Hamed Ewais (Egyptian, 1919-2011)
Lots are subject to 5% import Duty on the importat… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST'S FAMILY
Hamed Ewais (Egyptian, 1919-2011)

Homat al Hayat (The Protector of Life)

Hamed Ewais (Egyptian, 1919-2011)
Homat al Hayat (The Protector of Life)
signed and dated in Arabic (centre left); signed twice, titled and dated twice in Arabic (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
52 x 39 3/8in. (132 x 100cm.)
Painted in 1967-1968
The Artist's Estate.
A. Bogdanov, Fine Art from the Arab Republic of Egypt until the 1952 Revolution (in Russian), Moscow 1975 (illustrated, on the front cover).
S. Naef & S. Barakat, Looking for Arab Modernism: the Evolution of Plastic Art in Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq (in Arabic), Geneva 1996 (illustrated, unpaged).
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Lot Essay

Born in rural Kafr Mansour in the Benisouief district of Egypt, it comes with no surprise that painter Hamed Ewais became a pioneer of Social Realism and Egyptian revolutionary art. Championing Gamal Abdel Nasser's Pan-Arab ideology, Ewais' work was centred around the depiction of the Egyptian working class, namely peasants, farmers, factory workers and labourers.
Soon after Ewais' move to Cairo in the 1940s to pursue his studies at the School of Fine Arts, the artist was profoundly inspired by the Mexican Social Realist artists, especially Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, whose influences can be sensed throughout his oeuvre.
In 1947, Ewais was one of the founders of the Group of Modern Art, which dismissed Surrealism. This avant-garde group embraced modernity and strongly believed that art should represent the mass population and reflect socio-political causes and ideologies. Together with fellow members Gamal el-Seguini, Gazbia Sirry, Zeinab Abdel Hamid, Youssef Sida, and Salah Yousri, among others, the artists used populist and folkloric styles throughout their work. In 1948, Ewais moved to Alexandria to teach and thereafter became influenced by fellow Egyptian artist Mahmoud Saïd's bold use of colour in his paintings. Ewais travelled to Italy to study the work of Italian Social Realists, and later to Spain to continue his education, before returning to Alexandria to resume teaching.
After the rise in Egyptian nationalism, with Nasserite sentiment and general political and national consciousness following the 1952 revolution, art rapidly became more accessible to the masses, much to Ewais' delight. By 1956, the Egyptian government was the main, if not only, sponsor of the country's blossoming arts scene.
Ewais' style became iconic as his work was regularly centered around the representation of the working class. He always painted bulky and at times monumental subjects, almost too large for their surrounding space in the painting itself, symbolically representing the long-held metaphoric suffocation of Egypt's working class. Their skin was always a deep brown, owing to the long hours working under the sun.
Alongside his Nasserite approach and revolutionary ideals, Ewais can also be described as a humanist, due to his portrayal of family life and intimate, individual moments, such as a mother walking with her infant. Egyptian women and mothers were often empowered through his paintings.
Despite Ewais' prominence as one of Egypt's and indeed the entire Arab world's leading painters, little has been documented about the artist himself or his paintings. He is the only Egyptian artist to have received the prestigious Guggenheim National Section Award in 1956, for his painting Labour. Some of his paintings can be found in the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art in Cairo, the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria, and the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar.

This season, Christie's is delighted to offer one of Ewais' most captivating and seminal works, The Protector of Life, that encompasses all aesthetic and social causes the artist fought for during his life and career. The multiple scenes, depicted in the present masterpiece, although deprived of visual perspective, allude to the essential values and characteristics of Egyptian life and society.
The Protector of Life was painted in 1967, a pivotal year in Egypt's modern history. Lasting from the 5th until the 10th of June 1967, the inconclusive Six-Day War between Israel and the United Arab Republic of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, triggered the War of Attrition a few months later in September 1967 whereby Nasser was determined to gain back the Sinai Peninsula from the Israeli army through military action. Following aggressive hostilities along the Suez Canal from March 1969 onwards, a ceasefire ended the war in August 1970, although the frontiers remained at a status quo. Within this context, The Protector of Life stands as an icon of the political and historical situation, reflecting the Egyptian people's efforts to protect their motherland.
In the present work, Ewais divides the pictorial space of the composition into three clear sections, joined in the centre by the imposing figure of a dark-skinned peasant, identified as the nation's hero as he firmly holds a large machine-gun. The two distinctive halves in the background represent a bare land on the left, possibly representing the Sinai peninsula that had recently fallen into Israeli hands and in contrast, the right half features a compact space crammed with trees, houses, mosques, factories and a public square. The contrast between the two sides is further enhanced by the liveliness on the right suggested in the smoking factories and the human presence on the public square, as opposed to the absence of life, emblemised by a leafless tree, and the silence of the empty land on the left side.
The corpulent peasant looks towards the empty land, as if on the watch-out for any threat that could fall upon the Egyptian people, whom he protects with his disproportionate huge hand in the lower right quadrant of the painting. As he shelters the Egyptian people under his machine-gun, Hamed Ewais carefully depicts the rich spectrum of contemporary Egyptian society, including children going to school or playing, a bride and groom, elderly people, embracing lovers, a mother and child, farmers, travellers as well as factory workers behind his bulky left arm.

The hero of the painting, or as the title implies, The Protector of Life, stands for all Egyptian people. He seeks to preserve the cycle of life, which Ewais not only refers through the different ages and genders of Egyptians present in his painting but also through the symbols of love, the innocence of children and the bright green fertile grass in the lower left quadrant, all from which life stems. The vibrant primary-blue colour that Ewais used for the Nile River in the background, seems to pierce through the canvas with its luminosity and despite the crowded surface and subject matter of this painting, the viewer's eye is immediately drawn to this area. By placing one of the 'Protectors of Life' right in front of the river, Ewais proudly points out to the Nile River's leading role as the Egyptian people's true source of life, an eternal role it has kept for centuries and for generations.

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