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We’d been corresponding with mosaicist Mohamed Banawy for several months when MAN contributor Luca Maggio offered us an interview he had recently done with this exciting Egyptian artist. We jumped at the opportunity to reprint the article, for Maggio had managed to ask almost every question we had for an artist whose work intrigues and absorbs us. Thank you, Luca. Enjoy – Nancie
Mosaico oggi: interview with Mohamed Banawy
by Luca Maggio
Mohamed Banawy (Egypt, 1977), what was your course of study? Painting? Sculpture? How did you come to discover mosaic?
I was born in Al-Sharkia-Egypt in 1977. My father was an Art teacher in our country and he was a caricature artist as well. When I was a child, I used to watch him painting people and landscapes and this made me curious to use those pens and colors. In truth, my father was my first teacher.
I joined the Faculty of the Fine Arts-Helwan University in 1995 where I studied painting and sculpture for the first two years. While in the Painting Section, I learned how to use oil, water and pastel by painting the people and landscapes of Old Egypt.
During my last two years at the University, I joined the Section for Mural Painting where I studied Mural designs, Mosaic and Stained Glass. It was during this time that I became really fond of mosaic. For my Graduation Project I designed a huge work in mosaic that expressed the Great Egyptian Civilization. I received the Bachelor in Mural Art in 2009 with Excellence and was the top of my class. In 2001, I was appointed a Lecturer to the Faculty.
In 2005, I received the Creativity State Prize (Rome Prize for Creativity) in mural painting. It is a prize that is given by the Egyptian Government for innovation in the Artistic fields and with it comes a 15 month residency in Rome at the Egyptian Academy for the Arts there. During this period, I learned a lot about Italian arts and culture by visiting the famous museums of Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Ravenna, etc.
This was my real starting point to work in mosaic. I started to feel as if I were playing with mosaic tesserae – constantly thinking about how to arrange, gather and separate them, thinking in their soft and scratchy textures, thinking about how to use their light effects and many other artistic values.
Clay, glaze fragments and especially stones cut in the shape of squares are hallmarks of your mosaics. I find your works very interesting and original, in particular the “Abstract” and “City” series because they don’t want to be painting or sculpture but simply mosaic. They appear to be visions of territory taken from a distance, almost out of a plane. Can you explain your way of interpreting the mosaic?
Being one of the basic elements of Creation, The Mud (clay) is the secret of life and its eternity . . . from Mud, not only Mankind is created, but everything else as well . . . When I am forming units of Mosaic Mud, I feel warmth and as if I am a part and parcel of this great Universe; these units are the Great Egyptian Heritage.
Actually, I can see the whole world and feel it, once my eyes are falling on a huge mosaic panel, that was formed unconsciously – with no intention at all – in which all the creatures played a role. Two of these creatures are the Goodness that builds the cities and the Evil that destroys them. As when we build a house or plant a tree or when we have a demonstration – what we are doing is putting a piece or some stones to create a huge panel. Same as when we destroy a house – we participate in a particular change in its texture by applying some different tentacles and spaces that should happen as if they are destined to be there. That’s why I see the world as a mosaic panel where its features are continually changing as they have since the Universe was created and will continue to change until Resurrection.
I am very fond of high places and I enjoy watching cities from above or from an airplane. During my travels, these shots and scenes that I have observed have become stuck into my head. This is the main inspiration behind the epic scenes in my work. The small, crowded units (tesserae) that are spread beside or inside the big ones in my mosaics express scenes in which some of our crowded, poor districts are found next to the rich, classier ones. Every unit is in fact a person, a car, a house, a factory, etc.
There is a special technique that I am using in the Abstract mosaics which is emptying the stones and the ceramic that appear very smooth and soft and substituting them with some scratchy stones; keeping in mind; inserting them with different drifts, colors and textures. This technique was inspired by an architectural restoration that I saw once in Pisa, Italy where they were restoring an entire house from the outside, with regard to keep some small spaces that would show the stones used in the process. These stones were really amazing especially when the sun light was falling on them.
During the International Festival of Contemporary Mosaic of Ravenna in 2009 and 2011, your work (a sculpture mosaic) was exhibited and there were also other Egyptian artists, for example Nermine Al-Masry, Safaa Abd El Salam and Mona Magdi Kenawy. Do you know them? Have you seen the ancient monuments of Ravenna? Do you know any of the contemporary mosaic artist of this town?
Surely, I know those artists especially Nermeen Al-Masry (she is one of the teaching staff at my Faculty). In addition to the artist Mona Magdi Kenawy, whom I met during the Alexandria International Symposium for Sculpture in Natural Materials – Sculptural Mosaic. Also, the artists Elaine Goodwin, Manfrid Hoon and Mohamed Salem.
I visited Ravenna in 2006, but unfortunately, the trip was very short. I did visit the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, San Vitale and the Museo d’Arte della Città di Ravenna. I did not meet the contemporary mosaic artists in Ravenna in person, but I am definitely tracking the contemporary mosaic movement through their work.
Your country is in a time of great change. Do you think that all this can affect your work? What are your plans for the future?
My work Douar Misr (Tahrir Square) is about the Egyptian Revolution of the 25th of January 2011. It shows the Egyptian attitude in the square that day, beginning with the crowds gathering in the center and then spinning out to defend their rights.
I am trying to open new and updated areas for the non-traditional forms of mosaic surfaces based on a study of the artistic features and technical methods of mosaic.
My artistic experiment is based on forming the traditional materials, using different rules and systems, in addition to create new forms of mosaic units. I would like to do a special exhibition in Ravenna soon.
My wife, Marwa is also a Mosaic Artist and has participated in many exhibitions. We are married since 2005 and we have a beloved beautiful daughter Silwana. They both are the best thing happened and still happening in my life; God bless them. Marwa helped me a lot in my work and she is encouraging me to be improved. Being a mosaic artist has the artistic point of view that can criticize my work constructively. I took her comments seriously and I trust her opinion so much.
- Update: Mohamed Banawy at the 2013 Venice Biennalle
- Mohamed Banawy’s website: http://www.banawy.com
- Luca Maggio is a Ravenna Italy-based art curator, critic, teacher, guide and blogger who covers the very center of the emerging mosaic scene in that city. http://lucamaggio.wordpress.com/
- Original post: http://lucamaggio.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/mosaico-oggi-interview-with-mohamed-banawy/
- Previous Luca Maggio MAN post: “Between Pop and Zen: Felice Nittolo and the Case of the Fiat 500” here