Earlier this month Hossam Dirar released his most recent collection of paintings, Nefertiti. This powerful body of work is a modern exploration into the elegant and mysterious world of Ancient Egyptians, specifically, the beauty and grace of Queen Nefertiti.
“Nefertiti” is translated as “the beautiful one has come”, but the word “nefer” means more than just beauty. It can also be translated as “goodness” and “perfection”. Nefertiti would empower women to take a stand for their beliefs. She would evoke women to move out of the shadow.
In this series, Dirar challenges the modern woman’s status quo, referencing the queen’s headdress on the women of today, adorned in contemporary attire, accessories, and posture. The juxtaposition is just fascinating!
Dirar’s vision is one of reckoning; through his work, he encourages today’s Egyptian woman to regain and strive for the power and command they once possessed. We are all human and have the power and strength within us, much like the queens and goddesses of Ancient Egypt. His women are painted with dignity and pride, treading the line between the glorious past and the hopeful future of the Egyptian woman.
I have known Hossam for many years. I remember him fondly as one of the most talented graphic designers in Egypt. I had the privilege of collaborating on several projects with him. I recall visiting his office in Maadi in 2009. At the time, I had only been privy to a select few of his paintings. They were simply put; exquisite beauty. Hossam never spoke or mentioned any of his painting. True talent cannot hide; even in the back room of an office, nor can a rapid rise to success. In 2011, Hossam left his business, his homeland of Egypt, and embarked upon Europe. That same year the Director of Saatchi Gallery London, chose him as one of “The 12 Best Artists to Invest In.” This is a humbling and prestigious benchmark in any Artist’s career.
Hossam’s work quickly gathered international interest and began exhibiting in Europe and across the Middle East. In 2016, one of his abstract paintings became part of the permanent collection of Copelouzos Family Art Museum in Greece. In 2017, Hossam debuted in America; his work was first shown in Los Angeles. He was part of a group exhibition with renowned international artists such as Justin Bower, John Paul Fauves, Popovy Sisters, Mike Dargas, and DAIN.
I sat down with this mastermind; we talked about art, history, and inspiration. Here’s what he had to say!
Nefertiti is the key figure in your work. How did you come up with the idea for this show?
Eight years ago I went to the Berlin’s Neues Museum to see the statue of Nefertiti for the first time in my life. I was fascinated by this iconic ancient image, the bust of Queen Nefertiti is an enduring symbol of grace, beauty, cultural heritage.
The mysterious beauty of the Egyptian Queen left me curious and inspired. After visiting the museum, I spent years learning about the ancient queen. There are no other women in the whole history like Nefertiti. I was reading about her life, beliefs, achievements, trying to understand who this woman was.
I was finding out about her history and how she was capable in her life to break every one of the limitations, restrictions, and beliefs that existed before her. Nefertiti, together with her husband Akhenaten, was the first one to establish the Aten Cult centered on the Sun god, the most important god and the only one that was worthy of worship in Egypt’s polytheistic canon. Nobody has ever done it before!
A mysterious, powerful, and beautiful woman; she is a great example of a woman’s limitless strength, who dared to challenge traditions and break stereotypes. Through her faith in the One Lord, art, architecture, and even the capital of the state have changed. This symbolic woman was able to make a huge difference for the country and its people. Also, she was an ideal and loving mother to her children.
For many years I was focusing my attention on female freedom and was expressing it in many of my paintings. In modern Egypt, women have much fewer rights than has been revealed in the past, Nefertiti is the best example of the expression of women’s freedom and the role of men and women in society. Hence, the idea of this professional group began.
Could you explain the story of the exhibition and tell us more about the artworks in this collection?
In this series, I want to present freedom and equality of the Egyptian women through the beauty of the Ancient Queen. Nefertiti is the best example of liberation and the power to change, to revolutionize the old society with beauty and affection.
In my paintings, I have chosen Nefertiti as the main character, but I presented her in a modern and fashionable way. I want her to symbolize the future, not the past! All of her clothes and colors I use for the paintings are very modern.
I have a dream to bring Nefertiti back to life, so she could create a brighter future for women in the whole world, and especially in Egypt.
The series consists of 25 oil paintings. When I paint, I don’t use a brush and prefer to improvise by applying oil paint mixed with phosphoric colors to a surface of the canvas with the blade of a knife. Thick, dramatic strokes help to achieve rich texture and add another dimension. I love this technique as it adds an element of uncertainty to my work. The paintings are a combination of classical and contemporary, ancient and modern.
You paint a lot of female portraits. In what way do the female face interest you?
When I was young, I was shy to speak to and get to know women around me. So, I was imagining their lives and personalities without communicating with them. I was always happy to envision and draw their characters.
Women mean the whole world to me; the beautiful world of faith and freedom brought to us throughout civilizations. I want to show this through my art when I draw a woman or imagine her in this whole society and civilization. This civilization is the structure of the inner world and the understanding of the human being. I understand all this through women.
What are the other influences that stimulate your work?
Criticism and the difference of thinking between the East and the West inspire me and my art, and I learn a lot from different people and cultures.
In your opinion, what are the most powerful works in the exhibition?
I think the whole series is quite powerful. The painting of Nefertiti with the wings of Isis is the closest one to my heart. It is half women, and half Goddess, powerful, but feminine. This particular work is a combination of dream and reality.
The second painting I am very passionate about is where the queen pictured with her eyes closed and her petite hands placed over the neck. The indefinite moment, between awakening and a dream, between the past and the present, when she closes her eyes to the past and opens up to the future.
How has your recent success changed the way you work? How has it changed you?
I became more confident in my technique and now can spend more time to learn about the subject for my next series and the ideas I want to present. It always takes time in order to have a clear vision of the topic. I spend much more time on meditation, walking, and thinking than on drawing.
You are Egyptian, living and working in Barcelona, and you have exhibited in many countries globally. Do you think that your geographical and cultural surroundings impact your artistic process?
Of course, it does. For example, in the last ten years, while living in Egypt, my creative approach was limited to the experience I have had in my country, as it was the only thing I ever knew, but things changed once I moved to Europe. I think artists who live in Egypt have limited opportunity to express their opinion about the cultural or political conflict which has been happening in the country for years. So, once I moved to Barcelona, I became more knowledgeable and it gave me more freedom of expression in art. I am happy to be in a society where people respect each other and have the right to share their opinions without being judged by others.
I am very passionate about history. So when I moved to Spain, I decided to get a master degree in sound art and learn about the Alhambra palace. It helped me a lot to compare and understand the Spanish and Arab history. Also, living in Barcelona, gave me an opportunity to be more involved in the art world. I attend many art and cultural events all over Europe.
Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
For the latest series, Nefertiti, I spent a lot of time researching history and learning about Ancient Egypt and Pharaohs. I got very influenced by this, and plan to explore more in this direction. So the next two years will be dedicated to the history and ancient culture, but I am planning to do more experiments around mediums and not only make paintings, but also video and art installations. Now, I am taking my time for sketching, painting, and planning for my first solo show in Los Angeles.