Born in Cairo, Egyptian artist Hussein Mohammed Youssef was raised within a religious context given that his home was a place where clerics and scholars would regularly congregate to discuss and debate Islamic issues. At the young age of 18, he was sent to Rome on a scholarship to complete his studies in Fine Arts and then moved to London to pursue his education in the art of decoration, which added a unique diversity and mixture of cultures to his works.
Youssef’s oeuvre varies in use of media, from oil and watercolour paintings to plaster and decorative works, most of which were executed during his stay in Europe. As a result many of his earlier works show a deep-rooted affinity for a Western and mainly Italian visual style. Upon his return to Egypt, seven years later, Youssef felt it was his duty to liberate himself from these influences by turning towards his own artistic heritage, in particular Ancient Egyptian art and working on its revitalisation within a modern context. The artist thus resorted to references of early hieroglyph drawing techniques, creating some of his most renowned pieces, one of which is the present work.
In The Harvest and a Combine for the Grain in Egypt, Youssef uses a primitive style, very much in the spirit of the two dimensional hieroglyphic style to depict workers busy within the field, their darkened skin roasting under the sun. The sheer magnitude of this panel is reminiscent of large ancient Egyptian frescoes that, punctuated by three-dimensional elements that hark to the architecture of the antiquities. The focus is immediately onto the central figures who are driving the cattle, flanked by the workers on either side, alluding to the notion that the masses and lower classes are the backbone of Egyptian society; a poignant notion during a time which was rather elitist under the British occupation.
Through this work, Youssef manages to portray the social structure of his country in the early twentieth-century while using primordial art techniques, which add authenticity and realism to this exceptional piece.