Cairo-based artist and sculptor Hana Afifi welcomed guests into her home and workspace for her most recent, solo exhibition, Keys to Growing Up. An emotional narrative, spanning the past two years, and reflecting the artist’s thought process, curiosities and understanding of the world around her. The choice of venue; a calculated decision to heighten the multi-sensorial experience of viewing art, allowed visitors to physically engage with the artist within her private space.
The pieces were thus given an additional layer to consider and appreciate, the ‘where’, an element not often presented to the audience. Through the windows of her sixth story apartment overlooking the Nile, the guests were treated to the exact same view as the artist, one that played an impactful role in her spiritual and psychological evolvement, and eventual emancipation. Self-describing her psyche, as “keeping my soul in a bottle for the past few years”, the artist’s process of unlocking that bottle is physically manifested in her art; through her subjects, painting techniques and finished work.
Since the beginning of time, artists have pondered ways to visually relay emotion through their art; through subjects, colours, brush strokes, precision and chaos on the canvas. For the self-taught Hana Afifi, the language is that of familiarity; the commonality of stuffed toys and cartoon characters. Known to us all, yet perceived in highly personal and therefore unique ways by each and every one of us, Hana Afifi’s exhibition is at once a deeply intimate yet collective celebration of our childhood memories.
“My art allows me to surrender to me emotions and my mind.”
On show were over 42 oil on canvas paintings in addition to 12 sculptures. As we stroll through the open spaces, corridors, nooks and crannies of her home, teddy bears arrest us with feelings long forgotten. As we turn a corner, a larger than life Mickey Mouse greets us with memories and ensuing emotions. For Hana Afifi, and perhaps many of us, the courage to explore our inner beings is strengthened by the presence of our childhood securities. The comforts that provide a safe space to start to unearth the reasons for the feelings that we have, and the ways we view life.
“Through my art I have found a universal language, these characters from our collective childhoods represent feelings and emotions that we all understand and appreciate. In ‘Keys to Growing Up’ I have created a dialogue with my audience that I believe we can all relate to, and derive from, our very own personal stories.” ~Hana Afifi
In her artist statement, Afifi shared that during her months-long, self-imposed isolation she wondered if her army of protective teddy bears would have a place in her journey once this phase of searching was complete. The answer of course was a resounding ‘yes’. As Afifi walks us through the exhibition, she draws out attention to the ways in which her art itself has evolved as a response to her process of self-discovery. Where she once layered thick strokes of paint, she now prefers a gentle, exacting and precise technique. In place of the faces she once drew, devoid of emotion and absent of eye-contact, she is now able to paint emotion in her characters, and when in doubt these faces are replaced by her loyal subjects, the bears. Hana describes her past inability to create backdrops to her subjects, now her work is filled with colorful fields of sunflowers, tranquil expanses of nature in vibrant hues.
The advent of COVID has left us all changed, we have all in our own ways questioned and reassessed our relationships with life. Having emerged personally triumphant from her process, Hana Afifi has earnestly put her vulnerability, her trials and tribulations on show for all to see, to consider and to learn from. The Keys to Growing Up, may just be the keys we needed to unlock a few of our own unanswered questions, perhaps…
Images courtesy of Mariana Wehbe