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hassan el shark
Hassan el Shark (sometimes spelled “Sharq”) is a southern Egyptian, primitive artist (1949- ) who has an established a solid European reputation working with colored inks on paper. In addition to showing his work in Egypt and in the Middle East—Kuwait, Palestine, and Lebanon—he has exhibited his work in the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, italy and the Netherlands. In his principal introduction to the American continents, he was sent as a goodwill cultural diplomat of Egypt to Colombia in 2001. Other than this single event, he is not well known in the Americas.
Hassan’s international success is made more remarkable because of his humble origins and the fact that, given the circumstance of his birth, he has little to no formal education and no training whatsoever in art. Hassan was born in 1949 in the small village of Zawyet Sultan in the governorate of el Minya, where he still lives today. The eldest son of the village butcher, Hassan began painting as a boy using palm tree fiber, his father’s wrapping paper, and mixing his own paint using spices from the local herbalist as pigment—saffron for yellow, liquorice for brown, etc. Never having seen a youngster so passionate about painting, the villagers thought him possessed of a jinni, or spirit—which, in a sense, perhaps he was.
Possessed or not, both the man and his work are clearly rooted in Egyptian village life. Cats, chickens, palm trees, market stalls, fish, feluccas, mustachioed men, and women carrying large jars on their heads are staple images in his paintings as well as the ancient Hamsa hand (eye-in-the-palm-of-the-hand) to ward off bad luck. He often paints rababa (a primitive string instrument played with a bow), flute and drum players who are traditional entertainers for weddings and funerals. Rababa players are a particular favorite of Hassan’s because of their popular role in traditional village life: Traditionally rababa players are a combination troubadour/town-crier who tour villages playing the rababa while telling news of current and upcoming events—weddings, births, deaths—mixed with epic poems.
Hassan did not receive international recognition until 1984 when he was “discovered” by German art critic Ursula Schernig. Ms. Schernig was on a trip to find spontaneous artists who had not studied art academically. When she saw Hassan’s work she arranged two exhibitions, one in Cairo and the other in Europe where all forty paintings sold promptly. One success followed another as his paintings were well received in Middle Eastern and European galleries and museums. Though international recognized, Hassan prefers to remain in the village of his birth wearing his black galabia and living the traditional life from which he draws his inspiration.
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hassan el shark has 84 works
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