LONDON: Egyptian artist Hady Boraey creates works that pay homage to the rich heritage of his homeland, but retains a universality of narrative and emotion.
“I inherited this huge legacy from the Pharaonic era. When you are born into a county like Egypt, you are used to knowing that your forefathers built these incredible monuments and temples with massive stones and you see perfection — something impossible and extraordinary,” Boraey told Arab News. “So I have been influenced by this legacy of the old, Egyptian era — and a lot of people see it in my work — but I feel I am painting and drawing a global society.”
His work taps rich memories from his childhood in Beheira, a coastal governorate in the north of Egypt in the Nile Delta. Both family history and myths fuel his imagination. Many of his paintings include figures bearing carved rocks or stones — symbolizing the personal histories that we all carry with us wherever we go.
“Without roots we would be lost. We need our roots to guide us and motivate us and keep us on track,” Boraey explained. “I always talk to my (ancestors) and try to communicate with them through my work and my success. I try to keep them in mind based on the many stories I (was told by) my father.”
That sense of identity comes through in several of the artist’s paintings — take, for example, his striking portrayal of a young man staring at the viewer, holding a bird to his chest.
“I see in this image a reflection of myself and my journey as a man who was raised in a small community, which contains the kind of relationships that make you feel part of a big family,” Boraey said. “This is an abiding inspiration for me. I am part of this big family that lived in a space where they were raised, and this space has been moved to another identity.
“I keep this version of the family I was raised in — they lived very simply and interacted with nature,” he continued. “I used to see this, and I kept it in my soul and I reflect and symbolize it by drawing this guy with his mask face looking directly into your eyes. He is keeping his little birds near to his heart.”
Birds also feature in another of his works: A painting depicting a man and woman with their hands raised towards the early morning sky as a flock of birds flies overhead. The birds in this work, he explained, represent infinity and the couple, in reaching up, show their optimism and determination to embrace life.
Boraey said he felt compelled to draw from a very young age. “No one encouraged me,” he recalled. “It was like something pushing me: I had to draw on any available piece of paper.”
That early impulse has translated into an illustrious career. Now aged 36, he has participated in dozens of group shows, and been the subject of several solo exhibitions, in the Middle East and Europe and has been honored with the award of the Medal of Appreciation from the Bibliotheca Alexandria.
Recently, his painting ‘Still Journeying” won first place in peace-building NGO Caravan’s “Heal the World” exhibition. The image represents the human journey through the centuries, with all our vulnerabilities and resilience laid bare.
While Boraey is a practicing Muslim, a humanistic view — rather than a strictly Islamic one — drives his work. He believes all faiths are pathways to the divine.
“All religions call on people to live at peace with themselves and with others. If people followed that guidance we would live in a perfect world,” he said.