Serge Gainsbourg has been quoted to say that “Ugliness is superior to Beauty, because it lasts”. Umberto Eco demonstrated the power of art to elevate even the most pitiable subject, stating that “Ugliness can be redeemed by a faithful and efficacious artistic portrayal.”
Rabab Nemr’s latest exhibition, currently at the Zamalek Art Gallery, titled “Helwa ya Baladi”, is a perfect example of these statements. Large cuboid heads with eyes deeply set close to each other, separated by a rectangular noses and stopped by fleshy lipless mouths are lovingly portrayed by the artist as her fellow countrymen & women. Each one exudes a wealth of emotion that grip the viewer and humbles them into a dialogue. Her burly, borderline grotesque subjects are so kind, and so tired, jolting us into facing our judgmental state; forcing us to consider these real people inside their less attractive shells.
Her latest work shows a staggering amount of patience and detail, dearly missed in our day & age of working-towards-an-exhibit-opening artists. Her larger black & white pieces are of an impossible concoction of faces, all her trademark fishermen & women crowding around each other, each different but all the same, interrupted by the colours of the Egyptian flag. A bird’s eye view of a crowd of patriots, the pieces will evoke the tiniest bit of national pride in the hardest heart of the biggest cynic (myself). I found these pieces to be exquisite in their detail, but they did not effect me as much as I know they were heartfelt by the artist- her love for Egypt shows through her labour.
The pieces that stole my heart though- the drawings that made me smile ear to ear and truly brightened my day with music and the sudden taste of strawberry marshmallows- were her latest neon coloured work. Simply put: they are absolutely stunning. How it was possible for Nemr to consciously use a neon palette of the brightest variety: orange, yellow, pink and green, and evoke not a glimpse of a jarring effect is beyond me. She has such exceptional skill with colour combinations that she has managed to surpass her own inimitable expertise in black & white. Her latest work is possibly the best draughtsmanship I have seen in years, locally and internationally, and her taste in colour palette should be the envy of all artists today. These pieces alone are enough to make the entire exhibit a success, but combined with the rest, the show is an absolute must-see.