Ahmed Askalany's Incredible Palms, Uniquely Egyptian

Ahmed Askalany's Incredible Palms

Ahmed Askalany

Installation work is becoming a more common form of artistic expression. One might think of Ahmed Askalanys Installations as folk art, but that is incorrect because there is no artistic tradition in Egypt of weaving animals and people from palm leaves. Askalany is the first artist to do so in his hometown near Qena in Upper Egypt, where basket weaving using this material is an important cottage industry.

Many hundreds of years back, before the invention of paper, people used to write and draw on palm leaves. Strips of palm leaves are collected from different trees and then sorted on the basis of their similarity in appearance, color and texture. These are then dried and stitched together with a string, said Askalany.

Much of Ahmed Askalany's work appears somewhat eerieMuch of Ahmed Askalany's work appears somewhat eerie.

Much of Ahmed Askalany's work appears somewhat eerie.

Palm leaves are plicate (that is, have parallel folds) and segmented with a central rib. The hard yet flexible flaps on either side of the rib yield the material that was historically prepared by drying and polishing for writing or painting or for incising characters with a metal stylus, added Askalany.

Ahmed Mahmoud Ibrahim Askalany was born in Qenawiyya in Qena. He is the eldest son of a family of five that included three girls and a brother. He began to recognize his love of sculpture in his early childhood years. I used to play with the clay or mud to make dolls and small animal figures, said Askalany. In fact, the only interest that kept him in school was the drawing classes.

Somber images reminiscent of ancient mummies

His career began after moving to Cairo from Upper Egypt a few years ago. That was when he developed his own style, modeling sitting figurines from clay. Although hes been producing award-winning art since his middle school years, he faced a lot of rejection until his work was recognized. I was criticized that what I do is not art but rather a craft, said Askalany. His work began to be recognized from his street installation of two mummified palm-weave/wicker figures during the Nitaq Downtown Arts Festival of January 2000.

While he says Cairo impacts and stimulates him greatly, Askalany still chooses to work in the village close to his original sources of inspiration and material. Items made from weaving palm leaves can be found everywhere on Egyptian streets and in households, as it is used to make baskets and bowls of all shapes and sizes, but it is never fashioned as art work in the innovative way of this artist. Askalany uses it to shroud life. It coats and comforts his figures, wrapping them in silence.

Askalany uses an iron frame as a core for his work, which he diligently works for hours until it yields the form he's seeking. Then he covers it with the light weave that creates a skin out of fabric. The last process before the completion of the piece is stitching the weaves together to ensure the work's smooth appearance. A single piece usually takes about five days of hard work.

The work of Ahmed Askalany, an Egyptian artistThe work of Ahmed Askalany, an Egyptian artist

The work of Ahmed Askalany, an Egyptian artist

Askalany takes the figures a few steps forward by presenting figures and animals set in scenes of a unique, nave genre. These figures speak directly to the viewer. "They represent the people in my town, Naga' Hammadi, near Qena," said Askalany. "My village life still holds all of its goodness. The villagers wake up early before dawn and sleep soon after dark. Everyone sits like this, arms crossed, as a sign of respect. They have a quality of innocence which I wanted to express in my work," added Askalany. Children in an exuberant donkey-ride, young goats with necks outstretched or hefty felines strutting down alleyways, each voice a muffled speech coming from deep inside its wicker representation.

The work of Ahmed Askalany, an Egyptian artist

Askalany has had several personal shows, beginning with his first show which was in 1998 in Qena. This was followed by another in Rome, another at the Modern Art Museum in Holland in 2000, at Al Mahad El Saqafy in 1999 and twice at the El Mashrabiya gallery. He has also participated in several group shows beginning with the Binaly El khazaf show that featured Shawahed El Qobor. Shawahed El Qobor are very unique stone pieces only found in a place called Hew Cariya that are used for images that differentiate the people buried under them as men or women, strong or weak, good or bad. He also has had several shows at the Annual Youth Salon, the Opera House galley, and in the Townhouse gallery.

Askalany was also honored with several awards. He was awarded first prize at the 10th Annual Youth Salon and the 12th Annual Youth Salon, and the Binaly Award in 1998.

Egypt is a land of artists, as it has been since ancient times. All about Cairo, one may find numerous galleries showing the work of hundreds of very skilled artists. Yet, Ahmed Askalany has set himself apart by creating an inspired art form unique to Egypt and uniquely Egyptian.

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Last Updated: June 13th, 2011