Artist Georges Bahgory on reflecting the past in the aspirations for the future
For his latest exhibition Nostalgic Dreams, Georges Bahgory is drawing inspiration from nearly six decades as an artist and cartoonist as he looks towards what he hopes will be an illustrious future for Egypt. His paintings are a tribute to Egypt, depicting both the nation’s iconic personalities and the anonymous citizens of the street. Egypt Today caught up with Bahgory during an art tour of Nostalgic Dreams, currently at Al Masar Gallery through February 23. Edited excerpts:
It is about the return of Egypt with its ancient history and glory. This is a type of hopefulness that Egypt will go back to its full glory after three years of turmoil, struggle, a faulty revolution, discontent, and especially after the corrective [June 30] Revolution. Yet, there is still work to be done. [The title reflects my] beautiful aspirations for a beautiful future Egypt.
What is the importance of nostalgia for an artist?
Nostalgia is so important: [The artist] can paint his childhood, first-love and adolescence memories, and this beautifies life. Nostalgia also makes the artist capable of [developing hopeful] aspirations and wishful thinking.
How do turbulent times like these affect the artist and his creations?
It makes him more active, so that he can quickly document and depict every single moment that takes place. Passing moments cannot really be retrieved. An artist can document a single moment, whether a moment of success or a moment of struggle. With every moment, we [as artists] try to champion the revolution and even make Egypt better, but we are always obstructed by ignorance and backwardness. The artist is a mirror in which he must show solidarity with the people and the revolution.
At the very beginning of the January 25 Revolution people chanted “Bread, Freedom and Social Justice.” The first word is tangible and the rest are not, yet they still understandable. So when such words meet and get realized, Egypt will succeed.
Q: The painting of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser titled Farewell Nasser seems strategically placed right next the painting of Field Marshall Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi titled The Hero. Can you elaborate on that?
A: Gamal Abdel Nasser is a glorified strong leader, he [embodies] a beautiful nostalgia that we all wish we could go back to, while Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi [symbolizes] our future hope. He is victorious and will make Egypt survive through the current turmoil.
Q: The exhibit also has numerous paintings of Omm Kulthum. Do you consider her to be your muse?
I have a thing for Omm Kulthum, especially during such times where I feel that Egypt is at a loss. I have always considered Kulthum’s voice as a reminder that Egypt will always continue to be great and mighty. Kulthum is an extremely stunning national voice, and she greatly affects my soul, especially nowadays with the current mayhem. I need her presence constantly so that she assures me that we will not tumble, will not get lost — and that Egypt is ever triumphant and will succeed and return to its former glory.
In light of the exhibit’s title, how can an artist become an agent of hope for the masses during unsettling times?
I think the problem for an artist is to reach out for the people and deliver their message. We [as Egyptians] are still behind and cannot [even] communicate art [properly], whether through television, cinema or other artistic visual and auditory means.
As an artist when I paint, I want my interpretations to reach and touch the people and be seen, yet there are not any powerful means that can make me succeed. So most of the time I feel that I am shelved and that people cannot comprehend what I do or connect with me as an artist. et