Discovering Ghaleb Khater: In search of a forgotten painter chasing justice
by Fatenn Mostafa-Kanafani
“I have tried to depict our country’s problems, which faces the whole world, in the hope that finally for my country a solution would be found, and that people’s lives would become more bearable and full of will.”
Born and raised in Luxor, Ghaleb Khater graduated from the Fine Arts Faculty in Cairo in 1950. Egypt was still a protectorate of Britain and ruled by a monarch.
Chronologically, Khater belongs to the Third Generation of Egyptian pioneer artists. Though his formative years are influenced by ancient Egyptian art and classic realism, Khater soon moved to a politically-charged stage calling for social change to free Egypt. However, the direction he took and the stand he upheld separate Khater from any collective art movement or historical categorization.
Responding to the call of history and driven by the necessity of self-expression, not just the impulse for aesthetic creation, Khater depicted emancipatory and controversial messages calling for a popular uprising ‘to make people’s lives more bearable’ and attempted the difficult task of stating what he saw, not as a witness to history, but as a committed marginal. Detached from the cultural scene and contrary to other artists of his generation whose ‘revolutionary’ stage was short-lived, Khater continued to create singular aesthetics, using minimalistic and monochromatic metaphors and symbols, to awaken the people.
He slipped under a shroud of anonymity, with his art purposely disregarded as politically motivated in both content and form by the ironclad grip of a controlling state who saw provocation in his efforts to incite dialogue. The labeling of contemporary artists as ‘political’ and the current commodification of the notion of revolution will appear out of place because Khater’s work, four decades before Arab Spring, is explicitly ‘revolutionary,’ timeless, and universal.