Ubuntu Art Gallery presents a Samir Rafi retrospective at Art Dubai

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Ubuntu Art Gallery presents a Samir Rafi retrospective at Art Dubai
Samir Rafi, Untitled, 1958. Oil on Board, 50cm x 64cm.

by Maie Yanni

DUBAI.- In 2004 Samir Rafi died in Paris in abject solitude without family , foes or friends by his side.

In spite of promising beginnings in his adolescent years in Cairo and encouraged by a coterie of Surrealist writers, critics and artists , all this was soon to change when he left for Paris at the age of twenty-eight after earning a scholarship to study Art history at the Sorbonne.

Born in 1926 to a middle-class family in Cairo , he studied under the tutelage of Hussein Youssef Amin who had devised new ways of teaching art at The Farouk I School after his widely enriching exposure in Europe and Latin America.

Rafi then went on to study decorative arts at The College of Fine Arts in Cairo where he would graduate and carry on teaching until 1953.

In 1946 he joined The Contemporary Art Group ,founded by his first tutor Amin , through which he consequently met notable artists like Hamed Nada and Abdel Hady El- Gazzar.

Actively engaged with his contemporaries, he exhibited widely and created and produced profusely . His early works show a strong interest in Surrealism , an ideology he investigated thoroughly with recurrent themes and subject matter that he explored over and over again.

In 1954 Rafi set off to France on a scholarship ; after completing his doctorate on “Le Purisme et L’Esprit Nouveau” with Andre Chastel , he would spend the best part of ten years in Paris before being appointed as artistic advisor to the Algerian director of cultural affairs at The Musee National Des Beaux-Arts d’Alger in 1964.

Sadly, a year after taking up his Algerian appointment he was arrested and incarcerated on charges of espionage after a coup d’etat removed Ben Bella from power in 1965 . He was eventually exonerated and upon his release from prison was expelled from the country and denied the right to take any of his possessions with him , his artworks were confiscated by the local authorities . Rafi left Algeria a sick and broken man ; this was a dark and traumatic period of his life.

In 1969 Samir Rafi returned to Paris where he lived and worked for the remaining thirty-five years of his life in virtual anonymity.

Although Rafi was one of the young painters who showed promise in post- WWII Egypt, very little is known about him , his circumstances or the creative process surrounding his oeuvre.

Early sketches in this exhibition reflect his keen interest and close association with the Surrealists George Henein , Fouad Kamel and Ramsis Younan among others.

Later on in his development and more so after his deportation from Algeria he repetitively and compulsively portrayed female nudes often with dog and fox-like stray canines; abrasive pictures that mirrored an alienated and introvertly complex soul .

By inference and through documentation and literature on writers, artists , poets and urbanists who either worked with him or were contemporaries instrumental in changing and influencing the course of history , one draws a very sketchy profile of a misanthropist who clearly cut off all ties with family , friends and the homeland.

Through this collection of works, seventeen paintings and two sketches of pencil on paper, Ubuntu Art Gallery sets out to offer a glimpse into the various stages of Rafi’s artistic development starting with works dating from the early forties , when he was an adolescent in Cairo all the way to mature achievements in the nineteen-nineties.

Ubuntu Art Gallery at Art Dubai , 2018
Booth M 14 - 21-24 March

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