Gazbia Sirry

The collective and individual struggles of modern Egyptian history are entwined in the artwork of Egyptian artist Gazbia Sirry, who utilises a nuanced form and style. Cairo-born Sirry experienced the 1952 Free Officers Revolution and the pulsating Socialist ideologies ushered in by President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Pan-Arab nationalism.

Deciphering the specific qualities of Sirry’s paintings provides a unique glimpse into her attitudes toward the cultural and political transformations of her time. Emphasising strong female figures in her work in the 1950s and 1960s, Sirry’s concentration shifted from representation to abstraction in the aftermath of a crippling Arab defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. On the cusp of this stylistic transition, Sirry’s Women Talking (1967) shows two women physically exposed and vulnerable in unfastened gestures. Unlike her defined representational work, this unsettling composition of fragmented pigment and form reveals an uncertainty in circumstances of her figures and their purpose.

Critics have read her work as either playfully naïve or infused with sharp political commentaries. This ambiguity is precisely what distinguishes Sirry as one of Egypt’s most-important and intriguing artists. Sirry, who has hosted more than 70 solo exhibitions worldwide, graduated from Cairo’s Higher Institute for Arts Education for Women in 1949, and furthered her training in Paris, Rome, and London.