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The beehive metaphor: Egyptian artist Ahmad Kassem in Dubai

comments on the existential, social, political and spiritual facets of life

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Gulf News

Egyptian artist Ahmad Kassem has used the beehive as a metaphor for everyday life in his first solo exhibition in Dubai, “The Hive”, curated by Ehab Al Labban. Kassem’s imaginative and detailed paintings present a parallel universe that reflects our own world, commenting on the existential, social, political and spiritual facets of life.

The series is based on an imaginary city, located somewhere in space and inhabited by bees, which work hard to make tanks full of honey. In a strong parallel to life in Cairo, the bees can be seen riding on the metro, watching a film in a theatre, at a trial in a military court, in prison, and watching a popular Egyptian satirical show in their honey-comb shaped homes. The presence of some friendly bears in the city alludes to the friendly ties with foreign powers.

But soon this idyllic world is attacked by various enemies seeking honey. These include bee-keepers, astronauts, honey badgers, bee-eater birds and even the bears, who had earlier pretended to be friends. In some of the paintings, the attackers are marked by flags of various Western powers and the UN in an overt political statement about the present situation in Egypt and the human greed for power and natural resources.

Beneath the political overtones, there are other, deeper messages in these layered works. “We do not live alone in this world. There are so many other living beings here that we never think about. All we care about is using the resources they generate, with no thought about the consequences of our actions on their lives or to our planet. Through my paintings I want to convey how important it is to think about how other creatures created by God live, and to learn from them. We must constantly reflect on the meaning and mission of our life, the way we live our life, and how that affects others,” Kassem says.

Moving from a macrocosmic view to a microcosmic one, the artist has used the motifs of bees, honey and flowers to create abstract works expressing the daily rhythm of life, the fragility of life, the search for meaning and direction in life, and hope for a better future. And finally, the artist looks inwards with a series of meditative abstract works inspired by Sufi philosophy that reflect the search for inner balance and harmony with the Universe and its creator. “My work is not about Egypt and Egyptians. It is about every person finding meaning and a mission in their lives, being aware of their surroundings and living in harmony with them,” Kassem says.

“The Hive” will run at Gallery Ward until March 7. “Pappa” will run at Gulf Photo Plus until February 22.

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.



Fact Box

“Pappa”, an exhibition by Dubai-based Swedish photojournalist Katarina Premfors, is a moving tribute to her father, Kenth. The show features a series of photographs documenting the last 17 months of his life as he recovered from a stroke and later succumbed to cancer. The emotionally charged pictures portray his courage, determination and indomitable spirit, and the love and support he got from his family during this difficult time. The images compel viewers to think about their own mortality and to learn to value every moment and every relationship in their lives.

Kenth was living in Dubai, when he suffered from a stroke in 2011. Premfors, who always carries her camera with her, began photographing him more than a month after he was admitted to hospital. “He was partially paralysed and unable to communicate. In fact, his brain capability, development and mobility at that stage was quite similar to that of my 4-month-old daughter. The process of recovery was long and slow. But my pictures helped him to monitor his progress in physiotherapy and encouraged him to continue with it,” she says.

Her pictures over the next 16 months capture his valiant and successful fight to get well enough to return to Sweden, and his determination to continue physiotherapy even after he was diagnosed with cancer. The captions describe the daily challenges he and the family faced, the small triumphs they savoured, and the simple joys that became so much more meaningful, such as the tender moments shared with his son, daughter, wife and infant granddaughter.

The pictures of Kenth with his granddaughter are particularly touching. He is seen playing with her, feeding her, pushing her pram with his wheelchair along the harbour and finally, standing beside her in a photograph titled “A Beautiful Day”. “I had been waiting for the moment when I could photograph my daughter and my father standing side by side. When I finally got that picture, the cancer was in remission and I felt a sense of closure after a very traumatic period,” Premfors says.

But the cancer returned and spread quickly. The last picture Premfors took before he passed away shows the view her father could see from his hospital bed. “It has been a difficult time for us and we have been grieving in private. Sharing these pictures was a difficult decision for the family, but the process has been cathartic,” she says. “My father was lucky to have all of us around him, but there are many people, especially in the West who are dying alone. I hope my pictures will convey how important it is for families to take care of each other,” she adds.