Mohrah Sakr has a lot to say. He expresses it in poems, articles and other literary outlets, but where he speaks the most is in his art. From dreamy images that spiral around and engulf a canvas, to striking collages that jar the brain into thought, Sakr expresses himself most mellifluously when he exchanges paints for words.

The Egyptian native was born into a family of artists, but did not find the space too crowded. His art speaks to the influence of his family, his surroundings and musings of his heart and soul. We got a chance to speak with Sakr about artistic lineage, optimism in a dark space and the future of his art and his homeland.

TCM: How has coming from an artistic family structured your own artwork? Has it been a struggle to find a voice that is different than the voices that surrounded you for much of your life?

MS: Ever since I can remember there have been all sorts of artistic projects going on around me, an exhibition my father is working on or an opining of another exhibition my mother put together. And even though my father has a separate studio for doing his work, he never liked going there; probably because he missed my mother, sisters and I being around him asking us every now and then what we thought of this painting or that. Talking to you now I can remember sitting next to him while doing some of his comic strips and just longing to do the same. And of course he always gave me paper and some colors to try my hands.

My mother is also very creative, and she always managed to find us something creative to work on; making party ornaments from colored chocolate wrappings, or rocking cribs for our dolls from shoeboxes for example. And because my father is a professor of Painting as well, I always hanged around the Faculty of Fine Arts as a child, where my father, my mother, one of my sisters and myself have all graduated from. My artistic persona has thus been raised along with me from a very early age. Growing up, I just couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

Has it been a struggle finding my voice? I would have to say yes and no. for one thing both my father and my mother have done it all in my opinion. My father for example used almost all kinds of painting media, and used them very well I might add, and whatever my father didn't do, my mother did. So it seemed like there was nothing much left for me to do.

I remember when I got into the Faculty of fine arts, where my father works as a professor of painting; it was like cat and mouse at home. I would always sneak away to paint without him knowing, because I didn't want him influencing my work, or worst, using a brush in my painting to show me how it's done. But to be fare both my father and mother respected my need to find my own way, and just kept their distance. So, unless I was the one asking for their opinion they'd just let me be.

So if we look at it this way, it sure seemed hard finding something to set me apart. But on the other hand it was fun growing up in such an atmosphere, and whether consciously or not, all of that contributed to my art, my views and the artist that I am.

I caught my break though at 2001 when I enrolled in a post graduate diploma in IT, specializing in Multimedia software development and design. I always liked learning new things, and at that time, I really wanted to learn more about computers and computer science. And From then on I found my voice, I found my calling if you well. For no one in my family, uses the digital medium. But I didn't just want to use the computer to create my paintings, I wanted to study how it all came to be, how it started and where it is right now, and that is why digital painting has been the subject of both my Master's and Ph.D. degrees.

TCM: What was the first piece you created that made art feel more like a calling than merely the family business?

MS: No one piece comes to mind really, it has been growing inside me since I can remember to single out just one piece. I can single out experiences though. For example the first day I got into the Faculty of Fine Arts was an experience I can't forget. Going in, I knew, consciously knew, that this day was special and that it would be the beginning of my endeavor towards becoming a serious artist.

Defending my Master's theses and my Ph.D. dissertation were unforgettable experiences for me as well. And it might sound strange because it is more of an academic nature than an artistic one. But for me, my studies were like my art, they were a calling; I took them seriously because I took my art seriously, and I wanted to show people here that there are so much more than what we are used to. And that using computers or digital media in creating art didn't necessarily mean that the computer was doing all the work by itself. Or that the artwork was not as good or valuable as other kinds of paintings done in traditional media. To me it was like a cause I was fighting for, still am to some degree, and that is why standing there in front of the panel, whether in my MA or Ph.D., were such important moments in my life. For by standing there, I was not just defending an academic dissertation, I was defending my art; my kind of art.

TCM: Your work has featured many dark intonations and themes, prior to the current events. Will your subsequent art be more reflective of the hope permeating the country or does inspiration come from a place outside this realm?

MS: I conceder myself to be an optimistic person in general, I always try to look at the full half of the cup. Having said that, I admit some of my work had a dark melancholic feel to it. I suppose the main reason behind that would be the fact that I always turn to painting, and sometimes writing, for comfort. Therefore, my paintings sometimes tend to show my "not so bright" personality. But if you look closely you'd find that in most of my darkest paintings there is always hope somewhere, whether through the use of color, the contrast of bright vs. dark or the structure of the painting. I can't say though that this dark feel was due to the political atmosphere in my country, and therefore my paintings after the recent Egyptian revolution would change in subsequence.

Of course, to all Egyptians, the days to come bring so much hope; hope of a democratic nation where everyone matters, and everyone has a voice. Prior to this glorious revolution I never even considered voting. But I'm proud to say now that in the recent vote on the constitution amendments, I've went to vote for the first time in my life and I was happy to know that my voice counts. And even if my inspiration has before come from other places, inside or outside, I'm sure that the Egyptian revolution would certainly be a source of inspiration for me in my upcoming works.

TCM: How have the recent events in Egypt affected your work, both visually and written?

MS: I guess I'm taking it all in right now, in preparation for the time when it would all come out in some form or another. I have written a thing or two though about mostly my feelings towards this turning point in Egypt's history and all of our lives as Egyptians, but I have not shared them with anyone yet. And I do have in mind an idea for an exhibition reflecting this historic event, but it is still in the making I'm afraid. 

TCM: I recently met an artist who said for him, art is meant to either express an idea or tell a story. That’s all it comes down to. Would you agree? If so, where would much of your art falls? If not, what would you say is the main function of your art?

MS: Wow, you are not asking a question here, you are laying down the ground work for an academic paper.

Defining "art" and its purpose has been the dilemma that countless artists, art scholars and philosophers have been trying to figure out for hundreds of years. Therefore, I'm not going to go into that, and I'm only going to talk about what art means for me.

I believe that we tend to use artistic expression to express that which is meaningful, profound and substantial, in a way that is befitting its grandeur. Now that could be an idea, a story, a feeling, a mood, an impression, a landscape, a portrait or whatever. As long as it means something to the artist, as long as it's substantial or profound enough it would not come out in just any plain form, it would demand its presence be as profound as it is.

Take someone in love for example, does he or she just settle for plain words to express their feelings? Or do they strife to find the right words to express such profound emotions? And if they are not artist, if they can't find those words themselves, or arrange them in a way that make them as profound as they feel inside, wouldn't they then refer to those who could, and have? We see paintings and it touches something inside us, we listen to a song and it's like finally we found someone capable of putting into words or melody, what we have been trying for so long to express. I suppose that is why creating and appreciating art are just fulfilling experiences to those who create art, and those who enjoy it.

I wouldn’t say then that my art falls in one category or the other. For if I have a story to tell, what other way to tell it except through art. And if I have a great idea then I wouldn’t want to express it in any other way. Actually it wouldn't let me if it was meaningful enough.

"The main function of my art", I don't really like the sound of that, it makes art sound like a machine or an inanimate object that has a "function" to do, and if it can't do it anymore, it is then OK to throw it away, and look for another that can do what it can't anymore. I don't know. I just don't like the sound of that word "function" if even art did have one.

In my opinion, art is like a being of its own. You can't will it into being, for if you did so, you’re like a craftsman not an artist. It's like a process you go through and a collaboration of so many different elements that end up creating a piece of art. Ever wondered why you can sometimes do great inspiring works of art while at other times you just draw blank. You just have to be in sync with it all for an artistic expression to emerge. You have to lure it or "tame it" like the fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's masterpiece "The Little Prince"; where you have to tame the fox for you to be friends with, and then it could hang out with you rather than fight you or move away.

Sure you can use art, as a decoration item for example. But I suppose it would be using you too in return. You think that by showing a painting on your wall you are using it to your own advantage, but what if it's the other way around, what if it's the one using you to show its essence to the world and to inspire others to do even more meaningful art?!

It's a romantic look I know, but I just refuse to think that a beautiful piece of music, a magnificent painting or a wonderful poem would have some other function other than to just tenderly touch our souls to remind us of emotions buried deep inside from the lack of use. That art would have a function other than teaching us more about ourselves as we try to dig deep inside for answers or inspiration. And teaching us as well about the world we seek both answers and inspirations from.

Maybe this is not the answer you were looking for, and maybe this is not the kind of answer a scholar should give. Perhaps I should have started quoting great philosophers to demonstrate how everyone of them had a different answer and a different point of view towards what art is and whether it has a function or not. But to tell you the truth I wanted to say what I really felt about art, to lay down how I actually see it and my point of view. I can only hope that this answer does not disappoint.

TCM: What’s next? What are you currently working on?

MS: Well, I'm trying to put together an exhibition inspired from the Egyptian revolution. I have already started to explore the idea but I have to say that I haven’t really settled on the theme so it's still underway.

TCM: Where do you feel at home creating art, both written and visual?

MS: Sometimes I find inspiration when I least expect it; walking down a street for example, or while watching a movie or two people talking at a café or something like that. When that happens I try to seize the moment by writing about it on a piece of paper. And usually what I write is a few lines or verse for a poem, or maybe an idea for a painting or a new project. And because most of my creations are digital in nature, I usually work on implementing them sitting in front of my computer at home, where I feel more comfortable and focused.


by Loic Renin