A PIE IN THE SKY OR THE THEATER OF LIFE by Fatenn Mostafa-Kanafani
MOHAMED ELBEHAIRY (1993) is one of Egypt’s Top Young Artists to Watch. In his first solo show, 28-year-old Egyptian artist ELBEHAIRY displays an extraordinary imagination and a deep affinity with his fellow villagers. His figurative oil paintings read like a Kan Yama Kan (Once Upon a Time) folk tale and transport the viewer into a surreal world where happiness and contentment are the only salvation.
Titled A PIE IN THE SKY and meant as wishful thinking, the exhibition offers multiple interpretations.
Inspired by traditional popular Egyptian festivities and folk tales, Elbehairy invents an imaginary world, profoundly joyful and somehow heart-wrenching, where ordinary people resort to celebratory practices, feasts, and games to overcome daily hardships. In his fantasy city/village, a fellah soars into the blue sky, riding a gigantic cow. A smiling young boy gallops on a white donkey, transported by a magic stick to a faraway land. Village kids jump on a Cart of Dreams, feet in the air, staring at the viewer and laughing at the future. Husband and wife fly over their street in a tiny helicopter. You can hear them jiggle. Their bond is unbreakable. A large family sits on a mesmerizing cow or perhaps an enormous turtle while the whole village leads the way holding a lantern and a flag of love. Far away, we can see empty houses, a reminder of reality.
Happiness is tangible in Elbehairy’s version of al Laila al-Kebira. It is a showcase of working-class life lived in a boisterous manner, where the Aragoz, a national image of the buffoon with a pointed red bonnet, seems to say it all. We can even hear his bizarre voice. He is laughing at destiny.
A Pie in the Sky is Elbehairy’s theater of life, in reference to modernist painter Abdel Hady El-Gazzar’s iconic Popular Chorus (1951). Like Gazzar, Elbehairy does not shy away from sticking to his roots, depicting authentic Egyptians with their colorful garments and local habits. Unmistakably tight to a specific land, Elbehairy’s message is nevertheless universal. Rich with philosophical and metaphysical themes, the 37 exhibited paintings celebrate resilience and optimism and challenge the limits of patience, hardships, and the relentless pursuit of happiness.
Tuta Tuta Khelsset El Hadouta.