by e.g. Richard woffenden
For anyone that has been to Khaled Hafez’s last few exhibitions, you can’t help but wonder whether Hafez enjoys getting into trouble. Photomontages featuring scantily dressed models next to fundamentalist sheikhs, a series of seemingly harmless sketches that turns out to be an attack on people’s priorities, especially the artistic community; these plus the latest work, Electronic Gods. Smack of a man that wants to get into trouble. But if you put the “Electronic Gods” next to the “Halfway Home”, as we witness in this exhibition, we see rather a man wrestling with time and with his society. The works we have seen from Khaled recently are reactions of anguish rather than a publicity hunter. Halfway Home sees time taking possession of our memories and existence and with dramatic changes that have taken place in his life since his return from Paris; this heightened sense of insecurity is hardly surprising. For Hafez, it seems that the biggest culture shock was felt when he returned to Egypt rather than going to France. His abstract works, particularly the larger ones, which he completed in Paris are beautiful and exciting. Through the color, they show an optimism that has never really been rediscovered since. The inclusion in the paintings, as well as the cardboard collages created at the same time; of hints of Egypt in the form of hieroglyphics show an artist seemingly at one with his homeland.
Return to his work after the return to Egypt in 1995 and things start to change and the work becomes more dramatic. The cultural dilemma is perhaps the easiest to understand and comprehend. The photomontages that were seen at recent shows at the Townhouse and the Cairo Berlin Galleries, juxtapose the most unlikely of characters: Kate Moss. Sean Connery, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, in an attempt to present the contrasting faces of contemporary popular culture with specific reference to the East-West encounter that takes place in Cairo.
This developed into an interest in depictions of the female forms, from the Ancient Egyptian deity Nut to the super models of today. All these were placed first within a sepia framework in attempt to make us examine our existence in the way we would look at the pictures of the past. Later this moved into frames that were more Islamic and Coptic in design, which worried some people. The sight of scantily models linked with religion was too much for some people, but these images do exist side by side in magazines and in our perception of the present; to remove either one of these elements from an examination of contemporary society would be unthinkable.
Another show that is important in our sight into Hafez’s art is the Atelier show featuring the pencil sketches of friends and family. These were placing against other faces more familiar to the general public, figures such Adel Imam and Claudia Schiffer. Here again Hafez attempted to make us see how the media have penetrated our lives to the extent that we have opinions on these famous faces than on those that we live alongside.
Entitling the exhibition “unimportant Items”, the artists left us in no doubt about his opinion on this state of affairs. A huge long list of items were listed and duly labeled as important or unimportant. Through this, he also hit back at those people, writers and artists, who had hurled abuse at Hafez due to his pieces of art criticism in various magazines – it was the fact of writing rather than the ideas that upset people. Some people, including a few who had been close friends, turned on Hafez and accused him of self-promotion; a view I feel is totally unfounded.
The combination of overwork and the harshness of the attacks caused Khaled Hafez to experience severe health problems. It is therefore very comforting to see him back exhibiting and with this new direction. The social criticisms are still as harsh as the Electronic Gods lampoon the human races’ attempts at sanctification and deification. This time however there is a warmer side to the art, as the artist attempts to empower the viewer as well as showing the humor of the artists.