Change through art
Along Route 2 in downtown North Adams, next to the Berkshire Juvenile Court, Egyptian artist Alaa Awad is busy putting the finishing touches on the first painting he's done in the United States - a 60-foot-long mural, no less, and the largest work of his career so far. Its location beside the court house makes it especially appropriate that Awad's favorite aspect of the artwork is the way it portrays "justice."
"Because, if you have the justice," Awad explained, "everybody will be happy, and you'll have no problem." The mural tells a story that centers on justice, and shows people standing together for peace and freedom, and against conflict.
As a young artist, Awad didn't start out with a plan to create large paintings or even those that make a statement: he wanted to paint about Egyptian history and culture. But as conflict rose everywhere around him in the Middle East, he saw his art as an opportunity to speak out.
"We don't want to have a lot of fighting. We believe in peace, happiness, and a normal life for everybody. Those things influence me, and I show it in my painting," Awad said.
He is both a graduate of and a faculty member at the Luxor Faculty of Fine Arts in Egypt. There, Awad teaches a variety of classes, including mural painting.
However, he temporarily left his post in January 2011 to take part in the Revolution in Tahrir Square.
In the weeks that passed after the demonstration, Awad and other artists brought their art to the street in protest of censorship, social justice, and the civilian lives that were lost during the Revolution. Awad painted murals rich with the symbols of historical, pharaonic art across the walls of Mohamad Mahmoud Street.
"Utilizing his art as a tool for political change and for freedom was his way of participating in that uprising," said Jonathan Secor, director of MCLA's Berkshire Cultural Resource Center (BCRC). "His work makes a powerful statement about the history of Egypt in particular, and the history of the world, as we look to find solutions in the present and for the future."
The familiar figures Awad paints draw from Egypt's rich history of tomb paintings, and reflect the country's political and social realities. He seeks to instill contemporary Egyptians with pride in their heritage, encouraging social justice, accountability, and balance.
"Ancient Egypt was a big civilization," Awad said. "I must make people remember this culture, this history - because we can lose it. And we can't know our future if we forget our past."
Over the past several weeks, Awad has included others in the painting of his mural, which he has enjoyed.
"He's been wonderful about involving community members - local artists as well as B-HIP interns," Secor said.
The mural is just one piece of Awad's work that will be on display beginning this Thursday, June 26, when DownStreet Art kicks off its 2014 season: he also will present "Thebes," an exhibition in MCLA Gallery 51.
"We're really excited to have his full body of work here," Secor said.