In Cairo Opera House in the heart of Cairo, the artist Randa Ismail held an exhibition that ran from 23 February to 6 March 2021. She said that all of the paintings were done during the pandemic which was a great chance to experience new things in her art.
When entering "El Bab-Selim Gallery” in the museum of Egyptian modern art where her seventh exhibition was on display, you will find 64 artworks that characterize different warm meanings in our life.
Randa Ismail is originally an architect who loved drawing as a hobby at first. Then she started taking courses to enhance her talent in 2004. In 2008 and 2009, she participated in group exhibitions. These engagements allowed her to see other artists' works and learn more until she decided to make her first solo exhibition in 2011.
Randa said to Majalla that every exhibition she makes is stronger than the last one because she gains experience and improves her techniques. "By persevering in making an exhibition every one or two years, people know that you are working hard and are serious in your work," she added.
An artwork from Randa Ismail’s exhibition “Those Days” in El Bab-Selim Gallery, Museum of Egyptian Modern Art, Opera House, Cairo, Egypt. March 6, 2021.
THE DIFFERENCE IN THE “THOSE DAYS” EXHIBITION
In her current exhibition "Those Days," Randa simulates the beautiful days in our lives and our memories. It is a visual nostalgia that catches the eye and highlights different stories from real life.
"When God gives us the luxury of time, it turns to be a blessing to reflect, to get inspired, to heal our wounds, and to feel grateful. The blessing in disguise teaches us to be optimistic about what the future holds for us. We relive these times in contemplation, hoping to grasp the truth and gain the wisdom because of "those days."
These words were written at the entrance of Randa's exhibition to express her purpose. When we asked her about the hidden message, she said "This exhibition is a call for thinking and contemplation" about the beautiful moments in our lives.
What distinguishes Randa's artworks is that she represents personal experiences and feelings. The difference in the exhibition this time is that she used big figures and animals to be the main characters of her paintings after a long time of depending on landscapes.
Randa said "I was interested to present all God's creatures. People spent a long time with each other and even with animals in the time of this coronavirus and they have become more sensitive to each other. So I wanted to highlight this beautiful feeling,"
"The truth is I also was trying to convey some hope in the paintings. You will see green plants that express this with intense lighting in some parts, two birds talking to each other, and hugs between a person and a person or a person and an animal," she added.
Besides the figures and animals, Randa used a new style in lighting in order to express intimacy. She worked on a technique with colors for animals that is not a realistic color scheme, but gives the feeling that it came from a dream because of using dilute oil colors.
"A successful painting is one in front of which a person may stand and, after contemplating it for a while, will see what other people cannot see," Randa said.
“Those Days” is considered a specific color experience type of exhibition as the artworks were influenced by the psychological state of the artist during the time of the pandemic and we can see that in the colors and the composition. In some paintings there is a brightness in the colors while in others there is a dark color scheme.
In addition to that, highlighting some parts and diminishing other parts helps Randa in her works to define the near and far parts of the painting in order to touch a specific feeling.
THE PAINTING IS NOT A PLAN
Ismail said: "The artist starts painting and lets his imagination complete it ... There is no clear plan to follow when I start painting. Of course, I begin with a topic in my head, but I let my imagination and my feelings continue the work. The painting leads me to a story with all of its details while I am working on it."
"So if I have a story with all of its particulars, instead of drawing I can just write a story. But I am an artist. I work on the painting for a very long time and we become friends. I live with it and see that every detail can provide a facet of the story," she added.
For this reason, Randa determined not to give any titles to the paintings in her exhibition because, as she said, writing specific names leads spectators to a certain direction and this is not the goal of art.
MANY MEANINGS AND SYMBOLS
The animals in Randa's artworks express many symbols. The fish is a symbol of livelihood. The horse is a symbol of strength and equestrian skill. The cat has been a symbol of happiness and protection of the home since the ancient Egyptian days. Not only that, but she also signified mixed feelings in some of the artworks. As we see in the painting of a horse leaning on a girl’s head, the artist revealed the feeling of strength and tenderness.
"The painting of the children who live with their animals contains love and intimacy. Each work has different connotations and meanings," Randa said.
To document this viral phase of our lives, Randa took kites as a topic in more than one painting. The kite is a symbol of release and freedom. "While I was taking this large painting from the house to put in my car, a man in the street said to me ‘could I take a photograph of it as I feel that I want to fly with it.’ This made me so happy," Randa indicated.
All groups of people are addressed in the exhibition such as children and adults.
A collection of paintings titled “Departure Group” from Randa Ismail’s exhibition “Those Days” in El Bab-Selim Gallery, Museum of Egyptian Modern Art, Opera House, Cairo, Egypt. March 6, 2021.
EGYPT IN RANDA'S ARTWORKS
Egypt's identity is clearly shown in Randa's exhibition, progressing from small details to the big picture. We see the girls' hair, their clothes and features, the houses, and other details.
Randa said to Majalla, "In all my exhibitions I paint Egypt. This show and the previous two exhibitions were about Nubia. You will feel this, for example, in the clothing, in the features of girls, in the Nile, and in rural houses. I love Egypt and always want to express my identity in my work."
Additionally, Randa loves Aswan a great deal and sees the Nubian woman in specific and the Egyptian woman in general as symbols of strength and hard work which is the reason that most of the characters in her painting are women.
"The group of departure."
In this painting, people walk in one direction looking for a change. The woman is the leader and holds a cage of fish that is a symbol of livelihood. Randa used hot colors, in which there are hope and life, to represent this group of paintings.
In this experience, Randa depended on abstraction more than expression. You can feel the rhythm of music or the waves of the sea while standing in front of the paintings. "Everyone said something different, and I was happy with this new experience," Randa said.
THE REACTION ON THE EXHIBITION
Randa Ismail said to Majalla that during the last days of the exhibition "People who came to the exhibition, whether critics or artists, felt that it is a shift in my career and style…The painting is successful when there is balance, honesty, and difference, and these are the criteria of success which I am always seeking to achieve."
She also indicated that her new style based upon abstraction will be in the next exhibition as she always pursues renewal and diversity in her work. So this experiment is the first step which she intends to continue in her next artworks.
Finally, she clarified that she is so happy that young people also like her paintings, inasmuch as they have a propensity towards abstract works.