Creating, Living and Breathing Art with Karim Abdel Malak

Karim’s work caught our attention as we were browsing through Instagram. The diversity of his styles was intriguing. His paintings were transcendent, spiritual even. All the while, his art installations were clever, colorful and extremely contemporary. We had to learn more about his art. When we sat down with him for an interview, we weren’t disappointed.


Have you always known you wanted to be an artist?

I was almost raised in a gallery. My father was a very well-known artist, who had a long journey in the field of art. He graduated with a degree in décor, worked as an artist/art critic and at the age of 50 started sculpting. I grew up with him as a role model. I also loved art. I’m glad no one pushed me to do this at all. The biggest proof that I really wanted to study Fine Arts is that I studied in Minya. My grades couldn’t get me into Cairo or Alexandria Universities.

Ever felt like pursuing a career in art in Egypt was harder than it would be elsewhere?

It’s not about whether it’s easy or hard. As long as you love what you’re doing, there’s no such thing. And I genuinely love what I do.

You don’t just paint; you also do art installations using different materials. Is it hard to focus on more than one type of art?

It takes a lot of effort and you need to focus on each step you’re taking. Although I believe that as long as it’s in the art field, it’s not impossible.

What inspires you?

Women. Women are everything. They’re the beginning, end and everything in between.

You quote Van Gough on your website. Yet you have an entirely different style of painting. Do you like to sometimes switch between styles and techniques?

Of course. However, with Van Gogh’s quote, I just love it. I really felt a connection with it and that’s why I used it.

It took a while for contemporary art to be appreciated all over the world. Do you think it is still unappreciated in Egypt?

I think people are now more aware than before. This is because of media, social media and globalization in general. That being said, we have a rich, ancient culture. We shouldn’t borrow culture from a country that’s only a 100 years old. We’ve always been leaders in art whether it be Ancient Egyptian, Coptic or Islamic. So we can develop and stay contemporary while still having a solid cultural base.

Censorship in Egypt is a source of concern to many artists. Have you ever had a problem with it?

It’s not censorship as much as it’s a problem with awareness. I think art dealers should be more open-minded than everyone else. For example, my nudes are done in a spiritual way. I treat my paintings as spirits. One of the paintings I hold very dear is called Epic of the Soul. It links women’s liberation to a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. An art dealer felt it would be a sin to sell this painting. This shocked me. He even asked me if I could cover the woman up. And this is what I find unacceptable. My art is the only space that I never allow anyone to step into.

Can one make a living out of art in Egypt?

Yes, definitely. If you love what you’re doing, you’ll be successful. No matter what career you choose.

We live in a society that urges children to become engineers and doctors. Have you been discourage from pursuing a career in art?

I’m lucky that I was raised in a way that allowed me to make my own decisions. If I was influenced by what people thought I should do, I’d never be successful. I live for myself, not others. So it didn’t matter to me what people thought I should do.

What does it take for an artist to be “good”?

As an artist, you translate your soul into a painting. Some people’s hands are stronger than their souls. So you receive the art that their hand is producing. Some people, however, have a stronger soul. Their soul can be too strong for their hand to translate it, sometimes. So you end up with a painting that’s imperfect, but still touches you greatly. This – being able to translate your emotions into lines and colors and have others feel it – is the greatest thing in the world. Artists whose souls are stronger than their hands are the ones I consider to be good artist.

The art scene is expanding thanks to technology and social networking. Has this helped you at all?

Yes, a lot. I’m glad that until now computers have had a positive effect on me. Many people that I knew in college are now completely reliant on computers. They don’t put pencil to paper and draw anymore. And I believe talent needs practice. Social media is a double-edged sword, as well. You can use it wisely, or not use it the right way and get lost in it. It has helped me a lot, though. For example, this interview happened because of social media.

Have the hard times Egypt has been going through helped your art develop or do you think it curbed your success?

You can’t document what happened as an artist, because it didn’t happen. It’s still happening. We’re living it at the moment. It’s like reviewing a book; you can’t do it until you’ve finished it. You even have to read it a couple of times to make sure you understood it completely.


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