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DR. MOHAMMED SAID FARSI
"Living intimately within Alexandria's enchanted atmosphere of the 1950s had the greatest effect in forming my artistic consciousness" (Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi).
Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi was the first Lord Mayor of Jeddah and is one of the Middle East's great patrons of the visual arts. For a long time he was a driving force in the Egyptian art scene, offering support and guidance to many young emerging artists. At the same time he also established close relationships with some of the great names international art, including Cesar, Moore and Vasarely, each of whom provided several works for his extensive programme of public works in Jeddah.
When he took the reins as Mayor in 1972, Jeddah had grown from a small medieval town to a city of 300,000. Under his guidance it was to grow fivefold in the next decade into a major city of over 1.5 million. Dr. Farsi's approach was unique, not just to the region but worldwide. Farsi coupled one of the world's largest urban development programmes with beautification through installation of a large number of site-specific monumental sculptures. Around 500 sculptures were commissioned by Arab and international sculptors, which also included works by Miro, Calder, Lipchitz, Arp, Vasarely, Cesar, Hellman, La Fuente, Salah Abdulkarim, Aref El-Rayess and Moore. A book entitled Jeddah City of Art, published in 1991 by his son Hani celebrates these achievements.
From early on Dr. Farsi's life was exceptional. Born in the South West quarter of Mecca Al-Mukarama on 7 January 1935, Farsi left home in 1956 to study in Egypt, one of only 35 students from all over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who were sent abroad for further education that year. Having obtained his BA in Architecture and Town Planning from the University of Alexandria, Farsi returned to Saudi Arabia to work in the Bureau of Town Planning in the Western District for ten years. His technical abilities and administrative skill were such, that in 1972, at the age of 37, he became the director of the bureau and also Head of Jeddah Municipality. In 1980 he became the first Mayor of Jeddah, and during that tenure, in 1982, he received an MA from the University of Alexandria for his thesis on Mecca Al-Mukarama, which was later published as a book entitled The Architecture and Planning Characteristics of Haj Cities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In 1986, following two heart operations, Dr. Farsi resigned from public office and focussed his energies on research. He received a PhD. in Architecture and Town Planning from the University of Alexandria with his thesis entitled "The Planning of Arabian Cities Between Theory and Practice- An Applied Study on Jeddah", and wrote a series of essays on art history and architecture published in the Jedddah weekly Ikraa and in two newspapers Al-Madina Al-Munawara and Al-Bilad. These were collected in 1989 and published in Jeddah as The Story of Art in Jeddah.
Dr. Farsi held many posts and received many accolades. Among them, he was Member of the Haj Supreme Council, Member of Mecca Al-Mukarama Municipal Board, Member of Committe for Drawing Boundaries between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Head of the Administrative Committee of Prince Fawaz Bin Abdulaziz's Project for Housing, Head of the Commission for Housing Distribution in the City of Jeddah.
The passion and dedication which Dr. Farsi brought to his work in Jeddah are the traits that also distinguish his outstanding collection of Modern Egyptian Art. Over the years Dr. Farsi's profound affection for Egypt and most especially Alexandria, where he completed his studies, found expression in the formation of this astonishing collection. Highlights from the collection include a number of major works by Mahmoud Said, the most extensive collection of paintings and works on paper outside national museums by Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar, and probably the finest selection of works by Hamed Nada.
Dr. Farsi is the only collector of Modern Egyptian Art to have systematically documented the works in his collection, commissioning a then all-inclusive book in 1997, published in 1998, by the critic and scholar Dr. Sobhy Sharouny entitled A Museum in a Book: The Farsi Art Collection "The Egyptian Works" Owned by Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi.
In his admiration for a wide range of tastes and styles, Dr. Farsi always found beauty in many different aspects of the artistic process. For him what matters is authenticity of production, so that the artist's spirit comes to us through his work. Thus works may be either rough or smooth, rugged or refined. Farsi appreciated the balance beween these variables, something which can be seen clearly in both the choice of works in his Egyptian Collection and in his sculptural commissions for the city of Jeddah.
MODERN ART IN EGYPT
THE FIRST GENERATION
The official beginning of the Egyptian art movement was 1908, with the opening of the School of Fine Arts in Darb El-Jamamiz. Among its early students were artist now considered amongst the First Generation of pioneer artists- those to have been born before the turn of the twentieth century, including Mahmoud Mokhtar (1891-1956), Ragheb Ayad (1892-1982) and Mahmoud Said (1896-1964). The work of all three of these artists demonstrate a strong Egyptian character and a departure from the norms of European-style academic art prevalent at the time. The discovery of Tutakhamun's tomb in 1922 stirred in Egypt profound feelings for a distant pre-Islamic and pre-Christian past. Mahmoud Mokhtar's neo-pharaonic style played down foreign influences and his choice of subject matter laid an emphasis on national heroes, both public figures such as Saad Zaghloul and, more poignantly, the ordinary fellahin (agricultural workers). Much of Ragheb Ayad's work centres around folk life and the spirituality of the common man. In that of Mahmoud Said comparable motifs recur, including his favourite subjects- local girls and the fishing community.
THE SECOND GENERATION
The second half of the 1920s and the 1940s saw political upheavals as right- and left-wing groups, inspired by either European facism or communism, rocked Egyptian society to the core. Artists of the Second Generation shunned imagery of the previous generation, which in this new light could carry unintented connotations. The result is that their work is remarkably eclectic. Two of the most celebrated artists of this generation are the brothers Seif and Adham Wanly, whose work is represented here.
THE THIRD GENERATION AND THE CONTEMPORARY ART GROUP
Following the end of the Second World War, Egyptian art saw something of a revival. The Third Generation of Egyptian pioneer artists, those born in the years following the end of the First World War, brought with them vivacity, purpose and strength. Organized into various groups, most important amongst them was the Contemporary Art Group, which counted amongst its number Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar, Hamed Nada and Samir Rafi'.
Formed in 1946, for its founder, Hussein Youssef Amin (1904- 1984), contemporary art should invoke deep-rooted values and folk heritage. Amin gathered around him a group of art students, on which the Group's ideas exerted a strong influence. This was demonstrated by the relationship between iconography, style and message in their paintings. At its outset the Group's feeling was that the purpose of art was to move beyond figurative representation and formalist abstraction and instead to express profound and universal concepts.
Within the Group were three strands, sometimes reconciled, otherwise not.
First, a formalist approach, which embraced new trends in modern art, some of them Western.
Second, metaphysical tendencies, expressed by depictions of figures in primitive settings, which evoked a yearning to rediscover nature, stylistically with ties to Surrealism.
Third -and this was to become more prevalent in the later development of certain of its members- the expression of a more particular Egyptian identity and national character. An early advocate was Hamed Nada who, in seeking to move away from metaphysical and surrealist sympathies towards a synthesis of folk art, forcefully depicted the miserable and oppressed masses. These spoke of the the tough times which followed the end of the Second World War, when Egypt experienced a recession such as it had never seen. With an exploding population and mass unemployment, a large part of society, rooted in a deeply superstitious folk culture, was dipping below the poverty line. Following Nada's example, it is this reality that was also expressed in the works of El-Gazzar and Rafi during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
The Group organized five exhibitions in Cairo, Alexandria and Paris. One of these was shown in parallel to the Egyptian-French exhibition in the Louvre. The last of these was in the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art in Cario in its former premises in Qasr El-Nil Street, curated by the infuential critic Aime Azar, later to be shown in the Spanish Cultural Centre in Alexandria.
"I respected the ideas and philosophy of Abdel Hadi El Gazzar who interpreted his revolutionary ideas and his philosophy through strokes of his brush and by his choice of colors. His moods were expressed in black and white articulating the contradictions between night and day, depression and hope... In the works of Gazzar I admired the themes taken from popular legends. The symbolic representation of the beauty of the human body is encompassed in his use of form and distribution of elements and their relationship to color and size".
Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi
ABDUL HADI EL-GAZZAR (1925 - 1965)
"Let me live in the world of magic I admire. I do not want to know what things are. Knowledge renders life unbearable. This is because the interpretation of knowledge is attainable in the subconscious alone. We are destined to appreciate knowledge in its entirety because we are an inseparable part of the gestalt knowledge."
Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar
Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar is among the most important of all Egyptian artists and perhaps the most inventive. Although he died when young, his astonishing diverse works of the 1950s and 1960s are amongst the most compelling images of twentieth century Middle Eastern art.
El-Gazzar was a member of the Group of Contemporary Art, which included such artists as Youssef Kamel, Ibrahim Masuda, Al-Habshi, Mohammed Khalil and Ahmad Maher. He was among its leading proponents of surrealism, along with his colleagues Hamed Nada and Samir Rafi'. As in the 1950s work of Nada and Rafi', there is a strong social message in El-Gazzar's earlier painting. As subjects he would choose ordinary working-class people as well as those who lived on the edge- mystics, soothsayers and circus acrobats. Through his strong line and colour, these depictions were to give these characters a certain nobility, but a pervasive feeling of magic and mystery permeates the paintings.
His first, metaphysical, stage was between 1938 and 1946. This was the time of his Shells Period, based on the anthropological theme of man before civilization and his relationship with the wilderness. His works of this time attracted the attention of international critics and thinkers, including Jean Paul Satre, an early admirer. Satre had seen his paintings when visiting the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art with Simone de Beauvoir.
The second period of El-Gazzar's career reflected the influence of Sayeda Zeinab where medieval traditions resisted all the winds of modern westernization. It was in this district that he witnessed the moulids and the religious festivals that have been celebrated since the Fatmid period. He began to associate the intuitive aspect of art (its soul) with the essential element in the popular magical art (the hidden and the unknown).
The subjects of El-Gazzar's later works were very different, influenced as he was by the politics of contemporary Egypt and with a focus on technology and progress. A period of study in Italy saw major stylistic changes in his work, namely a marked tendency towards abstraction. It was through this aesthetic that he depicted the colossal works of engineering taking place at the site of the Aswan High Dam, a project which employed thousands of workers and was the nationalist project of the post-revolution era. This later work show him to have been both fascinated and repelled by scientific progress and the interaction (or lack thereof) between man and machine. He moved away from the irrationalism of folklore towards a surrealism that resembled ever more closely science fiction. This was really an extraordinary thing for an Egyptian artist of the time to do -amongst his contemporaries there were no parallels.
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF DR. MOHAMMED SAID FARSI
Sobhy Al-Sharouny, Abdel Hadi Al-Gazzar, Cairo, 2007 (illustrated in colour, p.67)
Sobhy Al-Sharouny, A Museum in a Book: The Farsi Art Collection "The Egyptian Works" Owned by Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi, Cairo, 1998 (illustrated in colour, p.301 (detail) and p.288 and illustrated p.281 ref 29/41)
Enas Hosni, Contemporary Art Group: A Surviving Wealth of Admirable Art', Cairo, 2009 (illustrated in colour, p.81)