Mahmoud Mukhtar: An Egyptian Farmer's Son Becomes a Sculpting Legend

Published May 10th, 2012 - 09:43 GMT
Celebrating the ingenious work of Egyptian Mukhtar on his 121st birthday
Celebrating the ingenious work of Egyptian Mukhtar on his 121st birthday

On the 121st  Birthday of the Egyptian sculptor Mahmoud Mukhtar (1891–1934), Al-Bawaba brings you a feature from last year  to familiarize ourselves with the life works of a legendary Arab artist. (-Editor)

Egyptian sculptor Mahmoud Mukhtar (1891–1934) is widely viewed as the godfather of modern Egyptian sculpture.

Apart from his artistic success and iconic status as a pioneer in modern Egyptian sculpture, Mukhtar’s trajectory reflects Egypt’s turbulent and dynamic atmosphere from the outset of the 20th century to the interwar period.

Mukhtar exerted a profound influence on successive generations of Egyptian artists. As artist Fadia Badrawi, writes, “[His] short life, just 43 years, belies the tremendous impact he has had on Egypt’s nationalist artistic style and the contemporary sculpture of today.”

He was a core member first generation of modern Egyptian artists who were, according to curator Salwa Mikdadi, “driven by a renewed appreciation of their national patrimony and the return to ancient Pharaonic art detached from any African, Arab, or religious cultural references.” As Mikdadi writes, Mukhtar’s neo-Pharaonic style was based on a revival of Egyptian classical art, using “symbolic references derived from ancient Egypt or rural life.”

The son of fellaheen (farmers) Mukhtar’s opportunity to attend Cairo's newly-founded School of Fine Arts arose from circumstance and merit: The school, founded in 1908 by Prince Youssef Kamal, provided a fully-funded education for chosen students.

In 1911, Mukhtar won a scholarship to study art in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts. During his stay there, he gained international notoriety for himself and for Egypt, and forged political connections that inspired his involvement in Egypt’s independence movement.

In 1913, his figure Aida became the first work by a modern Egyptian artist to be included in an international exhibition in Paris, making Mukhtar the first Egyptian artist in modern times to exhibit work outside his native country and to receive international recognition.

In Paris, he also met Saad Zaghloul — the iconic leader of Al-Wafd Party who would later lead the Egyptian Revolution of 1919 — and flirted with the prospect of involvement in the party’s independence movement.

Upon his return, Mukhtar championed Egypt’s political independence movement as a part of Al-Wafd, joining writers, poets, artists, and other secular liberals dedicated to constructing a modern Egyptian national identity apart from foreign manipulation.

Mukhtar’s artistic legacy is inseparable from his involvement in the independence movement and his ability to capture and create modern Egyptian identity at a pivotal moment in its formation. The intrinsic connection between Mukhtar’s politics and his art is visible in the primary subjects of his sculptures: political figures associated with the revolution in 1919 and peasant men and women going about their daily tasks.

As curator Nihal Wahby summarizes, “Mahmoud Mukhtar is one of the most important Egyptian artists, if not the most important. Though he was highly influenced by international exposure, his value added was his success in reflecting the Egyptian identity very naturally.”

By: Sarah Atwood



© 2022 Daily News Egypt.

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