Award-Winning Artist Ibrahim Shalabi Combines Art with Values

By Ahmed Kafafi

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When choosing a theme for their works, artists usually wait until they have enough paintings to qualify for a worthwhile exhibition. However, Ibrahim Shalabi selects only one theme for each of his exhibitions and is clever enough to play on it to produce scores of breathtaking pieces that arrest both mind and feelings. The common perception about a one-motif exhibition is that the embodiment of the same theme might produce monotony; but Shalabi has shattered this perception.

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As you view his artistic creations at his events, you will be amazed at the interesting variety he can create from one topic. For the last year, Shalabi has been preparing for his upcoming event, “A’al Ramla” (On the Sand), which is scheduled to feature by January 2018 at the Atelier gallery in downtown Cairo. Part of it was exhibited a month ago at the Isis Hall at Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum in an event dubbed “Nawafiz Ibdaa” (Windows of Creativity).

“A’al Ramla” consists of a series of artistic shots that depict the activities of simple people on the beach. Originally from Kafr El Sheikh, Shalabi is a frequent visitor of the sea resorts around Baltim and Ras Elbar, both common destinations during the summer vacations for many villagers who live in the Delta triangle. “The exhibition will include 50 works that capture the movements of beach goers,” says Shalabi. “Those movements range from kids playing and women swimming in their galabiyas, to men and boys playing soccer or water polo and families eating their meals,” he adds.

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Shalabi has opted for this theme at a time when many artists are covering political issues. “A’al Ramla” is a break from his other events that have been addressing such issues, as he believes that interacting with and reacting to the political mainstream to excess could result in the repetition of themes and ideas. “I prefer to be different,” he stresses.

Not only does Shalabi avoid repetitive themes, but also techniques. His last event that came to the limelight in December 2010, one month before the outbreak of the January Revolution, was not apolitical. Instead of using brush and watercolors in his “I Will Hear, See and Talk”, he used works of his own eyes, ears and mouth. The exhibition’s idea came when Shalabi noticed that the injustices suffered by people were the result of their own indifference and negativity towards what was going on, and with the help of a friend, he managed to take pictures of his own facial features, which he later edited, mixed and enlarged to give the required effect.

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The exhibition included 36 edited shots that were equally divided into three sections with one devoted to ears, and the other two to eyes and mouths respectively. Ironically, the revolution started a month later and the event became timely, for the masses began to unblock their senses and took to the streets to challenge the oppressive powers. “Unlike the attitude of other artists who opt for highlighting the problems between painting frames, mine is to suggest a way out. I have a message to convey through art, and this was portrayed in this exhibition that encouraged people to take the blocks off their senses and react,” he remarks.

Almost a decade before that revolution, Shalabi presented “Fedaa” (Sacrifice) that highlighted the Palestinian issue, focusing mainly on The Intifada and the isolation of the Palestinian people. His artwork was exhibited at the Spanish Cultural Centre, and the main highlights “Fedaa” as well as “Genin” were bought by an art organization in Alexandria. Also, some of his works are currently being displayed at the Tanta and Kafr El Sheikh universities, as well as art institutions in Saudi Arabia and Spain.

Between 2000 and 2017, he featured his own solo exhibitions and participated in Arab and international events.

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