Soad Hosny: a resurrection in London
By Sherif AwadNicknamed “The Cinderella of Egyptian cinema”, Egyptian actress and performer Soad Hosny was born in Cairo, 1943 only to become one of the most beloved sex symbol in the Arab World. Hosny ascended to stardom in the end of the 1950s, starring in more than 83 films between 1959 and 1991. With her beautiful Egyptian face, Hosny had great screen presence with an unprecedented talent that made it easy for her to personify various characters in addition to her dancing and singing in many musical numbers throughout her classic films. Her Lolita/femme fatale beauty can be compared to that of Marilyn Monroe in the Western world given her numerous screen appearances in titillating roles using her seductive aesthetics that many directors and cinematographers competed to showcase on screen.
Unfortunately, like many beautiful divas, Hosny’s life dramatically ended. It was rumored that during her last years she has fallen into depression due to health problem and due to the box office under-performance of her last two films The Third Class (1998) and The Shepherd and the Women (1991), the latter was directed by one of her ex-husbands, the renowned director Aly Badrakhan. In 2001, she was found dead under the balcony of an apartment she used to rent in London. Many critics and journalists in the Egyptian media speculated that she committed suicide while others claimed that she might be killed by people who wouldn’t let her reveal her recorded memoirs. Regardless the truth about the mystery of her death, Hosny’s films and songs are still popular among the young and elder generations of viewers across the Arab world. She was - and will be - always an immortal figure for inspiration. Back in 2006, Soad Hosny was portrayed in two Ramadan series. The first was El Cinderella based on her life, where she was portrayed by current Egyptian star Mona Zaki and also El-Andaleeb, another biographical series about singer Abdel-Haleem Hafez, where she was played by Dream TV presenter Nadia Hosny.
This month, 7 - 12 October 2013, in Gallery 8 across Duke Street, London, Egyptian contemporary artist Mohamed Abouelnaga revived the beauty of Soad Hosny for the first time across the medium of fine arts, particularly painting and photography. Using his brushes and mixed media techniques on cinematic frames taken from the most memorable scenes where the Cinderella shined on, Abouelnaga exhibition will be an opportunity for the Western world to rediscover the multiple aspects of Hosny’s talents, twelve years after her mystical death in London. After curating many shows in Bibliotheca Alexandria and also the latest Alexandria Biennale 2009, Abouelnaga moved two years ago to Doha in Qatar to work as an artistic director of Qatar Visual Art Center. But his curatorial practice did not stop him from continuing his works as a painter. Soad Hosny is third exhibition in a row this year. Sherif Awad discussed with Abouelnaga his artistic motives behind resurrecting Soad Hosny on Canvas.
SA: There is lot of Egyptian beautiful actresses across the history of Egyptian cinema. Why did you choose Soad Hosny in particular to be the star of your exhibition?
MA: Soad Hosny was not a sex symbol as the expression means in Hollywood. She combined a handful of aspects that made her a role model of a young Egyptian girl who gets her own freedom to express herself through acting, singing and dancing. For my generation, when we were in our teen years during the 1970s, she was like the women of our dreams. Her films lasted weeks and weeks in cinemas because we used to go and see each film several times. Each director she worked with has succeeded to showcase a facet of her talents, from romance with Fatin Abdel-Wahab to realism with Salah Abou-Seif to the character study with Youssef Chahine until she excelled in Hassan El-Imam’s musicals. I can say that many of Soad Hosny’s roles and films can narrate the recent history of Egypt.
SA: As an aesthetic figure, what does Soad Hosny represent to the visual artist in you?
MA: Soad Hosny is the muse of this exhibition. She represents for me a living memory of my reality since my art is not isolated from my life experiences. Soad Hosny was my dream girl that inspired romance and innocence during the teen years. She also became an icon representing the beautiful Egyptian woman and the beautiful voice performing songs written by Egyptian poet Salah Jaheen where he reflected liberty and love. Hosny and her career represents the liberty and the beauty that Egypt witnessed during the 1960s which is quite the opposite of what’s going was going on during the last two years with these voices that try to oppress women and censor artistic creativity.
SA: Can you explain for us the techniques you used in your Soad Hosny paintings?
MA: Soad Hosny represented several layers of the Egyptian society after the 1952 revolution. particularly the sixties and that’s what I tried to show by taking still photography from her memorable films then printing it on canvas then working on it using different acrylic colors in addition to layers of lightweight materials like silk and tulle. I did not want to make a detail images of the aesthetics of Soad Hosny as a woman , but I wanted to create profound expression on her face.
SA: Is making the exhibition in London related to Soad Hosny’s death in the same city?
MA: My option was either to make this exhibition in London or in Cairo. Then, I decided to inaugurate it in London where Soad Hosny’s life came to its tragic end. The location has a dramatic value: this is where she choose to be her hideaway during her last days.
SA: Why did you choose snapshots from Soad Hosny’s films and not old magazine covers or photographic pauses to be the base for your paintings?
MA: Such photography did not catch my attention because it was made either for showing Soad Hosny’s charms or for promotion purposes. On the other hand, there are thousands of snapshots that can be taken from her film where her expressive talent can be rediscovered and illustrated. Hosny had great presence on the screen with her cute face and beautiful eyes and also showed great body language in her acting and dancing. So that’s was my journey through Soad Hosny’s frames and films to extract these moments.
SA: Are physical beauty and onscreen seduction considered disgraceful right now across our Egyptian society?
MA: Back in the sixties and the seventies, people appreciated beauty that’s why many other stars shined before Soad Hosny like Heind Rostem and also after Hosny like Naglaa Fathy and Mervat Amin. Unfortunately, our society was subjected to many fundamentalist waves that censored arts and also changed the way people conceived a painting or statue. Egyptian cinema of the 1980s and the 1990s did not have this equilibrium between onscreen beauty and good acting. Many actresses of the current generation retired or went to the veil because they did have enough talent to show alongside their aesthetics. That’s why Soad Hosny will remain an icon of beauty and talent when they come together.