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India through Egyptian Eyes

Mohamed Abla
Mohamed Abla

This article was first published at The Media Project.

Early Saturday morning, with a heavy heart Mohamed Abla traced his whimsical silhouettes with only a few looking on. Everywhere along his stretch of the 150 foot wall surrounding the famed Khan Market in New Delhi, folk art inspired images of children, animals, and birds burst into life. Previously drab and barren, the wall previously served as a garbage dump and public urinal. Over the past three years the Delhi Street Art group has been transforming similar locations of urban blight into monuments of community pride. But on this occasion their 62-year-old Egyptian guest felt compelled to add a sullen reminder.

He drew a stick figure of the Eiffel Tower, and enclosed it in a circle.

Paying homage to Paris through Jean Jullien’s image, Abla could have thought of Egypt. Five thousand kilometers from home, his native land has also witnessed terrorist atrocities hammering away at the effort to regain stability. For the past five years revolution has jolted the street and national psyche alike. But instead of lamenting Cairo, Abla ached for India.

“I felt that Indians were worried about terrorism,” he said, “having experienced it themselves in the past. Paris was a stark reminder.”

It can sometimes take the soft heart of an artist to commiserate with a people not one’s own. But Abla’s attachment to India runs deeper than just creative sentimentality. For the past seven years he has visited frequently, dazzled by the assortment of colour and smell, bewildered by the proximity of tradition and technology. His eyes and his canvas soaked in both big city and ancient village. He noted the simplicity of people and the grandeur of temples.

And his memories poured through his paintbrush.

“The eyes through which an artist sees another culture are always fascinating,” said Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s Ambassador in Egypt, opening the resulting exhibition at the Maulana Azad Center for Indian Culture, in Cairo. “Abla has shown us things we haven’t seen.”

Please click here to read the full article at The Media Project, including more paintings and the artist’s history.

Abla Artwork
Arabic: Delhi Streets