Artist Amy Abd El-Baky explains how she conveys her message of love through art.
In a pair of ripped jeans and battered Converse, Amy Abd El-Baky certainly has an appearance you might expect from a young artist at the height of her career. As she gazes attentively over the rim of her paper coffee cup, it is easy to picture her working with paint and canvas in her studio. She stands out, however, in the affluent Maadi members’ club in which we sit.
These are the first days of summer and a strong breeze blows the smell of the twenty-four degree sunshine under our parasol. For many of us, this is perfect weather. “I’d have it hotter,” remarks Amy. Although she sits calmly, smiling and relaxed, there is a quiet conviction to her. It doesn’t take long for her tenacity, and strong sense of purpose, to become apparent.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that she grew up not in an artistic family but in business- orientated one. Born in Kuwait to an army surgeon and a business woman, Amy followed suit and studied ‘international business and marketing.’ “I wanted to study fine art in Zamalek,” she says, “but ended up taking the sensible option.” She continued painting, nonetheless, but after getting married
and having children she found a lot less time to pursue it. It is the recent years of Amy’s life that have seen the biggest change in her artistic career, which began with a break from art altogether. “I had a really difficult period when I needed to be alone. At this point I stopped painting completely. It was a sacrifice I felt was necessary, to give up something in the short run to get something even better in the long run.” Exactly what Amy was looking for is known only to her, but she is adamant today that she made the right decision. “The last five years were a great transformation for me. In the words of my teacher ‘I have become a new creature’.”
She explains how her art has changed during this time. “Before, I used to paint from a physical point of view. I would see something I liked the look of and try to represent it. Now I have concepts inside me which I try to bring to life. It’s much more difficult, I find myself agonizing over how to represent a feeling or emotion on paper.” So where does Amy get her inspiration now? She is fundamentally a people person, her work draws on love for her fellow human beings. This is what her latest project, ‘Jars of Clay,’ is all about.
“First of all it has nothing to do with pottery,” she explains. “The jars are us. We are made from mud in the hands of our creator into what we are now. As we go through life we are tossed and turned and we get cracked but within us is a light so limitless. As our cracks grow the light shines through.” The idea of going through a ‘journey’ features heavily in Amy’s work, no doubt due in part to her own recent experiences. She gives one group of pictures as an example. “There are three pictures together here. Journey one, two, and three (bottom). It begins with people who are lost, sharing their fear with each other, but ends with them moving on with their own journeys.” Amy has a clear purpose in all of her work, easily observable from the excitement she has in explaining it. “It is a message of hope. We are clearly not driven by our own power, there is something else inside us, why should we box it up?”
She shows me one of her favourite paintings. “What I like about this one is you can’t really make out a human figure, but it’s instantly obvious that these are people. And it’s clear that they talking and interacting, just from the colours.” Like most of Amy’s work your eye is guided around the canvas, taking you on a journey. The texture is beautiful. “You can see my fingerprints on it,” says Amy, “I never use a brush. Always my hands, or a knife. Sometimes my toothbrush. Often I’ll throw sand on the canvas.”
Following Amy’s recent success I ask her what is on the horizon. “Who knows,” she says with a smile, “I live in the moment, I’m very Egyptian.” Although she was born in Kuwait she has grown to love this country. Much of this has to do with Amy’s love for people. “Life is very hard here,” she explains, “so people invest a lot in their relationships. It makes me feel so free. People listen to what you have to say. I have the freedom to use my voice and to know it means something to someone, to know it matters and that it can make a difference. People here are so welcoming, you throw a joke or two in the street and before you know it you’re embroiled in deep conversation!”
Perhaps this is why the recent atrocities in Libya a few weeks ago, where twenty Egyptians were killed, made such an impact on Amy. “I had to take some time to process it. I meditated for a while on the images of those men kneeling down, all in orange jumpsuits in front of a line of men wearing black. It was horrific, but what was remarkable was that none of them looked afraid. They each knelt with their eyes closed in such peace and unison. And they sung together. It was obvious to me that their jars had cracked completely and they had seen something before the end, something peaceful.” After spending some time to think about this Amy put her thoughts onto canvas. Her painting (on left, yellow) shows the progression of figures as they go from darkness to the light. “Except they don’t move into the light. They begin to crack and the light comes from within them.” She smiles. “And I don’t want to sell it. I keep it on my wall, and it reminds me never to be afraid.”
Edmund Bower is a freelance journalist and assistant editor of the Maadi Messenger. He can be found at www.edmundsbower.wordpress.com and tweets @edmund_bower
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