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The art of self-discovery

For artist Amr Fekry, it’s all about self exploration.  An accomplished filmmaker, singer, photographer, actor, painter, pianist, and even dancer, Amr Fekry appears to embody the full scope of the term “artist.”

But Fekry is also a philosopher of some measure, one with deep spiritual inclinations and evident Sufi leanings. In some ways, he personifies the meshing of bohemianism and mysticism, using art in whatever way he can to manifest what lies deepest within him.

In his school days, Fekry was no front row student. “Yes, I can’t say I was interested in school at all,” Fekry said. “In fact, I would skip class and scurry to the opera or an art gallery.” During university, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in oil painting, he also experimented with filmmaking.

Between 1996 and 1998 he made three short films, with Far in the Silence of Life, earning critical acclaim and winning best film in a competition held at the French Cultural Center. It was a dramatic documentary depicting the transition of life from nature to the city. The film was also featured at the La Rochelle Film Festival in France, and the Prohelvetia in Zurich.

“I received a lot of praise for that film,” Fekry recalls, but the praise, rather than pushing him further into filmmaking, only developed his love for photography.

Fekry began thinking about the poignant effects short films can have on people and wanted to amplify them. “So I started focusing on capturing things in minimal time, just as they really are.” This turned his attention to photography.

In 2002, Fekry stepped into the limelight with the debut of his photographic exhibition Ya Hadret Mawlay. This selection of photos featured the Turkish Sufi whirling dervishes during their dance while illustrating their Sufi poetry in Arabic calligraphy. The photos were printed on large banners using grey and green hues. “To me,” Fekry says, “green is a symbol of the Sufis, but also a symbol for life. And while I am now more into abstract photography, I generally prefer taking photos limited to the grey scale, as color will often distract the eye from what is really there, while shades of grey tend to animate the texture of what you are trying to capture.”

Ya Hadret Mawlay won him an opportunity to display his work in Italy, once in Rome at the Egyptian Academy of Arts, and once in Calabria. During that time, Fekry also received a grant to go to Switzerland as a guest artist.

His disposition towards the esoteric meshed with his work to manifest itself as an expression of constant self-exploration, a passion which he followed with whatever tools at hand (even by wearing multiple colognes, which he stacked, in odd contrast, next to his old Sufi books).

This journey of self-discovery has led Fekry down many paths. “For instance, I used to be a vegetarian for many years. But at one point I wanted to explore my carnivorous, feral nature – I started eating meat, and a lot.” Fekry enjoyed observing the psychological effects meat-eating had on him, saying it make him feel more energetic, but also more aggressive.

Perhaps in accord with this, Fekry’s later work, Rituals of the Last, depicted the predatory temperaments within humans. Inspired by his anger at the degree of hostility in world events, it is a composition of close up black and white pictures of sheep being slaughtered. Eerily and arresting, the dark red blood slowly comes into a view after a few moments of examining each photo.

Some of Fekry’s more recent work is Basirulmala’ekah, a collection of kaleidoscope-like photographs using geometric images of tree branches and leaves. Displayed during Ramadan in 2008 at the Ghuri Dome, it was the result of his meditations on the Hermetica, an ancient text believed by some to hold secret wisdom from the ancient Egyptians. Each of the symmetrical pieces was accompanied by a label with verses from the Hermetica. The combination of the two, along with the ancient Mamluk dome in which the art was exhibited, almost inflicts a meditative state on the viewer.

“Conceptually,” Fekry explained, “this project was about exploring the Hermetica. Visually, however, it was about the power of nature, its innate compulsion to grow, to survive."

Since then, he has moved on to his latest project named after Nun, the “Neter” god of ancient Egypt that personified the chaotic primeval waters from which order and form emerged. This latest work is displayed at Darb 1718. Among the few photographs is a video installation of a moving body of water projected over a large box of salt crystals. The glistening unformed expanse of the sea joins Fekry’s accompanying soundtrack to induce a mesmerized state in the audience that reflects the artist’s often meditative art works.

“Nun was from the start a challenge to manifest, or rather to express to others, something that is fundamentally un-expressible, that is chaotic and beyond form,” said Fekry. “That was something I struggled with in Nun, which left me feeling I need to use new tools in my future projects.” A more complete display of this project, Nun and the Formation, will be exhibited in the near future.

Currently, Fekry says he is in an evaluative phase in his art career. Having worked with Sufi, Pharaonic and mystic themes, as well as sacred geometry, he says he feels “it’s time to look back at what I’ve done so far and dig deeper, and ultimately find a new or fresh form through which to manifest my art.”

He was recently featured on an album called Calligraphy of the Invisible, where he lent his voice to three tracks and chanted Sufi poetry. The album was released in Switzerland last May, and combines jazz and new age mystic rhythms.

Regarding his future as an artist, Fekry said, “I think an open heart makes one free. I don’t have expectations in regard to the future.” His goal is ultimately to understand and capture the essence and origin of the Egyptian personality. In accordance with this mission, one of Fekry’s most captivating photographic collections was Egyptian Portraits, a compilation of black and white photographs of striking and expressive faces from the nation’s populace.

Exactly where Fekry’s career will go next is unclear, but at the very least, he is surely one individual who is unique in his genuine ability to mold his craft whichever way his vision drives him.

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