Egyptian artist Hady Boraey: ‘Without roots, we would be lost’

The artist’s work taps rich memories from his childhood in Beheira, a coastal governorate in the north of Egypt in the Nile Delta. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 September 2020

Egyptian artist Hady Boraey: ‘Without roots, we would be lost’

  • The Egyptian artist’s work tackles universal themes but is inspired by his personal history

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.

“Gazing up at the moon.” (Supplied)

“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.

“Couple raising their hands in the early morning light towards flock of birds overhead representing infinity.” (Supplied)

“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.”

“Man with carved stone.” (Supplied)

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.

With 13.5 million fans, Keemokazi talks life as an Arab TikTok star

Updated 24 November 2020

With 13.5 million fans, Keemokazi talks life as an Arab TikTok star

LOS ANGELES: “It first started when I just decided to prank my mom,” Kareem Hesri told Arab News from his family’s beautiful southern California home. “I threw it on TikTok. She didn’t care. 10 million overnight. It blew up.”

Hesri is a Syrian American teenager and the only boy among his five siblings. He is also an online celebrity known to most as Keemokazi, most famous for his videos on the social media app, TikTok.


A post shared by KAZI (@keemokazi)

Every day, millions of viewers watch Keemokazi and his family in skits and prank videos such as the one that launched Hesri’s career in what is one of the newest entertainment jobs: Influencer.

“My passion always led me to entertainment. It was either music or acting,” he said.

His family was supportive of his entertainment aspirations but recognized the challenges of breaking into the industry. Hesri’s father set firm but realistic goals for him: By the end of high school he needed to have got a solid start as an entertainer or he would need to explore more traditional jobs. Not interested in an office job, Hesri began working on his passion.


A post shared by KAZI (@keemokazi)

“I first started out with acting. I was on a show called ‘The Last Ship’ on TNT. I played a Syrian refugee. So, I did acting first. I met a producer at an acting camp and rapped for him. He brought me to the studio,” Hesri added.

His music career launched in 2017 with his sister Serene acting as his manager. But after some early audience growth, his audience stagnated. “I was stuck at 10,000 followers for years. I never grew. So Serene was always emailing people, trying to get my music played.”

Around the same time, the short-form video content app TikTok was a social media sensation. Created by a merger between the apps and Douyin, TikTok had become home to a generation of online content creators particularly those who had originally gained popularity on the by then defunct app, Vine.


A post shared by KAZI (@keemokazi)

Hesri watched as entertainers his age went from unknowns to receiving millions of daily views. “I never wanted to be the rapper or the music artist that did silly videos. I wanted to be taken seriously,” he said about his initial apprehension at joining TikTok.

But after seeing the kind of success that other young people where finding on the platform, Hesri created his Keemokazi profile and debuted the prank video that launched him and his family into the spotlight. Now it has become his full-time job.

For Hesri the work begins with research. He spends hours before going to bed each night on TikTok’s For You page looking through popular videos in search of inspiration for the next day’s filming.

“If you want to be on TikTok, and you want to be viral on this app, you have to see the trends,” he added.


A post shared by KAZI (@keemokazi)

From there he writes, directs, films, and edits multiple 15 to 30-second videos each day. The workload may not sound difficult, a perception that can put influencers under scrutiny from outside observers.

“If you watch a video, you’ll think it’s easy. If you do the video, it’s hard. It’ll take hours for at least one video,” he said, going on to mention the additional factors of needing to stay timely and consistent.

Hesri is not alone in this work. His family members have gone from being supportive of his dream to having supporting roles in his dream. Followers tune in to Keemokazi not just to see his antics but to watch the entire Hesri family. He attributes much of his success to his family and their Arab roots.


A post shared by KAZI (@keemokazi)

“We hit the Middle East, a very loyal fanbase, because my mom was cursing and yelling in Arabic. People loved it. We have to stay loyal to that because we are Middle Eastern as well as from Syria. So, we connect to them very well. It’s a different kind of connection. I don’t consider them fans or supporters. I consider them family,” he added.

A recent trend among Hesri’s contemporaries is the influencer house, where groups of content creators on TikTok or Instagram will live together under one roof in a sort of social media reality show. Yet despite its rising popularity, Hesri said he had no plans to join the trend.

“This is where the heart lies. This is where the gold is: With family.”