Aalaa yassin interviews Khaled Hafez about practice and inspiration.
Alaa Yassin – When creating your paintings, what kind of subjects do you like to focus on?
KH – In terms of content, every medium in my practice derives inspiration from different sources: for my painting, I am inspired by ancient Egyptian walls, and I try to decipher the codes and symbols on such murals. I also simulate in my painting the rules and methods the ancient Egyptian painters used.
My core research focus is the exploration of the complex nature of the Egyptian identity, one that is a composite of African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Arab, Islamic, with ancient Egyptian and Judeo-Christian traces. In my current video, photography and other mixed media works, I am interested in movement, an element that was indispensable in ancient Egyptian painting, where all painted elements were in motion, as opposed to Egyptian sculpture that always caught the protagonists in a “pose”, nearly always static.
Alaa Yassin – Do you believe it is important for the Egyptian youth to be in touch with their heritage? If so, how do you think this should happen?
KH – I think the world is a big country: it is equally alright that Egyptian youth be in touch with their heritage, and I also understand if someone wants to derive their interests and affiliation from the universal heritage of the entire world and from the history of the world. For myself as an artist, I inspire and feel connected to the intricate cumulative layers of the Egyptian heritage that accumulated over seven millennia, and I also understand if others feel connected to a more global inspirations. In my opinion, there is not much to do as local heritage should not be inflicted on the young. There will always be someone who will be motivated to be identified and linked with the local heritage, and others will settle for a transcontinental multinational global inspirations.
Alaa Yassin – In technical terms, how do you create your paintings? What sort of materials do you use?
KH – I am visually intrigued by colors, textures and the notion of recycling. For the past twenty years I, as well as so many visual artists I know of, have been collecting and “picking up” all possible material and texture that can be collaged on surfaces and worked over. The accumulation of material and its manipulation provide an unmatched satisfaction during the process of creation of an artwork, especially painting as a principal medium of creating a visual narrative.
I use pieces of paper, cloth, organic leaves as well as all other endless discarded entities; I handle and manipulate such diverse material over the surface of the canvas. Sometimes I scan images taken from magazines and other printed material, take them to software computer and create manipulated imagery that I print on large scale and use in collage over the canvases. Those images start a digital life, which becomes in a way mummified or immortalized when applied to the canvas and painted over.
The finished canvases or works on paper are very personal, in a way that does not try to “speak”, represent or communicate any particular sociopolitical message, or any other message. The works are a type of visual diary of my own street walks. For me it is the power of the ordinary. The very ordinary.
Alaa Yassin – Can you explain the parallels between Batman and Catwoman with Bastet and Anubis?
KH – Around two decades ago I became immersed in creative art practice. I never could stop taking images, using images, manipulating images, all coming from Western magazines. I used collage and image transfer techniques to juxtapose images of East and of West, searching all the time for tangential points, areas of similarities and differences, trying continuously to find/create a language capable of representing ideas legible to both East and West. When you look at Batman and Anubis from the front and from the back, they are identical: naked torso, in shorts, muscles, power position, and even the same head with the same ears. Both “superheroes” assume the same function: protection against evil. Basted and Catwoman are both naughty girls with the mask of a cat, both carry the complete voluptuous feminine traits. In my research I try to bridge between both cultures to attain a synergy of power for both languages to move together forwards rather than to clash if movement is in opposite direction.
Alaa Yassin – On your website you say that you believe in painting the good endings. Can you give examples of what these are?
KH – I am optimistic by nature, and I believe always that future is much more interesting than the past. We study the past for knowledge and for learning purposes, and it should stop there. The future is always better, and it provides better endings that the past and than the present. Just like classical movies in the twentieth century, when there were gorgeous stories of real people working, loving and achieving.
Alaa Yassin – What symbols and motifs do you use in your paintings, and what do they mean? If someone was to interpret your paintings, how would they do it?
KH – I use loads of codes and symbols from all ancient civilizations, including the ancient Egyptian civilization that I am particularly passionate about. Not all people understand all my codes and symbols, as not everyone is interested in my art, and not everyone in interested in art in general. I can say comfortably that my artwork, be it painting, video/film or photography, is quite accessible because I do care on creating a solid visual narrative into my work, a narrative that would be attractive and comprehensible. This is precisely why I resort to irony in my painting and film. What I aim by using clear narrative and accessible codes and motifs, is to have the viewer like the visuals, as if she/he enters into a comic strip, where the story is attractive and the narrative is clear.
Alaa Yassin – Do you paint in a specific style, or do you focus on the representation of the scenes and figures?
KH – I let myself move around particular styles: I use abstract techniques and figuration at the same time. I also use collage and photo montage to create figures that move over the canvas. I create several stories, simulating ancient Egyptian methods of creating paintings on tomb and temple walls, with several stories interact and intertwine.
Alaa Yassin – Assuming you have the power to do so, how do you believe today’s
youth should be educated about their past?
KH – I believe that school children in Europe, the USA and the far East learn about ancient Egypt more than we do. And we don’t have similar interest here, locally, to learn about the wealth of our civilization: ancient Egyptian, Greco Roman, Judeo-Christian, Arab/Islamic, Memluk, Ottoman and modern. What we need to do is just read and study, then decide if we want to inpire from or draw from or be connected to any or all of the layers. If I have the power, I would have the entirety of all those layers be compulsory within the history curriculum at Primary and Secondary education.
Alaa Yassin – Have you created any paintings that show the parallels between the
past and the Ancient Egyptians, and with today’s society?
KH – because my studio practice spans the mediums of painting, film/video, photography, installation and interdisciplinary approaches, such parallels are drawn across several mediums, not forcibly paintings. I draw such parallels particularly in film/video, because the film medium is wealth and versatile enough to allow a better story/narrative accessibility, and encompasses sound, moving image, dialogue and effects. In a contemporary culture dominated by a century of film and animation, the similarity between the ancient and the current contemporary forms of the kinetic is intriguing to me, and a focal aspect of my research. In my painting, I use imagery of body perfection and treat them to reflect metamorphosis and the movement from one state to another; for the male figures I appropriate images of body builders, and for the female figures I use images extracted from advertising and from cheesy commercial tabloids. The images are enlarged archival color and black and white photocopies and silk-screen prints. The choice of the image reflects always the perfection of body proportions, a criteria used in all Mediterranean mythology, and a trait that does not represent a significant proportion of ANY majority of any population living today. This approach provides for my desire to mingle fiction with reality. I link imagery of the ancient iconography with deja-vu contemporary advertising elements; the icons/images are manipulated to insinuate metamorphosis. I believe that we are at a point in history where there is cultural recycling: visual, conceptual, beliefs among other aspects.