It’s time to travel to Egypt (again) By Anthony Sattin January 15, 2019


MAHMOUD SALEM محمود سالم

Mahmoud Salem's artworks are sculpted with a gentle hand, whether he is carving into stone the strong, sweeping curves of flesh and fabric or whittling wood with delicate patterns and pharaonic imagery. His work is exploratory but confident, and Luxor Art Gallery is pleased to showcase this promising local artist. —D.N.

8 - 28 SEPTEMBER 2019



I found myself playing with mud as child, influenced by the monuments and sculptures on the West bank of Luxor, Egypt. It is quiet here, uncrowded and surrounded by nature the desert to the west, lush fields and the Nile to the East. These settings, far from the hustle and bustle of Cairo and urban Egypt, have helped influence my work. I express the places, feeling and environments of rural Egypt.

I also create sculptures that express the current political and life problems encountered by ordinary Egyptians regardless of where they live. I do this by looking within myself and listening to those around me, as well as by comparing life of Pharonic Egypt with modern Egypt.

I am heavily influenced by my forefathers, generation upon generation of amazing artists and sculptors who created with their hands, a way of life and which stands till this day. As with them , I wish for my sculpture to exist for as long as possible without breaking or being destroyed, and it is for this reason that I use hardwood and stone, shaping them with small electronic and handheld tools. —Mahmoud Salem

Biography of Mahmoud Salem

Born at Al Boairat village, Western Luxor, in 1989. Mahmoud has enjoyed the arts since he was a child. His earlier works embodied famous pharaonic shapes and motifs (coffers, cats, mummies), and were done mainly using clay. Inspired by the statues which he saw at temples, tombs and archaeological zones, he used to bring red clay from hotbeds of the local mountain to create his works. Then, his practice broadened from pharaonic shapes to influences from the countryside surrounding him, such as the farmer, cattle, the plow, carts and the thresher.

Alongside his early sculpture work, Mahmoud developed an interest in painting. Visits to the studio of the French artist and illustrator Golo, who was living in the same village, proved to be a huge source of inspiration. Golo encouraged Mahmoud to nurture his talent and assured him that he would one day reach critical acclaim. During this period the young Mahmoud accomplished several painting projects despite facing uncertainty and a lack of knowledge about the various artistic schools and painting types. Not knowing which artistic school his work belonged to embodied his work with unique characteristics from various artistic movements, notably surrealism and expressionism. Still aged only 15, these early works were informed by pharaonic antiquities and the rural life around him, as the internet had not yet reached the area in which he lived.

The French Artist Golo used to lend Mahmoud books during the school vacation to view and compare between famous artists’ works. At the time Mahmoud didn’t know the difference between renaissance and abstract art or any other movements in art history. He was always amazed by how Picasso, Van Gough and DaVinci gained their reputation and had such an impact through their works. At first he thought they were lucky to be so successful, however over time he realized that each painting or drawing was full of thought and imbued with emotion. Mahmoud's works in this period included watercolor and acrylic on paper, and painting on glass using wood paints or clothe. Following this period of discovery, in mid-2005 Mahmoud had to suspend his artwork for a period of about one year and a half.

After this period, Mahmoud returned to the artistic field through sculpture. He wanted to have the experience of sculpture on wood, stone and other materials. His first sculpture work was on Palm wood and doum palm. Among these early works were pieces such as the Pharaonic Baboon (a special request by the French artist Golo and his wife Edith), and the statue for Al Basha, mermaid and the farmer. Following the sculpting, Mahmoud would hand paint these works in color. In 2007, Mahmoud participated in a competition during his study at the art institute at Qena in 2007, submitting a small Ramadan Cannon made of doum palm. There were also some uncompleted works during this period using Aswani clay and tamarisk wood.

During his military service, one soldier told the unit commander that Mahmoud Salem had painting and sculpture skills. The unit commander asked Mahmoud Salem to make an artwork to be placed at the frontage of the unit. He made a shape of pyramid made of Plaster, Its height was 1 meter and he engraved the unit name on it in ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

Following his military service and return to civilian life he decided to continue his sculpture works on tamarisk due to its longevity and strength. He began to make a sculpture of the Egyptian country family using his simple tools. His tools at this time were one chisel, broken wood rasp, screwdriver and sandpaper. Despite these obstacles, he completed and polished it without painting and figuring the wood, and the experience motivated him to continue. He made another sculpture of a nomad man and another of an old wise man. After a brief suspension of artistic work, in 2013 Mahmoud started once again. His work in this period reflected the sorrow and dashed hopes after the revolution and was an outlet for his frustrations at the challenging economic situation he faced as a young Egyptian man.

In 2014 Mahmoud created an account on Facebook to promote his artistic works. The account name was Forgotten Artist. His aim was to communicate with Egyptian and international artists, galleries and interested persons. Since then Mahmoud has joined several groups and has communicated with many artists. He met the Egyptian artist Mohammed El Nadi, from Ismailia and founder of 6*6 artistic group. When Mahmoud asked if there is an opportunity to participate in a gallery named “Ferry No.6”, Mohammed El Nadi welcomed him and his works. When the gallery opened Mahmoud Salem won the first prize for sculpture. Since then, Mahmoud produces regular work and began to participate in galleries and artistic festivals. In 2016 he was selected to represent Egypt in the festival of World Wood Day in Nepal but he couldn’t travel due to a bureaucratic error related to travel documents. Undeterred, Mahmoud continues to exhibit his work at a variety of competitions, and produces commission pieces for clients in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and elsewhere.

Mahmoud Salem hasn’t forgotten the benefactors who supported him during his time of need. Who brought him light on the darkest nights, and provided hope in the face of desperation. On the top of this list, the honorable and pure-spirited Mrs. Houria Obeida. They became acquainted through the sad thoughts and philosophical writings he published on his Facebook account. She wrote an article about him entitled “The worm is eating us alive”, and her followers sympathized with him. Some of them even began to communicate with him and offer him help and advice. Mrs. Houria established for him a bridge of support which still exists, and provided him with opportunities which he will never forget.

Today, Mahmoud Salem’s works are bought in and out Egypt. He has also some orders from clients through social media which he made and sent. He is very pleased and doing his best to hone his skills and create his own techniques. He is always working to improve his performance and to offer artistic models for the local and international scene. Recently, he realized that his previous experience of dwelling on negative realities wouldn't lead to anything except more sorrow and pain. Instead he chose to communicate these aspects of life through wood and stones and to present them to the artistic scene.

Mahmoud’s personal dream is the organization of an annual symposium for sculpture in Egypt, in Luxor. He has provided some needs of the projects and he offered the idea to several entities such like Faculty of fine arts at Luxor who welcomed the project and extended the support and promised to provide the logistic support. Unfortunately the funding partner has not been finalized, however negotiations are ongoing. He is also trying to encourage young local amateurs to develop their skills and learn more about sculpture as an art form.