Lot 12
  • 12


20,000 - 25,000 GBP
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  • Talisman
  • signed in Arabic 
  • acrylic on canvas 
  • 73 by 53cm.; 28 3/4 by 21in.
  • Executed in 1970.


Estate of the Artist, Paris 


Condition: This work is in very good condition. There is no restoration apparent under the UV light. Colour: The catalogue illustration is very accurate.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Hamed Abdalla was a pioneer of Egyptian and Arab modernism. A self-taught artist from a modest family in upper Egypt, he rose to prominence early in his career. Abdalla's work centered on the development of what he called "the Creative Word" – written words expressed in paint, blending abstraction and human forms.

Abdalla held his first solo exhibition in 1941, before going on to exhibit widely throughout Egypt in the 1940s. This included a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, Cairo (1949) at which point art critics considered his work  as falling under a new school for Egyptian art. At the same time, Abdalla opened his studio in Cairo to teach ‘the next generation’ of artists, namely, Tahia Halim, Gazbia Sirry, Inji Efflatoun and Georges El Bahgory. Following his trip to Paris, Abdalla's works were exhibited at the Gallery Bernheim-Jeune (1950), followed by a group show at the Louvre, Paris, and a show at the Egyptian Institute, London (1951). From the mid-1950s onwards, he was exhibiting throughout Europe, the US and Asia, including a group show at the Metropolitan Museum, New York (1956). Abdalla left Egypt for Denmark (1956) and France (1966), but was always committed to the pan-Arab movement, hence continued to exhibit widely in the Middle East and North Africa. His works are in leading international collections and museums such as the Egyptian Modern Art Museum, Cairo, the Tate Modern, London, the Museum of Modern Art, Tunis, the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, and the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris.

In this acrylic on canvas dated 1970, Abdalla, in Egyptian letters spells out  the words, “the Gossip” to physically illustrate a rotund, female character, sat on her posterior, raising her right hand to her lips to - we imagine - illustrate the act of spreading rumours about the neighbourhood. In the vibrancy of his colours: orange-yellow, red and green, mixed with the black contours of a mocking matron, we can almost hear the sarcastic murmurs she spreads to her community. However, the character depicted here is not reducible to the stature of a mean and vulgar gossip. Abdalla had great empathy for the lower class of the suburbs of Cairo where he grew up. Behind deceptive appearances he knew how to detect humanity and find commonality in everyone. Herein an alternative reading of the work: could this woman draped in her abaya simply be passing on a secret message, profoundly subversive, one that could help to bring down the mighty? Or could she be shamelessly (we could also read "the Shameless") taunting those same powerful people? Abdalla liked to give free rein to everyone's imagination, which is why in a way he was blurring any linear reading of his letters and instead composing "word-forms" so everyone could interpret them as they pleased.

The refusal to decide between figuration and abstraction, and the attraction he had for the experimentation of forms with various materials, brought Abdalla closer to the Cobra movement he knew in the 1950s. This was especially evident in Copenhagen where  on three occasions, Abdalla was the guest of the "Decembristerne", under the leadership of Henry Heerup. But Abdalla, an autodidact who loved to experiment by himself to find his own voice, claimed his Arab and Oriental heritage: "my main rule - like the Oriental artist - is to paint nature as I see it in my mind and not as it appears to the eye. " Having migrated from his country in March 1956, fleeing the regime's slavish art-propaganda and no longer in immediate contact with the physical realities of his people, Abdalla found inspiration in the Arabic letters with which he invented new forms, unique in their kind, even suggesting "the Arab being", in line with the emancipation projects of his time.