Art Spot, on Ahmed Heshmat Street in the heart of Zamalek, is a gem that we recently discovered was home to several artists including artist Miriam Hathout, one of the young talents who took part in eniGma’s Covers Reimagined event, last June. That June evening, Hathout wowed everyone with her beautiful interpretation of our Amina Khalil cover. eniGma’s Nouran Deyab visited the young artist in her studio to get to know more about her and her art. She found out that Hathout’s love for animals takes up a huge part of her life, as well as her art – and that’s when we knew we were in for a special treat.
As we walked into Miriam Hathout’s colourful studio we were greeted by Mr. Heshmat the cat and four other cats and a dog, alongside the beautiful artist. Right off the bat, we fell in love with Hathout and her welcoming committee, especially since we quickly found out that Hathout isn’t simply an animal lover, she’s also their saviour. She runs a rescue project with her mother and several other women from the neighbourhood for stray Zamalek cats and dogs. We even found out that we had some furry friends in common, most notably, Felfel, the dog who hangs out at the kiosk at the end of Bahgat Ali street. Yup, the one that’s always casually sleeping! We even found out some tidbits about Felfel, apparently the gentleman would disappear for days on end only to be caught with female dogs by the KitKat Police Station – let’s just say we broke out into laughter just listening to these shenanigans.
After introducing us to her playful roomies, Hathout gave us a tour of her studio which was full of colourful paintings, many of which were of donkeys. We were rather confused by that and thought to ourselves, “What’s up with all the donkeys?” But we decided to hold off on that question for a while, as we wanted to get to know the interesting persona behind the artist a little better first.
Growing up, Hathout knew she wanted to study art from a young age. She always liked to draw with markers, she says and luckily for her, she had supportive parents. Her architect father had a clothing store, where he would hang up her drawings, showing off his little artist’s work to everyone who came along. Even now that she’s older, he always finds the chance to show off his daughter’s work. “Sometimes my father will walk into my studio with random people, even foreigners he just happened to meet on the street, just so they could see my art,” Hathout lovingly recounts.
The Fine Arts graduate didn’t jump into painting as soon as she graduated. She first got a job in graphic design at a preschool. “After graduating, my entire class and I had a hard time finding jobs in our field; it was quite depressing. Even though it wasn’t what I was looking for, I decided to take the job to get some work experience. I stayed at it just for seven months before I turned to painting. Shortly after, in 2007, I held my first solo painting exhibition at El Gezira Center. Ever since, I’ve had a solo exhibition every year,” says Hathout, adding that graphic design just wasn’t her thing, especially since it required close attention to detail and endless hours on the computer. Hathout has also participated in group exhibitions abroad, namely in Switzerland, France, England, Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait, Austria and Saudi Arabia. “Besides travelling for group exhibitions, my paintings are also roaming around many other countries such as Dubai, The United States, Germany, Serbia, Belgium, Spain, Cyprus and the Czech Republic.”
Hathout’s paintings are steeped in Egyptian culture; and while they mostly portray Egyptians in poor neighbourhoods, her use of bold vivid colours instils a sense of fun in them and captures the inner contentment which Egyptians are known for. Hathout likes to showcase ordinary Egyptian women, naturally plump, not thin, wearing galabeyas; even the men in her paintings wear galabeyas and have heavy moustaches, resembling the men we see in old Egyptian movies.
We also stumbled on some paintings of women on the beach and umbrellas, lots of umbrellas! “These paintings are seasonal. As the summer approaches, I begin painting these kinds of paintings, like these women relaxing on the beach,” explains Hathout of her nostalgic paintings in pastel colours.
Something that caught our eye in Hathout’s paintings was that they looked sort of fuzzy, with no rough edges or angles. Hathout describes her technique as a mixture of Fauvism and Impressionism, where she does not have to pay much attention to detail. She usually starts by drawing outlines with a brush dipped in paint, oil pastel or with a sketch using watercolours.
Hathout’s paintings are all about colour. Even her paintings of donkeys, which she proudly shows us, are colourful. At that point, we decide to bring up the question that was lingering in our mind, “Why so many donkeys?” We note that even the Amina Khalil portrait that she had painted for eniGma’s Cover’s Reimagined Event had donkeys incorporated in it. Her reply melts our hearts. “Donkeys are humble, intelligent and hard-working; but that’s not how they are treated. On the contrary, people look down on them, especially when they compare them with horses,” she explains, with love and compassion.
Our conversation naturally veers to her animal rescue project. “My mother and I, with other women residing in Zamalek, came up with the Friends of Zamalek Stray Animals project. It’s all about rescuing stray animals in the neighbourhood, taking care of their health, including vaccinations and finding caring homes for them. My mother even cooks for our furry friends every day,” she explains. “A couple of years ago I also decided to paint people’s dogs and sell the artwork, priced much cheaper than my normal work of course. This money goes to helping the animals,” she adds. Which explains the random paintings of dogs we saw all around her studio! Hathout has even gone as far as England to showcase her work at the Donkey Sanctuary, a shelter for her beloved animal. “This is one of the reasons I love donkeys, I owe them,” she says jokingly.
As we come to the end of our delightful visit and interview, we ask Hathout if, looking forward, she plans to explore new themes in her art. To which she replies that, of course, she continues to explore her artistic self. “However,” she notes with a smile, “Coming up with a theme that I am genuinely interested in, isn’t easy. That’s why I am always drawn back to my friend, the donkey.”