“Al Maqam” - a new series of paintings by Ahmed Saber.
Luxor native Saber’s latest collection is the product of over two years of intense commitment to his craft and personal beliefs. “Al Maqam”, loosely translated as the ascension to enlightenment, features some of the most captivating work we have yet seen from this bright talent, whose artistic abilities belie his tender age. Saber delves into the spiritual rites of Egypt’s moulid heritage, exploring and interpreting the spiritual realm and state of being. He contends we must strive toward maintaining our degenerating long-held customs and beliefs. Inhibiting this spiritual state has been the effects of the pandemic, restricting, worshipping, and leaving the houses of God across the world empty. “Al Maqam” is an artistic commemoration of the Mawlid, starting with the Prophet Mohammed at the head, who confined themselves to isolation to become closer to God; to discover His perfect purity, love, peace, and to strengthen their connection to the divine.
Saber was inspired by the paths of three Mawlid, integral propagators of Islam within his own Upper Egypt. The 6th-century Cairo-born Sidi Abu Al Hajjaj became immersed in Sufism after going south to Luxor. He built his mosque amidst the columns of one of Luxor’s temples, now the only mosque in the world with this extraordinary quality, a beautiful and innovative fusion of the old and new world religions.
The lives of Sidi Al Aref Billah and Sidi Abi Hassan Al Shazuley complete this trio. The former was born in the village of Girgah in Upper Egypt and became a significant cleric in those parts. The latter’s shrine lies deep in the extremities of the Eastern desert, to which Sufis make annual pilgrimages. He is amongst the chief disciples in Sufism, known for his intense spiritual reclusion. Saber pays homage to these Mawlid, not merely in terms of their related celebratory festivities; but more significantly through the hidden spiritual energy emanating from their teachings and legacy. To which their legions of believers share an abounding devotion and through them an unbridled devoutness to God which they exude in absolute pureness of love and ingratiation to His power.
Saber advances a surrealist imagery of symbols replete with meaning like Pharaonic boats, believed to have transported souls from the temporal world to the Land of Light. Also prominent are the Islamic artifacts of the mahmal, howdah, and kiswah (the ornate shrines for the Sheikhs and cloth covering for the Ka'ba) commemorating these Sheikhs traveling on camel’s back, known affectionately to the Bedouin as the ships of the sand seas. These processions on the birthdays of these Sufi Sheikhs were significant communitarian events during which the participating public renew their vows of faith and belonging to the deeply-rooted culture of Egypt's multi-civilizational heritage, which the artist terms a “human mosaic” ingrained in the collective conscience of Luxor’s inhabitants.
The fish, one of Saber’s most frequently employed motifs, signifies abundance and wealth while the Nile crocodile represents the duality of good and evil in one, and the peacock a universal symbol of rebirth, royalty, and paradise.
Through his spiritual quest, Saber has sought and succeeded in capturing and conveying the deep-seated significance of these Guardians of the Faith, and, in their veneration, he has delivered a truly inspiring and compassionate display of creativity, edification, and above all, faith through art.
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