Over the past few years, the art scene in Egypt has been flourishing and more young talented artists are getting the chance to share their art with the world. Among the fresh new talents that have come onto the scene is 24-year-old Salma El Serafi. El Serafi took part in eniGma’s Covers Reimagined event in June of 2021 with a lovely painting of Egypt’s sweetheart, Tara Emad. eniGma’s Ezz Al-Turkey sat down with El Serafi to learn more about her passion for painting and photography, as well as her path to connecting with her Egyptian heritage.
Unlike many artists who had a passion for the arts since childhood, Salma El Serafi didn’t dream of becoming an artist or a photographer at an early age. It was not until she took an art class with a wonderful teacher in high school that she began to discover her love for art. During that class, she became intrigued with painting and photography and began to look at them through a different lens. That was when she picked up a camera and a paintbrush and started trying out different things until something clicked.
El Serafi began to look at the streets around her, society and people differently. She had the urge to capture temporary moments and make them everlasting. Not only that, but she would use the photographs as reference while painting. El Serafi, who was once completely not in touch with her artistic talent at all, was suddenly delving into not one but two forms of art at once. “I’ve always had short term memory. I used my camera to save all the things I saw and lived through and commemorated them forever. That was how my love for art started. I would see something that I wanted to paint, so I would photograph it and paint it later at my own pace. It was a kind of ‘two birds with one stone thing!’” she recalls.
El Serafi was raised in Dubai and went to university in the United Kingdom to study environmental science and ecology. She had not lived in Egypt since she was eight years old and for a long time she felt alienated from Egypt and Egyptian society.
On her visits to Egypt, people would mistake her for a foreigner, even though she is 100% Egyptian. This took a toll on her sense of identity, she not only felt disconnected from society in Dubai and the UK but from society in Egypt, her home, as well.
Over the past year, however, she lived in Egypt for an extended period and her life and sense of identity underwent a tremendous change. “Since March, I’ve learnt so much about Egypt, its history and who I am as an Egyptian. This is all thanks to my fellow Egyptian artists and the art scene in Egypt. The art scene here is way more inclusive than in Dubai and everyone really embraced me. In Egypt, younger artists are being given a voice and a platform and opportunities,” she emphasises.
Reflecting her newly felt sense of identity, El Serafi was one of the artists selected to participate in eniGma’s art event, Covers Reimagined, in June of this year. She chose to paint our fashion shoot superstar Tara Emad, which was aptly titled, “I’m Egyptian, What’s Your Superpower?” in the magazine. This really connected with El Serafi and despite not knowing who Tara Emad was at the time, she put her all into her painting. “It’s a large scale piece and I spent a long time on the painting. I even found out that my parents are huge Tara Emad fans! Unfortunately, I wasn’t very much in touch with the Egyptian entertainment industry at the time, so I didn’t know just how big of a star I was painting,” she exclaims.
The painting turned out to be a big success and was admired by eniGma’s many guests! One guest, in particular, Tara Emad herself, was extremely fond of the painting. “She was such a sweetheart. It was such a pleasure to meet her and to see her reaction to the painting!” says El Serafi excitedly.
Additionally, the artist also had quite a few words to say about how special the night was and how proud she was to see so much Egyptian art put on display at a high-scale event such as Covers Reimagined. “It’s really nice to see Egypt encourage local artists with events like this. It’s rare to find such a thing in Dubai, where the community is a bit more closed off than here. The opportunity came to me completely out of the blue and I’m very proud of my painting,” she admits.
Covers Reimagined wasn’t El Serafi’s first high-scale event, however. Earlier this year, she took part in her first-ever exhibition, Art D’Égypte, alongside some of Egypt’s biggest artists. During that exhibition, El Serafi was excited to make a connection with a certain businessman. “This businessman came up to me and we had a very nice conversation and he ended up making an offer for one of my photography pieces. That was the first time someone bought something of mine. I didn’t realise who he was until he handed me his card,” she recalls with excitement. The name on the card was none other than Naguib Sawiris. Not many artists, let alone a young one at the start of her career, can claim that one of the most influential businessmen in Egypt gave them their first sale!
While El Serafi has really become attached to living in Egypt and pursuing art here, her next move is going to be to Brussels to earn a PhD in Ecology. She explains, in conclusion, “I don’t plan on quitting art any time soon. This is what I love to do. I feel like ecology and art can really go together well and I am kind of anxious to discover the art scene in Brussels too, especially because I have never even been there before!”
On top of her scholarly plans, El Serafi has also discovered a new type of art that would put her masters and college degree to good use – a way for her to practice her two passions at the same time. And that is through “Ecological Art.” “Ecological art is a type of art that uses natural materials for its pieces or have the piece generally discuss ecological issues. I am interested in any piece of art that tries to connect humans and nature. I really want to delve more into it in the future!”