The mature paintings of Hamed Nada are filled with anecdotal details- a woman falling from a horse, an arabesque balcony jutting into the street, a red bird sitting on a rooftop whilst a mysterious figure watches. Rich in nuances of mystery and magic, together they evoke a sense of folklore, woven from a tapestry of Arabian Nights, pharaonic mythology and popular legends.
The son of a religious sheikh, Hamed Nada was brought up in an old Arabic house in the poor traditional neighbourhood of Al-Khalifa near the Syeda Skina Mosque in Cairo. Around him the young Nada experienced all the life and vibrancy of the old city, rich in medieval Mamluk buildings and gracious Ottoman-era monuments. At that time puppet shows were still performed in the streets amidst the seething street markets and these, together with the succession Mawlid festivals celebrating Muslim saints in this architecturally stunning setting, they were to have a profound impact on the artist's subsequent work.
Hamed Nada was a member of the Group of Contemporary Art, which included others such as Abdel Hadi EL-Gazzar and Samir Rafi'. In his early period, from the 1940s to the 1950s, Nada's paintings were marked by social-realist tendencies. The figures in these paintings are destitute, dwelling in dark and cramped conditions. Nada portrays them as helpless and their bodies with a massiveness that acts as a visual metaphor for the weight of the stress and frustration caused by poverty. Hamed Nada's strong social message and powerful execution, which early on employed surrealist iconography to heighten the sense of drama, prompted others in the Group of Contemporary Art to focus on the condition of the urban working-class.
From the mid-1950s onwards Hamed Nada's style underwent major changes. He began to look at the work of Ragheb Ayad, from the first generation of Egyptian pioneer artists, who had reinterpreted pharaonic art in his portrayals of ordinary Egyptians. Also for inspiration Nada looked to Nubian folk art and African primitive art. This helps to explain Nada's comments about the effects of Ayad's art on his:
"...I discovered the spiritual intimacy between me and Ragheb Ayad in his paintings on common people's life, though there was a vast difference between the way each of us tackled the theme and its characters. Ayad showed and undeniable gift in portraying working-class life. Meanwhile I paid particular attention to delve beyond the reality to capture the depths of inhabitans of the working-class areas, which inevitably surface, affection the behaviour of men and women among them.
We can also notice that my working-class characters are shapeless. No attention is paid to details of features or distinctive characteristics. I do not depict a certain individual. I don't portray and ironsmith, a carpenter or farmer. I do not portray the ordinary man for his own sake, but to highlight a general human posture." (cited in Sobhy El-Sharouny, Hamed Nada: Star of Contemporary Art, Alexandria, 2007.)
Nada started to use bright resonant colours, and the previous heaviness of his compositions evaporated. The figures, both human and animal, elongated and stylized, began to float around the pictorial space. Michievious and vivacious, the figures seemed to take on a life of their own. Thus Africanized, the figures in Nada's paintings became akin to hieroglyphs, generalized symbols rather than particularized personages. As Nada suffered gradual loss of hearing in the 1980s, to compensate the colours, gestures and violent movements of the figures became ever more extreme, leaving one with the impression of almost being able to hear the commotion going on in his paintings.