In Conversation with AbdelRahman El Borgy
AbdelRahman El Borgy was born in 1981 and holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in art. He has participated in several local and international exhibitions, including Small Art Work Saloon (2000), Port Said Biennale (2009), and Agenda (2015). In this interview with Omenka, he discusses his inspiration, oeuvre, and process.
Please explain the intellectual curiosity and thinking behind your work and the choice of sculpture as your preferred medium.
I have tried multiple times before to resort to other means of expression, which, to be honest, does still happen from time to time. I may write down my thoughts or draw something as an impulse, but the feel of my hand sculpting is the only one that satisfies my need to express my vision. I can touch and feel every angle; the beauty of it is that it’s not just a metaphorical idea, it’s palpable, and it’s the best medium I’ve found that gives me complete joy and fulfilment.
Kindly walk us through your artistic process, from conceptualisation to execution.
When I think of new work, I often imagine it as finished and work my way backwards by trying to take the appropriate steps that can lead to the image I have in my head. I do also sometimes start with sketches and comprehensive studies of a subject. I usually create a large number of them. I find that brings me closer to my ideas in terms of implementation. It creates a more diverse and well-rounded visual thought process for me—and this is irrelevant of size. The material I use is undoubtedly a very important factor. I usually have an idea of which medium I want, but I also like to experiment and create the same subject with different substances, to allow for each medium to take full control and add its own flavour to the work. As for size, my work ranges from small to medium sizes. It usually depends on the tools available. The results naturally vary when the work is magnified from what it was in smaller sizes. But at the end of the day, I view it as a valuable and satisfying artistic experience.
Today, critics and scholars alike sound the death knell on more traditional means of expression, including painting and sculpture, preferring to celebrate relatively newer media like video and photography. Bearing this in mind, please comment on how popular sculpture as a medium of contemporary art is in Egypt, and what strategies you have adopted in remaining relevant today.
I believe that this kind of rapid development comes with many risks as well as benefits. However, despite the development of new methods, techniques, and materials, some may go further in their ideas and explore different mediums and branches within art as a means of adapting to the times. It works for some and not for others. I am no critic, but this is my point of view as a sculptor. I don’t believe that sculpture and painting are “old fashioned” because there are newer means of expression. But I do believe it’s important to evolve. I strive to evolve as an artist with my craft, but in a way that does not eliminate and drift away from my understandings of sculpture.
Animals, including domesticated ones and livestock, are central to your oeuvre. Why do they hold such significance for you, and perhaps in Egyptian culture?
I was born with solid Egyptian roots. I grew up in the countryside of the Nile Delta, where all you see is greenery and you live within nature, with the animals and birds, and fish, which played a pivotal role in our daily life. I used to go fishing with my father as a child, and I still enjoy it as a hobby to this day. I find [including animals and nature in my work ] comes to me naturally, because, visually, this was mostly all I was exposed to and stored in my mind’s eye. It’s important for one to be faithful and honest towards their vision, because, at the end of the day, the artwork exposes the artist and his truth, and it’s a philosophy that I try my best to abide by.
Your work is vaguely reminiscent of the work of painter Tamara de Lempicka—and other proponents of the Art Deco movement—as well as the Futurist Umberto Boccioni. What are the points of conflation and divergence between these separate oeuvres?
I think that a similarity between works of art by different artists is a healthy phenomenon. If I notice that one or more people are presenting ideas or methods similar to my own vision, I’m reassured that my vision and work are human experiences shared with and relatable to others who share my same feelings. I believe it’s honourable to have similarities between the visions of artists, especially those from different cultures, times, and places. Some of my works are also associated with art from ancient civilisations, in addition to the interesting artists you’ve mentioned.
How would you describe the contemporary art space in Egypt in comparison to other regions of Africa?
From my humble point of view—and I’m not a critic—I see a very strong and rich movement within the Egyptian art scene that just lacks opportunities—and not just locally but on a global scale. I believe this will allow us to see an honourable history written in the sky of contemporary art.
Do you have any ongoing project you would like to share?
Experimentation is continuous in several directions. I don’t usually draw a plan ahead but rather seek to study my ideas and formulate the many different ways of implementation. I’m currently working on birds and animals from a different dimension. It’s still a work in process and in the experimentation phase. I’m also trying to get out of small- and medium-size works and move on to relatively larger sizes, but first and foremost, I do what my heart believes and guides me to.
August 16, 2019