Friday, 2 October 2020

Enterprise: The art edition.

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Art: A brief history

Welcome to Enterprise, the art edition, wherein we express our appreciation for and boundless interest in the natural human affinity for art and artistic expression.

What can we say? We love to look at pretty (and visually stimulating) things. A few months ago, we dove into what visual imagery means to us and how image-based communication. Now, we’re taking a moment to look more closely at artwork.

This is by no means a complete or comprehensive look at the world of art — we are well aware there are plenty of media, historical periods, and cultural expressions of art that we not only don’t get into here, but are entirely oblivious to. Our exposure to art — in the grand scheme of things, and considering the sheer volume of art that has come into this world — is minimal at best. If you think we’ve made a glaring omission in this edition, drop us a line at and help us see more of the art world.


Without further ado, we present to you a brief history of art: First thing’s first — the creation of human art actually predates the recording of human history. Humans in the prehistoric world, specifically during the palaeolithic age (some 50k-100k years ago) first began using cave drawings as a means of illustrating their thoughts and experiences. While these illustrations are primitive in terms of their artistic complexity, they also give key insights into how prehistoric humans viewed themselves and their surroundings. For example, prey were illustrated in a greater amount of detail than humans in the cave drawings, indicating both the importance of the hunt for humans and their under-developed sense of self.

The Bronze Age: With the dawn of civilization, humans created primal works of art that were largely designed to reinforce their spiritual beliefs. Cave drawings became more complex as literacy began to take root, and essentially formed the basis for the development of symbol-based languages and record-keeping such as the hieroglyphics.

Fast forward to 900 BC, when the Age of Idealism began in Europe. This period saw the rise of Greco-Roman art forms, such as fine illustrations on pottery and murals that told more complex stories. Incredibly intricate and well-crafted statues of the human form also became a fixture of this era.

With the late Medieval period came the Renaissance — that beautiful sweet spot of art history that saw an outpouring of influential artists and artworks such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael. Art from the Renaissance is characterized by realism, attention to detail, and precise study of human anatomy.

In the millennia since, art has gone through dozens of eras and genres, from the Baroque period (think Rembrandt) to the Rococo period (the inspiration behind every piece of salon furniture in Egyptian homes) and impressionism (spearheaded in large part by Claude Monet). The current period of art is simply known as contemporary art, which combines several schools and genres, and also includes modern media such as digital art. This rundown of the evolution of art gives a thorough briefing on all of these eras and how they have shaped the modern world (watch, runtime: 17:34).

The subjectivity of art

Is art subjective? There’s plenty of arguments in both directions. In fact, there are entire research papers that delve into the question (we’ve gone down the rabbit hole — see examples here, here, and here). Most will agree that art is a subjective expression, but there are objective (scientific, even) methodologies to assess and critique art pieces. To be frank, however, the vast majority of us laymen don’t have a grasp on this science and will instead decide on an artwork’s value depending on our aesthetic tastes, and whether or not we can find meaning or symbolism that relates to our personal beliefs and experiences in the artwork. Chances are you’ve found yourself staring blankly at a piece of art in a gallery that’s been hailed as a masterpiece and you just … don’t see it.


Exhibit A: Last year, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan duct-taped a banana (yes, a fresh banana) to a wall at the Art Basel Miami Beach fair, calling the installation “Comedian.” The artwork reportedly drew so many visitors that the fair took it down early, saying the crowds were a safety hazard for other pieces of art at the fair, according to Artnet News. The kicker: The “sculpture” has been priced at USD 150k — and was recently gifted to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, whose director said it was “a further demonstration of the artist's deft connection to the history of modern art.”


Exhibit B: Less of a tangible piece of art and more of an “experiential” installation, Work No. 227 by Martin Creed is an empty room, with the lights switched on and off every five seconds. “By manipulating the light in the gallery, Work No. 227 encourages visitors to think about the room itself, bringing a space that is usually a backdrop to other artworks into the center stage,” says ArtSpace. The same artist has spurred controversy many a time over whether his pieces qualified as art, including with his Work No. 301 — a crumpled piece of paper.


But there are some types of art out there that are just universally appreciated. One of our favorite examples of this is Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night — an instantly recognizable painting and one of Van Gogh’s most famous pieces. Some have suggested that this appreciation is a result of the post-impressionist painter’s use of rich, yet boldly contrasting colors to depict a familiar scene (the night sky). Or maybe it’s just that blue — which is used heavily in this painting — is a widely preferred color among people.

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Enterprise favorites: Budding Egyptian artists

Alaa Abul Hamd: At least two of us here at Enterprise are big fans of this award-winning contemporary artist, who is beginning to garner the fame he deserves. With an aesthetic heavily influenced by Ancient Egyptian culture, Abul Hamid’s pieces feature subjects “characterized by their stillness, strength and silence.” Abul Hamid has also said that he finds inspiration in his surroundings, particularly the nature and culture in Luxor, where he currently resides


Klay Kassem: The contemporary artist is known for his recurring symbols of a man, fish, cat, and bird which he uses to describe the political scene of Egypt. His early works foreshadowed the 2011 uprising’s collective socio-political awakening using paintings of a man symbolizing the people and a fish that represents livelihood. He has since added symbols of a cat representing greed and the bird referring to freedom from caging values to his works to comment on the post-revolution political ambience by exploring the relationship between the three symbols.


Nadeen El Rashidy: This rising talent’s style is a crossover between abstraction, surrealism, and impressionism. Many of her paintings (oil on canvas) have a whimsical feel to them — a theme that she expressed in her most recent exhibition, Once Upon a Dream (watch, runtime: 1:30).


Deena Mohamed: We would be remiss to ignore caricatures and comics as an art medium with incredible rising talent. Mohamed created her first webcomic, Qahera, at age 18. Qahera is “a visibly muslim Egyptian superhero that addresses social issues such as islamophobia and misogyny.” She also published in 2018 her graphic novel trilogy, Shubeik Lubeik, in which she creates a fantastical version of Egypt where wishes are commodities that can be bought. The designer also created the graphic that was used on Google’s search page to celebrate Egypt’s first female lawyer, Mufidah Abdul Rahman, back in January.

Where to enjoy art in Cairo

Where to indulge your artistic side: Cairo is filled with galleries and museums dedicated to the local art scene. Unsurprisingly, many of these are scattered around the central neighborhoods of downtown and Zamalek, which makes for a convenient setup if you’re looking to take a stroll to enjoy art on display. A handful of our favorites:

Ubuntu Gallery (Zamalek): Tucked away in Zamalek’s Hassan Sabry street, Ubuntu features contemporary Egyptian art with a mission to give emerging young talent a platform and exposure, while also showcasing pieces from well-established artists. The gallery hosts regular exhibitions with an eclectic collection of artworks.


Mashrabia Gallery (Kasr El Nile): This gallery has been around since the 1970s, making it one of if not the oldest contemporary art gallery in the capital city. While Mashrabia has beautiful paintings abound, the gallery also features several other art media, including digital art, illustrations, and photography.

Picasso Art Gallery (Zamalek): An oldie, but always a goodie. Picasso was also set up in the 1970s to showcase what it says is “art by Egyptian artists for different generations.” With its storied history, Picasso has showcased pieces over the years by emerging talent that have gone on to become household names in the art world.


TAM, formerly known as The Arts Mart (Cairo-Alex Desert Road): Launched in 2012, TAM has both a physical gallery — which is the largest art space in Cairo — and an online platform featuring some 2,500 pieces of art from 150 contemporary Egyptian artists.

Want to hear TAM’s origin story? We sat down with founder Lina Mowafy for an episode of our podcast, Making It, in which she told us how her struggle to find an entryway to the Egyptian art scene led to the opening of TAM. Listen on our website, Apple Podcast, or Google Podcast.

Enterprise is a daily publication of Enterprise Ventures LLC, an Egyptian limited liability company (commercial register 83594), and a subsidiary of Inktank Communications. Summaries are intended for guidance only and are provided on an as-is basis; kindly refer to the source article in its original language prior to undertaking any action. Neither Enterprise Ventures nor its staff assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, whether in the form of summaries or analysis. © 2021 Enterprise Ventures LLC.