Samah Emam

Breathing Life into a Blank Canvas

Contemporary Egyptian artist, Samah Emam took part in eniGma’s one-of-a-kind Covers Reimagined celebration last month, where her exceptional painting of Lebanese entertainer Razan El Moghrabi was on display. Emam’s journey to becoming a full-time artist is unusual since her discovery of her talent in painting was a complete coincidence. eniGma’s Ezz Al-Turkey sat down with her to discuss her artistic career, motherhood and what area of art she wants to tackle next.

A graduate of law school, artist Samah Emam had never thought of pursuing a career in fine arts. After graduating with a law degree, she went on to pursue a diploma in translation from the American University of Cairo, taking her even further from what she does with a passion today.

While Emam is a scholar at heart, she decided that she also wanted to pursue a hobby that would be just for her. That’s when painting came into the picture. With a blank canvas and oil colours in hand, she decided to try it out. “I still have the very first painting knife I ever bought,” she recalls. “I joined a painting group called El La’ta (The Moment), with Professor Abdelaziz El Gendy in 2009. I learned most of what I know about painting from him and I also went on to teach myself further. I exhibited my work for the first time in 2010. I sold one of my paintings in this exhibition for EGP 900 and I was extremely proud of myself,” adds Emam whose style of painting is abstract and barely inspired by realism.

No matter the circumstances, Emam never gives up on her passions. Despite becoming a mother while finishing her law degree, she never felt the urge to quit or slow down. “Successfully graduating while being a new mother was a challenge. After that, it was impossible for any challenges to stop me. I do anything I want to do – regardless of any bumps in the road! When I decide to pursue something, it’s important for me to perfect it. I don’t want to do anything halfway, I want to go all out!” she exclaims.

When Emam first started painting, she didn’t have any plans to take it professionally. It is all all about inspiration for her. To her, having a commercial mindset while painting is completely different from painting based on inspiration. “Every time you paint, you discover yourself,” says Emam, adding, “When you’re thinking about someone buying your painting when you’re still creating, it plays a part in the final product. You start thinking about how it’s going to be perceived and if the client would understand it.”

Last month, eniGma was happy to feature Emam in its Covers Reimagined event where over 50 of Egypt’s contemporary artists created their own rendition of iconic eniGma covers. Emam chose the cover of TV host, actress and singer Razan El Moghrabi. The result was a colourful depiction of Razan that was very recognisable.

While the painting was spot-on, the process wasn’t so easy for Emam. “It took a long time to get her face just right. I felt like it didn’t look like her because the cover is almost 15 years old. My husband convinced me I was just overreacting and that it was obvious it was her. Thankfully, she really liked it!” Razan did indeed like the painting and gave Emam a big thank you for her efforts and praised the wonderful painting. She asked Emam where she got the inspiration for the colours, to which Emam replied with a smile, “You gave that to me.”

The event also came as a breath of fresh air for Emam and her fellow artists. “You rarely ever see events like these take place in Egypt, where art becomes so mainstream and is infused with celebrity culture. Art events and exhibition are always on a much smaller scale. This event was huge, bigger than I thought it would be. I would love for Egypt to start giving this big of a platform for artists in the future!”

While the eniGma event was a huge moment in Emam’s career, over the years she had already taken part in many exhibitions, not only in Egypt but in Italy as well. She had also done great artwork with the 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital, where she painted an entire collection based on the children there; putting a smile on their faces when they saw the result. “It was important that this collection be very colourful. I wanted to depict the children as smiling and happy. I did this project twice and the paintings are hanging in the hospital’s reception,” she recalls.

Emam does these gestures often through her art. She likes to paint the feeling that the person is giving her. That’s why she doesn’t like to paint just anyone. She likes to paint people who transmit a certain aura to her. She also likes to go all out with colours and to make her paintings pop as much as possible.

The Razan painting was Emam’s first after taking a break from painting for a few months to collect her thoughts, find some inspiration and explore new areas for her art. The experience has reinvigorated her! However, she is eager to quickly go back to her art.

“I was offered a painting residency in Italy last year just before the pandemic but when the pandemic hit, I wasn’t able to go and that was very regrettable,” says Emam, adding, “I want to try doing that again and hope to be offered something like that again. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and it would benefit me tremendously!”