Art is important to us at eniGma, which is why we like to shed the light on rising artists making an impact in their fields. This being the women’s and mother’s issue, we’ve chosen to shine the spotlight on Soha Abou Hussein, a devoted mother as well as an artist making waves in Egypt right now. Abou Hussein opened up to eniGma’s Ezz Al-Turkey, about how she started her journey in art, the challenges she faced along the way, and her particular style and technique.
Soha Abou Hussein was passionate about art from an early age, but her journey was not straightforward. She started by enrolling at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Helwan University, but quickly switched her major to Chemistry. “When I was studying in Fine Arts, I felt restricted and the environment wasn’t right for me. So, I decided to study chemistry and go back to art later on. To be honest, I felt very confused. I was young and I didn’t know what I really wanted. But I figured it all out in the end and graduated with a degree in chemistry,” she recalls.
As a young girl, Abou Hussein was influenced by legendary world renown artists, especially Klimt. Her fascination with Klimt intensified after seeing his masterpieces in person in Vienna. She became infatuated with his style, which greatly impacted her and helped her create her own style.
In 1991, Abou Hussein got the opportunity to present her art for the first time at a group art exhibit with acclaimed artist Stefania Angarano at Al Mashrabiya Gallery. She recounts that her pieces were inspired by the relationship between death and life, expressing the ways people communicate with loved ones they lost. “I was really excited at the time. They loved my work and it was how I got my foot in the door,” she recalls.
It took some time, however, until Abou Hussein adjusted to being a full time artist and to truly find her way in successfully transmitting her vision to her canvas. She eventually settled into a routine and a process which works well for her. “When you’re painting, it’s a bit disorienting when you are trying to bring out what you have inside. Sometimes it comes out better than you had in mind, and sometimes it’s worse. The trick is to just get through that phase, and keep going until you reach what you want with the painting,” she explains.
At first, she used to paint whenever she felt like it, without planning or mapping out a collection. Now her process is different. “I used to paint without thinking. The canvas would be plain and I would just start and see where it goes. Now I take time to outline pieces and even sketch them out. I’m not saying that the first method was wrong, but the more you plan, the better,” she asserts.
Even though she has her own studio, Abou Hussein prefers painting at home. She finds it is the perfect creative environment for her. “I’ve kind of turned my home into a studio. My house is just full of art now, and I paint wherever and whenever. That’s the best thing about being an artist, I don’t have to stick to someone else’s schedule. I make my own,” she exclaims.
Although her personal favourite style of art is painting, Abou Hussein has experimented with other branches of art, such as sculpture and jewellery. “Art can be such a powerful tool for self-expression. I think that’s why a lot of people love it so much, including me,” she says. “I especially like the feeling of painting on canvas and the thought process behind it. I want those who see my art to really get the message I am sending through the painting,” she adds.
Abou Hussein explains that “becoming a full time artist is tough and to make it, you need plenty of connections in the art world.” Like others, she faced these challenges when she was starting out, but she persevered. “I had a lot of motivation when I was starting out. I wanted people to see my work and explore it, but I realised that it would take more than simply having artistic talent. I had to attend a lot of events, openings and exhibits to make connections and get my name out there. I had to do a kind of PR plan for myself, because it really does take more than just painting to be a painter,” she explains.
Related to that, she says, in order to be known and eventually become famous you have to become commercial. That doesn’t come easily to many artists, and for Abou Hussein, it was never a priority. She always just wanted to be creative, to create the best pieces she could and to always focus on the art. “A big part of being an artist is communicating with people, and I was never great at that. I don’t really like the technical sides of being an artist. It’s like a business and I don’t like that aspect. If I could just paint and have a team take care of the other stuff, that would be ideal for me,” she chuckles.
Traveling around the world, studying and exploring art in different cultures, Abou Hussein says that she has come to understand that the difference between the art in different countries really lies mainly in the artists themselves. “It’s more about the artists than the country where he is working,” she asserts.
She also finds that art in Egypt has changed. “In Egypt, before the revolution is completely different than after the revolution. Art became a business and not a creative process. Some people can agree or disagree with what I’m saying. I’m terrible at keeping a balance in what I say, because I don’t care about keeping one. I just want to create,” she adds.
Abou Hussein is also not shy when she speaks about her own art. Unlike some artists who have doubts about their art and feel like they’re never delivering their best, Abou Hussein is the complete opposite. She loves her art and is often delighted and impressed with the pieces she creates.
That remarkable self-confidence reflects itself in her art. The more confident she is, the better the piece she creates. “There’s never been a collection or a painting I’ve created that I didn’t think was a masterpiece,” she maintains, with a laugh.
She also maintains that the inspiration for her art these days comes mostly from within, from her own feelings. “Right now, I’m really missing my family. I had a big family and now that it’s not there anymore, I miss it,” she confesses. “I want my next collection to be about family. I haven’t started yet, but I have plans for that.”