Ragheb Ayad

A pioneer of egyptian modern art, ragheb ayad endeavoured to cultivate a distinctly egyptian artistic identity with works that portrayed the many animated layers of daily life, local folklore and popular culture. Ayad, who made important contributions to expressionism in egypt, was an influential member of the first graduating class of Cairo’s school of Fine arts started in 1908. In his early work in the 1920s, Ayad – who used painting, drawing and watercolour – featured landscapes in the north african country and silhouetted figures painted on cardboard with oil.

A renewed sense of national identity was forming in the back- drop of ayad’s practice, as the 1919 revolution and subsequent independence from british occupation three years later transformed egypt’s political environment. the artist received the first-ever government scholarship to study art at rome’s Accademia di Belle Arti in 1925, after which he returned to Cairo as director of the College of applied arts.

Ayad’s 1960’s piece Aswan emphatically depicts the use of manual labour con- structing the aswan high dam. In later years, artists and writers questioned the loss of life on one of the 20th century’s greatest engineering projects, but in this painting we find an interpreta- tion that leaves the viewer to question the relationship between labour and machinery.

Ayad, who exhibited regularly in Cairo’s salon scene and exhibitions held by the society of art Connoisseurs, became director of Cairo’s museum of modern art in 1950.