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Women, Art, and Egypt as Seen Through Gazbeia Sirry’s Paintings

July 2, 2022

A champion of women’s rights and freedom was none other than Gazbeia Sirry.

Born in 1925, raised by two women – a divorced grandmother, and widowed mother , she would grow up to heavily focus on the female in her paintings. Although she graduated from the College Arts Education, her travels to Europe, namely London, Paris and Rome complemented her studies and deepened her artistic sensitivities.

Sirry’s work, characteristic for its slight preference for the figurative and warm-hued palette, was mainly dominated by women in ‘unmistakable poses of power‘ through her work, she often discussed gender equality and the individual freedom of the Arab woman long before it was socially acceptable to. And, in her clever depictions of ‘the daily life’ of the Egyptian woman of the 1960, Sirry was able to express their daily traditions and feelings.

In the 1970s, she used her work to express the daily life of Egyptian women, and in the 1990s, her work helped in liberating the Egyptian woman from societal constraints and traditions. Her style was focused on the movement of women’s liberation, using symbolism to renounce the traditions that held women backwards.

With an innovative art career that spanned over 50 years, Sirry held nearly 70 personal exhibitions across the Arab world, Europe, China, Brazil and the United States – becoming regarded as one of the most distinguished Egyptian artists of the past fifty years. Over the years, her work has been featured in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Art & Science Museum Evansville, The National Museum for Women in the Arts, and the Institut du Monde Arabe.

She passed away in November 2021, but she remains one of the most influential women painters in Egypt where her legacy as an innovator and skilled painter lives on. Paying tribute to women and the nation, here are some of Sirry’s most powerful paintings.

Tahrir al-Mar’a (Women’s Liberation) 1949

image via MomA | In this painting, Sirry showcases the inherited traditions that constrain, and hold women back.

Al-Zawjatan (The Two Wives) 1953

image via MomA | In al-zawjtan, Sirry touches on the topic of polygamy by portraying the the grieving first wife at the back and the new wife who sits and looks straight at the viewer.

Um Antar 1953

image via MomA | In this painting, Sirry portrays the gender preference and favoritism towards he male child and the daughterhood’s domestic seclusion.

Song of the Revolution 1952

image via MomA | Sirry painted a tribute to the Revolution of July 23, 1952, and the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in Song of the Revolution, also painted in 1952.

Kare’et el Kaf (Fortune Teller) 1959

Fortune Teller is one of the artist’s most revelatory works. It stands at a crossroad between her desire to create a new life and mourning the imprisonment of her husband during president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s era.

Houses on the Nile (Late 1970s – early 1908s)

Houses on the Nile portrays Sirry’s love for Egypt.

The Kite 1960

The Kite reflects the emergence of new political and cultural changes in the 1960s.

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