Dalloul Art Foundation

Dalloul Art Foundation

HAMED ABDALLA HAMED ABDALLA

HAMED ABDALLA, Egypt (1917 - 1985)

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Bio

Written by Nathalie Bsat

Hamed Abdalla was born in Cairo in 1917 to a farming family. As a pupil in Qur’anic school, he was initially trained in calligraphy and later enrolled at the tuition-free School of Applied Arts in Giza. His parents supported his decision to study wrought iron there, hoping he would become a skilled artisan, but 15-year-old Abdalla quickly realized that his interest in art went beyond the purely decorative. Skipping the classes he found dull, he frequented libraries and zoological gardens instead and read about history, art history, and philosophy. He grew more and more unsatisfied with the material being taught in his classes, as pupils were only encouraged to copy the masters rather than expressing themselves artistically. When Abdalla finally dropped out of the School of Applied Arts, his father wanted him to find a job, but the young artist kept drawing against his father’s will. Father and son opposed each other so adamantly on this issue that the former cut the latter off, refusing him food; this only pushed Abdalla to pursue his passion with greater conviction. When he was denied admission to School of Fine Arts in Cairo due to his lack of academic experience, he did not give up; instead, he became a self-taught artist whose successful career defied the norms of the overwhelmingly bourgeois Egyptian art world. 

Indeed, though Abdalla loved to learn and was constantly expanding his art historical knowledge, he sought to liberate himself from institutional constraints. 

He disliked the system of arts education so vehemently that he refused several university professorships, teaching only at the art school he established in Cairo. This school only ran from 1942 to 1948, but in its brief lifetime, several prominent artists were trained there, including Tahya Halim and Inji Efflatoun.

In keeping with his anti-establishment philosophy, the artist preferred technical experimentation to rigid classical formulas and has ultimately been credited by critics with the conception of a new school of Egyptian painting. His style bears many of the hallmarks of abstract expressionism yet remains figurative, in conversation at once with European modernism and Egyptian artistic genealogy. His work depicts Egyptian society in black, white, and bright earth-toned acrylic paint that, applied to paper, creates a distinctive crumbling on the work’s surface. This adds a unique third dimension to the work and blurs the boundary between painting and sculpture. Furthermore, it could be argued that this stylistic choice documented the transformation and urbanization of the Egyptian landscapes he portrayed, its crackling resembling cracks in walls, smoke-like textures, dirt, and soapy oil spills.

Having exhibited in Egyptian galleries throughout the 1940s, Abdalla began his international career in the 1950s, showing in Paris, London and Amsterdam. In 1956, he moved to Copenhagen, settling in Paris ten years later. Though he lived in Europe, the artist remained passionate about politics and ideologies of pan-Arabism and anti-imperialism. After the Suez Canal crisis of 1956 and the Six-Day War of 1967, Abdalla refused to do business with many European galleries in protest of their countries’ stand against Egypt and the Arab coalition. Subsequently, years passed in relative isolation, and the break in his exhibition history led to his misleading reputation as a “marginal” artist that has been rediscovered. Contrary to how he is perceived today, he was very much a relevant artist of his time. 

Hamed Abdalla drew inspiration from personal research and travels, including a six-month journey to Upper Egypt in 1939. He emerged from this trip with a deeper appreciation for the artistic heritage of his nation, from antiquity through the twentieth century. He studied Islamic art passionately, particularly Islamic pottery:  his works reflect much of the trends seen in early Islamic pottery. For example, Le Chauve(1958) uses gouache on crumpled silk paper and cardboard to depict a male face whose lines and wrinkles spell out "the bald man" in Arabic. The lines are mostly black and brown, and patches of faded yellow, red and green are dispersed on the white surface, echoing the patterns of 12th-century Western Islamic ceramics as they developed through mutual artistic exchange with the T'ang dynasty of China. Abdalla used calligraphy for the first time in depicting humans, drawing from the distinctive use of calligraphy in medieval Islamic pottery. The use of calligraphy in the decorative arts, especially ceramics and glassware, has been a hallmark of Islamic societies since the birth of Islam itself; the Arabic language, as the language of the Holy Qur’an, inherently possesses a talismanic value that can bestow a mundane object with an apotropaic function. 

Many non-Islamic cultures throughout history adopted the aesthetics of Arabic calligraphy, utilizing similar designs in pottery (as seen in T’ang dynasty China), metalwork (as seen in Catholic countries neighboring Umayyad Spain), and later into the abstract and cubist movements of Europe. Abdalla’s understanding of his place in artistic genealogy took this history of appropriation into account. The artist believed in two currents of art history: the Western, which originated with ancient Greek art and peaked first with the understanding of perspective in the Renaissance and later with Impressionism’s light-related innovations, and the Eastern, which is aesthetically rooted in the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt, followed by Islamic calligraphic arts and abstraction. Abdalla considered his work firmly aligned with the Eastern current, and rejected attempts to explain his oeuvre in Western terms. When his paintings were likened to Klee’s, for example, he insisted they merely re-appropriated what had been appropriated from the East in the first place. The works in question include Scarcity (1959), which arguably resembles Klee’s Young Moe (1938), and Consciousness of Soil(1956) which harmonizes with Klee’s checkered cityscapes such as Castle and Sun(1928), themselves supposedly inspired by the German artist’s trip Tunisia.Scarcity, like Le Chauve, is a study of Arabic words as shapes that define the space on the artist’s canvas as well as borders between different bright colors on crumpled silk paper. Young Moe also contains forms that resemble Arabic letters but are devoid of their signifying function, with different patches of color in and outside the black lines.

Abdalla adopted the language as the backbone of his abstraction, given that it is the most cherished and unifying power in the Arab world. He molded Arabic calligraphy into organic forms, or bodies, confidently articulating them in symbolic compositions that would depict different abstract representations. He painted figures, revolutionary statements, and realistic cultural situations in different mediums, experimenting with unconventional materials such as tar, aluminum, airbrush painting and texturing techniques that included burning with a blowtorch. Abdalla believed in art as a tool of expression, rather than a didactic material – it indicates, it doesn’t tell – and thus aimed to raise awareness of cultural and political conflicts through his work without portraying forceful or propagandistic perspectives. 

Hamed Abdalla passed away in Paris in 1985.

Sources

Abaza, Mona. Twentieth-century Egyptian Art: The Private Collection of Sherwet Shafei. Cairo: American Univ. in Cairo Press, 2011.

Cinemeteque. Vimeo. February 04, 2018. Accessed June 17, 2019. https://vimeo.com/144694478

Eigner, Saeb. Art of the Middle East: Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World and Iran. London: Merrell, 2015.

Karnouk, Liliane. Modern Egyptian Art, 1910-2003. Cairo, NY: American University in Cairo Press, 2005.

Sharouny, Sobhi Al, Dr. A Museum In A Book: Selections From Dr. Mohamed Said Farsi's Art Collection. 1st ed. Cairo: Dar Al Shorouk, 1998.

Valenti, Paola. "Paul Klee's Journeys to Italy and Tunisia." Mediterranean Studies 15 (2006): 190-209. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41166999

Vimeo. June 13, 2019. Accessed June 17, 2019. https://vimeo.com/171507489

Vimeo. June 12, 2019. Accessed June 17, 2019. https://vimeo.com/269015509

Zein, Roula El. Abdalla: L'Oeil De L'Esprit: La Vie Et L'oeuvre De L'artiste-Peintre. Paris: Bachari, 2014.

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CV

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2018

Abdalla, Le Caire – Paris, Galerie Mark Hachem, Paris, France
Hamed Abdalla Arabécédaire, The Mosaic Rooms, London, UK

2016

Talismanic Modernism, Ofok Gallery, Museum Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil, Cairo, Egypt

2015

Hamed Abdalla, Selected Works, Cairo, Egypt

2014    

Abdalla’s collection at Museum of Modern Art, Cairo, Egypt
Installation «Talisman», French Embassy, Cairo, Egypt
Hamed Abdalla, Selected Works,Beirut, Lebanon
Hommage à Hamed Abdalla, Agial Art Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Mon Chemin, Institut du Recherches et d’Études Méditerranée Moyen-Orient, Paris, France

2012    

Moroccan Cultural Center, Nouakchott, Mauritania

2009   

 Hamed Abdalla, Selected Works, Galerie Karim Francis, Cairo, Egypt

2004    

Oum Saber et le Paysan Éloquent, French Cultural Center of Alexandria, Egypt

1998 

l’Espoir Fellah Centre Social et Culturel, Colombes, France

1997    

l’Espoir Fellah Galerie Autres Regard, Paris, France

1995    

Galerie Danielle Bourdette, Honfleur, France

1990    

Itinerant Exhibition in several towns in Denmark
Retrospective exhibition : Galerie La Part Du Sable, Cairo, Egypt
Retrospective exhibition : Belford, France

1987    

Abdalla. Signes d’Égypte, Galerie de Lappe, Paris, France

1986    

Cairo Atelier, Egypt (40 day mark post-passing)

1983    

Société des Amis de l’Art, Cairo, Egypt

1978    

Galerie Modern, Silkeborg, Denmark

1976    

Soviet Center in Cairo, Egypt

1975    

Egyptian Cultural Center, Paris, France

1968    

Gallery One, Beirut, Lebanon

1967    

Retrospective in the National Museum of Damascus, Syria

1966    

Det Skabende Ord1957-1965,Gallery B.B. Randers, Copenhagen, Denmark
Hus nr.9 Gallery, Aarhus, Denmark

1965    

Works 1933 – 1964, Centre for Contemporary Art, Odense, Denmark

1964    

Spejlet(the Mirror), Royal Hotel, Copenhagen, Denmark

1960    

Nyborg, Denmark

1959    

Herning, Odense, Denmark 
Stuttgart, Sindelfingen, Siemens-Erlangen, Germany
Malmoe, Sweden

1958 

UAR, Den Frie Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark
Oestre Skole primary school, Viborg, Denmark

1957    

Abdalla, Segni d’Egitto (Signs of Egypt), Galleria San Marco, Rome, Italy
L’Egitto di Abdalla (Abdalla’s Egypt), Centro per la Cooperazione Mediterranea, Palermo, Italy
Signs of Egypt, Dansk Kunsthandel, Aarhus, Denmark

1956    

Retrospective exhibition, The Palace of Exhibitions in Gezirah, Cairo, Egypt
Gallery Marcel Bernheim, in Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Copenhagen
Signes d’Égypte, Martinet & Michels Gallery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands;Gallery Bernheim Jeune, Paris, France 

1953  

Les Amitiés Francaises, Alexandria, Egypt

1952    

Abdalla in Paris, Le Galion Gallery, Cairo, Egypt

1950    

Scènes d’Égypte, Gallery Bernheim Jeune, Paris, France

1949    

Museum of Modern Art in Cairo, Egypt

1942    

Several solo shows in Port Said, Cairo, and Alexandria, Egypt

1940    

Horus Hall, Sulieman Pasha Square, Cairo, Egypt

Selected Group Exhibitions

2020    

Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950-1980s, Grey Art Gallery, New York University; Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Illinois; Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, New York; McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College; University of Michigan Museum of Art; US

2019    

From Mokhtar to Gazbia, Zamalek’s Art Talks Gallery, Cairo, Egypt

2018    

Nothing Vanishes, Everything Transforms, Art d’Egypte, Cairo, Egypt
Pour un Musée en Palestine : ‘Nous aussi, nous aimons l’art ‘, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France

2016    

The Sea Suspended, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran

2015    

Modern Arab Masterpieces, Espace Claude Lemand, Paris, France

2014    

The Museum of Modern Art, Cairo, Egypt
People from the Caverns, Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea

2013    

TAJREED, Arab Abstract Art, Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait

1995    

Semaine d’Egypte, UNESCO, Paris, France

1994    

De l’Afrique À l’Afrique, Galerie Yahia, Tunisia
Commemorative exhibition: Museum of Modern Art, Cairo, Egypt

1993    

Egyptian Modern Art Museum, Cairo, Egypt

1991    

Toyamaya gallery, New York, US

1989    

Commemorative exhibition: Egyptian Cultural Center, Paris, France

1987   

 Retrospective exhibition : Galerie de Lappe, Paris, France

1984    

Exposition d’Art Contemporain Arabe, Centre d’Art Vivant de la ville de Tunis, Tunisia

1982    

Collective exhibition for Palestine at UNESCO, Paris, France

1980    

Art Exhibition for the Palestinian Resistance, Tehran Museum of contemporary art (co-
organized with the PLO), Tehran, Iran

1978    

Collective international exhibition for Palestine in Beirut, Lebanon

1976    

Les Indépendants – l’Art Egyptien Contemporain, Grand Palais, Paris, France

1974    

Exposition de Soutien à la Palestine, Centre Culturel Algérien, Paris, France

1961    

Decembristerne,Copenhagen, Denmark

1967    

Foyer Franco-Libanais, Paris, France

1960    

Decembristerne, Copenhagen, Denmark 
Den Anonyme, Centre for Contemporary Art,Odense, Denmark

1959    

Collective exhibitions in India, Iraq, Iran, Turkey
Decembristerne, Den Frie Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark

1956    

Asian Artists in Crystal, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C, US (traveling exhibition)

1955    

First Alexandria Biennal, Alexandria, Egypt

1954    

Palestine Exhibition, Cairo, Egypt

1953    

Second Säo Paolo Biennal, Brazil

1951    

France-Egypt,Palais du Louvre, Paris, France
Paintings of Egypt and Paris, Joint Exhibition with Tahia Halim, Egyptian Cultural Center, London UK

1948    

Collective exhibitions in Egypt, US, Italy

1946    

Joint Exhibition with Tahia Halim, Alexandria, Egypt

1943    

Les Six, Galerie Horus, French Cultural Center, Cairo, Egypt

1938    

Annual Cairo Salon, Palace of Exhibitions in Gezirah, Cairo, Egypt

Collections

Museum of Modern Art in Cairo, Egypt
Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria, Egypt
Museum of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Alexandria, Egypt
National Museum of Damascus, Damascus, Syria
Ministry of Culture, Damascus, Syria
Municipality of Copenhagen, Denmark
New York Public Library, US
Egyptian Embassy in Paris, France
Institut Du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
Museum of Modern Art in Tunis, Tunisia
Great Cairo Library, Cairo, Egypt
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Lebanon
Tate Modern, London, UK
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran

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Documents

Hamed Abdalla Talismanic Modernism, Hamed Abdalla 1917-1985
Ihab El Labban
OFOK Gallery, Arabic/English, 2016

Exhibition Catalogue\r\nCurated by Karim Francis

Hamed Abdalla , إلي اين
English

Catalog

"L'artiste égyptien HAMED ABDALLA ; 1917-1985"
Mogniss Abdallah, Samir Abdallah
French, 2010

Document made by the artist's family

"L'espoir dans l'oeuvre de Hamed Abdalla", in: Hommes et Migrations, n°1120
André Videau
persee.fr, French, 1989

Research paper

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Press

Hamed Abdalla, l’œil du fellah sur le monde
Warda Mohamed
orientxxi.info, French, 2014
التشكيلي المصري حامد عبدالله
عبد الرازق عكاشة
artokasha.wordpress.com, Arabic
الصعيدي الثائر على الأكاديميين 1917 - 1985 . حامد عبدالله عاشق تفرغ للرسم 
عدﻟﻲ رزق ﷲ
Alhayat, Arabic, 1998
حامد عبدالله: الشرق في مرايا الآخرين
شادي لويس
almodon.com, Arabic, 2018
أعمال حامد عبدالله تُعيد للخط العربي مجده وتألقه
مجدي عثمان
alittihad.ae, Arabic, 2014
الفنان التشكيلي حامد ولد عبد الله يستلهم التراث الموريتاني في معرض فني بالمركز الثقافي المغربي بنواكشوط
saharamedias.net, Arabic, 2012
الفنون التشكيلية» تحتفي بالفنان الراحل حامد عبدالله»
ميلاد حنا زكي
almasryalyoum.com, Arabic, 2014
Hamed Abdalla, un peintre de l'universel
Andrée Chédid
hebdo.ahram.org.eg, French
الفنون التشكيلية تحتفل بذكرى الفنان الراحل حامد عبدالله
akhbarelyom.com, Arabic, 2014
حامد عبد الله‏..‏ ساحر الحروف والألوان
سهيــر حلمــي
ahram.org.eg, Arabic, 2014
Art Dubai Modern: Historical Fragments
Hrag Vartanian
hyperallergic.com, English, 2014
Expo. L'oeil d'Abdalla, kaléidoscope de la vie
Pierre Barbanceye
humanite.fr, French, 2014
بالصور.. «طلسم» معرض للفنان التشكيلي حامد عبدالله
ألاء مشمشة
vetogate.com, Arabic, 2016
قاعة أفق تحتضن «طلسم» الفنان الراحل حامد عبد الله
د. ايناس حسني
Arabic, 2016
غدا.. معرض استيعادى عن الفنان حامد عبد الله بمتحف محمود خليل
innlebanon.com, Arabic, 2016
Art Dubai et l’art du Moyen-Orient
Thibaut Wychowanok
numero.com, French, 2018
Mark Hachem Gallery: Rare Pieces Showcased at Art Dubai
fashionrepublik.com, English, 2018
Hamed Abdalla
wsimag.com, French, 2018
حامد عبدالله في باريس معرضاً وكتاباً... محاكاة روح الشعب والأرض والأمكنة وأمزجة البسطاء والفلاحين
أوراس زيباوي
annahar.com, Arabic, 2018
Press release of Hamed Abdalla's monograph
Roula el Zein
French, 2014

L’œil de L’esprit Monograph

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Videos

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Exhibitions

HAMED ABDALLA Artwork

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