Monday, August 13, 2012

Mr. Spock and Wael A. Sabour's Prints on Migration

The appeal of Egyptian artist Wael A. Sabour’s multi-media prints are quite mesmerizing. His densely-layered colors, and his repeated organic forms grab our attention for their pleasing color palette, but it is also the combination of his criss-crossing of forms that has me feeling like I am in the middle of a Star Trek 3D chess game with Mr. Spock.  He layers the forms, showing us some ‘other place’, where multi- levels of travel occur, like some space-age time where water travel is but one available choice. 

Some of his forms are rowboats or vessels, and some look like amoebas floating in translucent layers of fluid. The rowboats appear to float in the air and pass above, below and beside us. Sabour would seem to be sending out a message about transitions, travel and going places, but the curious thing is his boats are empty. They are ready for us to step into them, but like one would find in a carnival gondola ride, they aren’t able to be maneuvered, and they appear to run along pre-programmed courses. So the question is… do we jump in and see where the boat takes us, or do we wait for the next one and hope it’s going in the direction we’d prefer? 
Sabour’s rowboats are taken from actual reference looking at small fishing boats sitting in the harbor at Alexandria. They are often brightly painted and seem pleasant objects in which to take a trip. Alexandria is a city in the northern part of Egypt,  historically known as one of the most traversed in the world. Its heritage has always been one of major trafficking of goods and people crossing the Mediterranean to all destinations.  Wael says of the city:

                Alexandria is a multinational city where Greek, Italians, French and Egyptians have lived together in a perfect harmony with each other and with their city for several decades.”

 Alexandria’s legacy as an intellectual and culturally diverse city feeds metaphorically into Sabour’s work. The vessels are available to be filled with people, goods, intellect or experiences. They cross the water in all directions seeking a final resting spot, but something in Sabour’s imagery also sends the message that there is no final destination for any of these carriers. They will be continually in motion, because the environment and human migration is ever-evolving. One can take comfort in that the boats seem to glide seamlessly over the water or in the air, and they do not appear to be in jeopardy of being capsized or flowing into dangerous waters. It’s as if Sabour’s depictions of them are more about personal memories than actual journeys. 
Another subject for discussion about Sabour’s  images is that we do not know who’s actually supposed to be travelling in these vessels. Are they available for everyone? Are they stopping for us to jump in, or are they really ghosts from journeys past? Is that why the boats are empty? Otherwise we should find at least one person in them to help guide us on our own trip. The manner in which he sets up his compositions suggests that these are boats on pre-determined courses, and unless we just jump in, we’ll never go anywhere ourselves. Of one thing we can be sure, we will never see a destination sign or hear a ship’s captain make a last boarding call. So then the boats’ journeys are more mysterious. Are they about the present, past or some other place in the future? We may never know, but I do think what we would potentially discover on the journey would be worthwhile…..

Sabour’s work has been shown extensively internationally. Much like his rowboats going in all directions, his work is found in several museums, including Egypt, Japan, Taiwan and the United States. He is also a Fulbright grant recipient, and he teaches Graphic Design at El Minia University in Egypt. To see more of his work go to 

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