbia Sirry, one of the most prominent pioneers of Modern Egyptian Art.
"Gazbia" means "magnetism" or "attraction", and there isn’t a more fitting name to describe the iconic artist and her work. From her early figural representations to her late abstractions, every piece created by Gazbia exudes an allure and captivates its viewer through subject, composition, style and colour.
Gazbia Sirry’s lifetime of creating art is a prolific journey that boasts wildly different periods and themes. With every event, whether political, national or related to her personal life, Gazbia’s approach shifts and changes, retaining her mastery across all mediums of painting, drawing and print. In this retrospective of sketches, watercolors and intaglio, we delve into Gazbia’s wide range of skills, featuring her earlier figural works in graphite and watercolor, but also her later abstractions which started with her intaglio prints of houses.
Gazbia’s visual autobiography begins in the 1950’s, a period where several sketches can be seen in this Retrospective. She is well known and loved for her figurative work from this period, which can be described as “socialist realism” as Jessica Winegar described in her many writings about the artist. As her early career coincided with Egypt’s coming to sovereignty under the modernist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, post-revolutionary Egypt and its ideals were clearly sources of inspiration for her sketches.
In the late 1960’s however, Gazbia's previously well-formed figures and landscapes- reflecting the certainty of hope- began to dissolve. The earlier pictorial realism incrementally gave way to abstract forms; human forms became houses and vistas. To quote Professor Chika Okeke-Agule, Associate Professor at Princeton University, "...Each and every mark Gazbia Sirry makes comes across as, not simply an exercise in manipulation of paint or of composing pictorial space, but an act of opening the window of the imagination to allow us feel the inchoate order that existed and still exists before and beyond the world we know."
Fast forward to the late 1990’s, Gazbia had continued to exhibit watercolor paintings depicting villagers in Luxor and Aswan, but this time, in a very different light. The aforementioned collection of paintings differs greatly from her earlier work; as we see no signs of struggle, grief, poverty or modernity. Instead, there is an air of nostalgia where the artist has seen her nation go through a myriad of struggles and hardships, and she now longs for a time where things were much greater than they actually have now become. After visiting an exhibition of these watercolors, Armenian artist Anna Boghiguian wrote: "When I gaze at Gazbia’s work now, I remember Egypt as it was thirty years ago. The role of the artist has changed, but artists are still struggling to create and give an identity to an unstructured art world...".
In this Retrospective, it is evident that no matter what medium Gazbia Sirry uses, her passion for and embrace of the world around her can be clearly seen and felt. Perhaps her artistic oeuvre is best described by the artist herself: "I have my own myths since childhood. I feel I am fused into various elements of nature and life such as human beings, the desert, the sea, plants and even man-made constructions. I strive to express the essence of humanity."