Egyptian artist George Bahgory may turn 90 this year, but he still knows how to have fun.
At the opening of his exhibition at Cairo’s Art Talks gallery, which runs until Friday, he signed books and drew caricatures of his female fans with a drink in his hand and a smile on his face.
“I hope when people remember me, they will laugh,” Bahgory said. The National.
During his 70-year career, Bahgory has been a caricaturist, painter, sculptor and writer. Often referred to as the “Egyptian Picasso”, his work with cubist and expressionist influences has been presented in dozens of international and national exhibitions.
Around 25 of his masterpieces are on display this week at Art Talks in Zamalek and one of two books featuring the majority of his works has been published. The first volume includes oil paintings on canvas while the second volume will contain his works on paper.
Art Talks founder Fatenn Mostafa-Kanafani wrote the lyrics for both volumes, as well as a retrospective titled Upside down (named after Bahgory’s favorite way to draw) which was released last month.
The masterpieces are on loan from the George Bahgory Museum, which opened in downtown Cairo in 2019 but is only available by appointment.
The private museum, housed in a 600 square meter apartment with seven rooms, is filled with more than 120 works of art dating back to the early 1950s. It includes paintings, sculptures, drawings and sketchbooks that he calls it “travel diaries”.
“These are my whole life,” says Bahgory.
Bahgory and his wife of over 60 years, Nitokriss, hope to soon relaunch the museum for the public.
“His whole life has been about art. He never left the enclosure, even when he was tired,” says Nitokriss.
Born in 1932 in the small village of Bahgora near Luxor where his Coptic Christian surname comes from, Bahgory began drawing at an early age.
Although he had repeated his last year of high school three times, he continued to study painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo from 1951 to 1955. It was there that he met Nitokriss, who was also an artist.
In 1953, he began his career as a satirical cartoonist for the weekly Rose Al Youssef after that Sabah Al Khair. His cartoons have drawn the ire of Egyptian Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar El Sadat and other Arab leaders over the decades.
“Bahgory was courageous and politically engaged. He used art as a way to fight for justice and freedom,” says Mostafa-Kanafani.
As freedom of expression was restricted, Bahgory decided to settle in France on August 25, 1969, the date he describes as his “second birth”. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris and France became his adopted land, even if he went back and forth to Egypt.
Egypt has always been close to his heart and an endless source of inspiration as evidenced by his works. Some of his most recognizable are his series of paintings and sculptures of legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. He frequently paints ordinary people, such as street and orchestra musicians, belly dancers, vegetable and bread vendors.
“[Bahgory] always seems to be in a hurry, as if he is trying to capture the moment, to live this moment, and not to miss the smile, the crowd, the music, the people, his people, our people,” writes Mostafa-Kanafani in Upside down.
In some of his paintings, he imitates the works of Arab pioneers such as Mahmoud Said, Abdel Hadi El Gazzar and Ahmed Sabri in his own Bahgory style. He does the same with works by renowned artists such as Da Vinci mona-lisa and Van Gogh self-portrait.
Beyond the private museum, Bahgory’s work is dispersed in private collections and has been offered several times at auction. The musicianssold at Christie’s Dubai in 2014, recorded the highest price of his works at auction at $37,500.
Now Bahgory is more concerned with preserving its unique heritage. He says that although he has always been known as “the Picasso of Egypt”, it is “a good thing, of course”.
Updated: February 28, 2022, 1:42 p.m.