Women in Egypt are often neglected in Egyptian society and whatever attention they get is usually of a negative nature. Even though many of the governments that came to power after 25 January often preached about the importance of the role of women in Egypt, little was done to actually execute this into a reality. The current government has only three women ministers and every administration seems to care less about incorporating women into political life. That is not to mention the fact that just a simple walk down the street is riddled with sexual harassment and glaring stares.
Artist Helmy El Touni decided to bring back the focus on women in his latest exhibition at the Picasso Art Gallery in Zamalek. The aptly named collection, Women From Egypt: Baheya and Her Sisters, boasts a wide variety of portraits and visualisations of women in every situation. Baheya is a name that is often used to symbolise Egypt, and it has been used recently in many protests since the revolution. The paintings feature women riding bikes, in the army, taking care of children, as peasants, etc.
El Touni was careful to incorporate in his paintings women of all forms, so among the 40 paintings that make up the collection, the viewer will find women that have curly or straight hair, fair or dark skin, are curvy or slender, etc. The exhibition also depicts women in their daily lives. The subjects are featured putting on makeup, congregating with other women and happily smiling with their families, among other things.
The collection features several visualisations of Egyptian women in different situations such as being depicted as the subject in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or as one of the subjects of the Al-Hilaly folk story. Several paintings also depict young Egyptian girls flying kites or playing with pets.
On the other hand, some of the subjects were quite creepy, especially the little girls, who are inanimate and stare right at you while holding rifles, or the mannequin women who seem to be 1920s robotic renditions.
In conclusion, even with the creepy subjects, the collection is quite interesting and is worth a visit. The exhibition will run until Thursday, 17 April.
Helmy El Touni is a visual artist born in Beni Suef in 1934. He graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1958 and has had his work exhibited in many locations around the world. He divides his time between Cairo and Beirut.