Her women are dreamy, bold, and content. They do what they want, without holding back. We met with Hala El Sharouny at Alchemy during her exhibition to discuss art, women and freedom.
Can you describe your art in three words?
Satirical, strong, and about women.
The women in your paintings are liberated, confident, and are enjoying themselves whether they’re alone or with company. Is there a certain message you want to convey or do you just love seeing women like that?
A woman goes through many struggles, but at the same time she wants peace and comfort. You’ll see that most women in my paintings have their eyes closed. The point is when she does that she goes into another world in her imagination.
Do you think the Egyptian woman escapes from reality alone behind closed doors, or around people?
No, it’s definitely more behind closed doors. You can even see how different girls’ gatherings are when they’re outside or at home. Except it was different in Tunisia, I really liked Tunisian women. They’re very liberal, and that is because the law has given women their rights.
That’s why the revolution worked there.
They also have almost 0% illiteracy. We need to revolt, if I’m a strong women, and can revolt, I should. They’ll question my morals, or say I’m a tomboy, but I don’t care because society is the least of my concerns. Even in my art, they ask me how could you draw women naked, smoking and drinking? My father asked me that and I said “are you scared of a drawing?”
So you believe people are scared of seeing a woman smoking a cigarette or drinking with her friends even if it’s just a painting.
Yes, they’re scared of rebellious women. I had the painting of a nude woman with a hedgehog on her leg exhibited at the Cairo Opera House. And people would look away when they pass by it. It made me laugh! They’re government employees and this is a problem with have as artists. The people in charge of art in Egypt are affiliated with very official government work. So we suffer from bureaucracy and narrow-mindedness.
Do you think the Ministry of Culture should stay but be separate from the State, or do you think it should be gone?
They should be there to provide venues for artists to exhibit in, financial support to travel, but they shouldn’t interfere with what kind of art we create.
Do you think an artist could make a living out of art in Egypt, or should they have a 9-5 job?
It’s not impossible, but maybe in a little more time. When you’re more well known it becomes easier because you have your own market and clients.
Your collection is affordable for many people who might not necessarily be able to buy really expensive pieces.
That’s true. I’ve got a good CV now but I still don’t want to raise the prices on my paintings too much. I want people who appreciate this work to be able to own it. My art is a big scary, so if someone wants this kind of art and loves it, why should I not help them buy it?
Are the majority of your customers in Egypt women, or men?
I think they’re women, but the problem is that most of my customers aren’t Egyptian.
Do you know what women want?
Women should stop being afraid. No one should control you and your future. Be yourself, be psychologically stable, this is the most important thing for both men and women, to be psychologically stable.