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A pioneer of social realism, painter Hamed Ewais is considered to be a pillar of revolutionary art in Egypt with an unparalleled style and technique. His work is seen to embody the struggle of the people of the Egyptian working class; peasants, fishermen, labourers, factory workers etc with a deep rooted belief in the revolutionary ideas that were adopted posted 1952 under Nasser's Pan Arab regime.
Born in the rural community of Kafr Mansour in Beni Soueif, Ewais moved to Cairo in the 1940s to study at the School of Fine Arts where he admired the European modernists such as Picasso, Matisse and the Fauves and most notably found affinity with Mexican Social Realists, such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros whose techniques are a clear influence in Ewais' works.
In 1947 he was one of the founders of the Group of Modern Art together with Gamal El-Seguini, Gazbia Sirry and others, which went against the Group of Contemporary Art that was established at the same time by Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar and Hamed Nada. The Group of Modern Art rejected Surrealism, as they believed that art should touch the masses and clearly reflect social ideologies, embracing a unanimous enthusiasm for modernisation.
A partisan of the ideals of the 1952 revolution and a strong Nasserite, Ewais and his fellow artists used a folkloric and populist style to invent and facilitate the growth of a politicised national consciousness in the country, which was meant to have a pan-Arab appeal. A reflection of the new patronage of the arts by the state; long gone were the wealthy patrons which had appeared from Egypt's cosmopolitan art world, especially after 1956 government financial support was the only kind of funding that artists could expect. Ewais adopted images of bulky, thick-boned peasants, workers and women in revolt who would serve the nation on their path to national development as a way to simulate an alternative form of Arab modernity and reflect the strength of his social convictions.
Although Hamed Eweis is one of the most prominent Egyptian artists of his generation, there is little known, written or documented about the artist and his works are very rarely offered in the market. Christie's is thus honoured to be offering two seminal works by this Egyptian pioneer, Al Zai'm w Alta'mim Al Canal (Nasser and the Nationalisation of the Canal) and Hob w Salam (Love and Peace) in this auction season from the Collection of the Artist's Estate, both painted in 1957 which was at the pinnacle of Nasser's and thus Egypt's political and social success.
In Nasser and the Nationalisation of the Canal, Ewais chooses to depict Gamal Abdel Nasser as the big focus of the composition dominating what little space there is surrounding him, as if the canvas cannot possibly contain the metaphorical size of the leader. His height and Ewais' choice of cropping exemplifies Nasser's giant-like presence, his gaze focusing on the future and the promise of what it holds. Each of the faces crowded around him with large smiles are equally bulky-faced with smooth, almost chocolatey, skin that harks to the working class and their long hours in the roasting sun. The painting projects a sense of fulfilment and meaningfulness and exudes a sense of greatness that emanates from the potential of one simple man. Painted in 1957, the work reflects an expression of Ewais's devotion to the 1952 Revolution and its principles. The painting thus reflects his and the majority of the Egyptian people's belief that the nationalistaion of the Suez Canal was to give back the Egyptians what was rightfully theirs and to relieve them of any ties to Colonialism, with a pledge of a wonderful future that was never to be achieved. In fact Ewais' idealism never did recover from the 1967 defeat.
Although Hamed Ewais is commonly associated with the socialist ideology of the Gamal Abdel Nasser era, his original style and work overall reflect his humanist character. For example, in Love and Peace, Ewais depicts a simple mother figure, pushing a pram along a cinder path between borders of lush vegetation away from the viewer, the child's face gazing longingly at her hidden face. It is as if Ewais is empowering the mother's of Egypt's working class with their ability to push the new generation to the future and to the path of greatness that accompanies Nasserite revolutionary ideals. She is just as monumental as the other characters in Ewais' compositions; her large body appears to be enclosed in the reduced space of the canvas that consequently appears as a metaphor of the social boundaries of Egyptian society.
In both paintings Ewais' use of strong and bold colours is a direct influence of his eventual move from Cairo to Alexandria where he particularly admired Mahmoud Saïd and was influenced by the Alexandrian master's abundant use of light and colour which added a deeper sensuality to Ewais' paintings and afforded them the ability to transcend the intended social messages and communicate a further sense of idealism with his own unique and special style. It is thus no wonder that these two wonderful examples are without a doubt collector's pieces that are extremely rare.
Hamed Ewais' work can be seen in the Museum of Egyptian Modern Arts in Cairo, the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria, as well as in Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST'S FAMILY