Neo-surrealist Yousef Sabry is an unconventional artist who defies reality through imaginative and interdisciplinary art. After studying sculpture for a year at Central Saint Martins, then Design at Goldsmith, both in London, for three years, Sabry worked at a T-shirt factory in the UK pre-Covid, before starting his own design company. To his delight, despite the Covid lockdown, the digital world continued to grow exponentially and his studio’s client base grew along with it. Despite his success, Sabry felt he wasn’t really interested in commercial work and left the studio soon after. He decided to return to Egypt and that’s when his journey as an independent artist began. eniGma’s Rola Khalil sat down with him to get a deeper look at his unique vision and his artistic journey.
Interestingly, Sabry says that he is inspired by boredom and everyday life, and that he derives his creativity from the monotony of reality and the thrill of being able to escape it through art, even for a brief moment. He does not overthink what he is creating through his art, and insists that what inspires him to create is the desire to create in the first place.
Until recently, Sabry considered his biggest career achievement to be The Acne Paper project, where he was entrusted with the design of its hybrid book and magazine. The project is also what brought him to the attention of Diwan Bookstore, who were about to undertake their Naguib Mahfouz Project, a modern recreation of Mahfouz’s book covers as a celebration of the renowned writer’s legacy. Diwan first approached Sabry to recreate the covers for all of Mahfouz’s 55 books. While he was very honoured to be tasked with such a massive project, he suggested that it would be better to assign it to a range of diverse Egyptian artists. As a result, besides designing a number of the covers himself, Sabry became the creative director of the project, guiding the process and working with artists to make it come to life.
To adequately portray Mahfouz’s books through his covers, Sabry proceeded to read all his books and to discuss them with a wide variety of readers, in order to fully absorb their legacy. So far, he has created three covers himself and is currently working on his fourth. He recounts how each cover went through a different process, saying, “One of the covers came to me intuitively, while another one took a lot of trials and errors to flesh out. The third one took a lot of effort of back-and-forth work.” His covers drew a range of reactions, some positive and some negative, but that is what he expected to happen. “That is what art is all about. I expected a different range of reactions,” he explains, adding, “The participation of diverse talented artists and eliciting different reactions to their interpretations is what will create a new buzz around the works of the iconic Naguib Mahfouz.”
“Today, the Naguib Mahfouz Project is my most significant work. It is also the first project where I am getting to combine my cultural legacy as an Egyptian with my personal art” says Sabry. Moreover, Sabry is very passionate about the craft of world building. Through this project he is designing a contemporary pitch for contemporary audiences, opening a door for youth to relate to Mahfouz’s books. It is an honour for Sabry and brings him joy.
Creating beautiful items is the goal in all of Sabry’s artworks, which also includes jewelry. “Jewelry is a mix of sculpture, design, and fine art, which is a lovely midway point between all of the things I like to do,” says Sabry. Looking ahead, Sabry hopes to delve more into fashion couture items; sunglasses, jackets, bras, more jewelry, crop tops, and scarves, namely anything that involves drawing and applying his work onto another medium.
Sabry also likes to collaborate on ambitious projects with other creators like photographers and fashion designers to create a unique brand for himself. He enjoys collaborations because they broaden his creative horizons and he always learns something new. Every person he works with brings something new and interesting to the table.
“Fine art is a very solemn practice, as it is just the person and the canvas. It is very contemplative and personal, which is heavy and is not an easy thing to do all the time. Moreover, commercially speaking, it is not the most lucrative field. On the other hand, trying to make money off of illustrations and design can be profitable, but it can be soulless and commercial, which does not leave space for creativity. However, working with other people and having a collaborative format makes the process a lot more exciting with a variety of tastes and styles. It is always innovative and fresh,” he explains.
Besides the Naguib Mahfouz project, which he loves because it opened a new door for him to depict his heritage, Sabry is also focused on his own company, Rizo Masr, which he started six months ago. Rizo Masr is a print and design studio that was the first to introduce risograph printing, using sustainable inks as its main method for printing, to Egypt. It is perfect for the printing needs of independent publishing and small businesses/artists. He hopes to create new methods and opportunities for his art through Rizo Masr.