Wechahi: A Shivering Melody on the Harp-Strings of Contemporaneity

If the artist is an heir of the tribe’s shaman, a soothsayer, a keen-sighted seer unlocking horizons in times of war – such as Zarqā’ al-Yamāmah (the blue-eyed dove) – a drum player in times of tribulation, awakening the slumbering senses; then, the eminent sculptor Abdelhādi Al-Wechahi has inherited the genetic traits of them all!

Given all those roles, Wechahi is a peer to other artists – who are no less pivotal than him to their societies, and who have inherited talented functions of different types. Armoured with his brush and chisel, Wechahi is synonymous with a poet who sings his people’s glories, a piper who rejoices with his neighborhood on all occasions, a singer who gently touches people’s senses and aids the weary to withstand life, a wall embellisher who transforms mere bricks into delight for the eyes of beholders, and a stunning circus player who performs exciting tricks imitating others’ somersaults.

The beauty of art resides in its diversity and its encompassing of all those roles. Thus, no role has been able to dispense with the others, nor to monopolize history, for all of them fulfill constant human needs as long as life has continued and tastes varied. However, this sense of need has not prevented rebellion against such roles; hence, bringing forth others dictated by the inevitability of evolution , openness to other borders, continents, causes and visions, and change of concepts.

Wechahi is one of those deserters of the “tribe’s glory” art, of embellishing walls, of turning occasions into lyrics, of strumming people’s senses, and of “modernism regardless of the price to pay”. With such a conscious choice Wechahi is fully aware that he will be sentenced to a solitary confinement amidst the narrow circles of awareness, away from the masses he persistently hurried to awaken, and for whose revolution he incessantly hungered, via employing the shocking effect of paradox and the amazement of discovery.

However, his sole consolation – like all rebels and dreamers – is that he does not merely address “today”, nor “the tribe” alone; rather, he converses with humanity daily. Honouring him today among his people could be an unexpected event for him and a surprise for his fans. This age is not his, even if it has been equivocal for some to judge him for departing with “modernism regardless of the price to pay”; the modernism that dances to the melodies of the over-seas “Other”, receives honours and hunts awards daily wherever one turns their face!

Wechahi’s desertion, as a sculptor, of sculpture traditions in Egypt differs from that of painters, although the legacy of the Ancient Egyptian culture has been its greatest masterpieces in both arts. However, the problem emanates from the genius of “Mukhtār” who turned this history into a concrete present and an ideal example to follow throughout generations – a dominant model no one could flee before “as-Sijeini”.

What interceded for him in turning against the traditional model (at least in the eyes of the ordinary masses) was not turning his stylistic transformation against pharaonic sculpture, nor was it turning against Mukhtār (he continued to adopt the steadfast foundation structure of the lump), nor was it his rejection of the concepts of immortality and idealness; rather, what interceded for as-Sijeini regarding going beyond the two concepts and having an appeal was his comprehension of the national dream of revival, and his capability of handling the thin line between the ancestral and the revolutionary.

For this reason, Wechahi’s experience was a comprehensive revolution against form and content together, which took place in Mukhtār’s school, then in its contemporary tributary through as-Sijeini. He revolutionized form from within, and overturned the regularly steady mass by setting it upon its pointed peak; thus, making its base upwards. Moreover, Wechahi dissolved its particles, deconstructed its elements, and recomposed it in a manner dissimilar to human autopsy, which instantly stuns the beholder and fills him/her with wonder.

Thus, making a Greek-mythology sphinx out of his statue; a sphinx posing questions instead of giving answers to whoever enters Thebes. Yet questions are not riddles or mysteries, nor do they emanate from the charm of the past; rather, they are derived from the constantly changing present, teeming with the harshness of contradictions and prodromes of explosion. However, we should not delve into thinking that Wechahi’s contribution is the fruit of nothing.

He walked in the footsteps of other cultural warriors who trod that path before him, such as “Khalifah”, “Hajras”, “Abdul Karim” and “al-cAjāti”. During the lengthy years of his stay and study in Italy and Spain (1967-1978), Wechahi immersed in an arduous quest for a new language vocabulary. His pursuit yielded a big collection of statues, the majority of which have not, unfortunately, returned to Egypt. The collection includes: “the Pigeon”, “the Cyclist”, “the Horse”, “the Owl”, “the Guitar Player”, “the Impossible Leap”, “a Boy and a Girl”, “Christ”, “Attempting to Find Equilibrium 1”, “Planet Mars”, “the Scarecrow”, “Silence”, “the Scream”, “Attempting to Find Equilibrium 2”. However, in fact, all those works were mere experimental rehearsals for his future masterpieces – in some of which he predicted the people’s uprising in January 1977, which is embodied by the “Silence” statue, and “the Scarecrow” which later evolved into “the 20th Century Man”. Before his return home, Wechahi had considered himself a global citizen, having the entire world within the scope of his perspective, and his human being is that of the 20th century.

However, the concerns of his homeland kept chasing him abroad and clutching onto him to take a stance. This is how the global interacted with the national and the personal to construct “the Silence”; an embodiment of the people’s pulse whose chest has signaled prodromes of explosion throughout the years of worry. The statute looks at the unlimited, and, thus, makes us hear the sound of omen. Our ears only receive the suppressed whistling that comes out of a magical hole in the Colossi of Memnon in Luxor, when the wind blows intensely.

From the bosom of “Silence” “the Scream” was born illustrating this fine moment separating between bending and the ready-to-combat rise of a legendary giant. Thus asserting that it is not sufficient for an artist to be a witness to the age, or a herald; rather, an artist who fully fathoms his age and the changes of time equals – essentially – a stance. Therefore, “the Scream”, is artistically, in my opinion, the most convenient and the most eloquent artistic expression Wechahi has ever produced.

The eloquence of the visual-art language in Wechahi’s statues does not emanate from mimicking nature, or flattering the invariable or stirring emotions or being courteous to tastes; rather, it deconstructs the natural ratios, diminishes stability, and calls for contemplation, pondering and disagreement. To be able to do so, Wechahi’s eloquence is sustained by constant stylistic features, such as the circular hollows that serve as a movement axis and a fulcrum, and the air openings through which air currents pass, entanglement and debate with the space take place, and the musicality binding the whole mass prevails.

The eye is on a tiring journey while scanning the surface of the statue, and encountering these openings and hollows, the imaginary stops on the path of time, equips the eye with a fourth dimension beyond time. “…As much as his stones thirst for everlasting freedom, that they become a symbol of the abstract or the absolute, or ‘a case of incarnated consciousness’, they also appear to be tyrannical moving blocs seeking dominion over space in order to captivate it. Wechahi’s blocs are battling fiercely against space; therefore, they are in violent and incessant movement.

They are also tense and multi-sided, with pointed heads and colossal arms that are considerably brutal, hovering like a mythical bird and dominating the surrounding space. The space itself is passively modeled to serve the bloc; however, the task of such a tamed model is to magnify the bloc”. One also notices an interesting characteristic of Wechahi; the intertwinement of shapes resonating “polyphony” in music; yet, yielding, eventually, one cohesive unit.

Recently, Wechahi has surprised us with his stunning statue “Anticipation”, which embodies the last phase of the 20th century, with its blinding mist, where a human is uprooted from thie homeland, loses their identity, certainty, and faith in any theory. However, this human vigorously clutches at place, and at discovering the unknown, concealed by the mist. This is obviously illustrated in the masterpiece, which, in addition to the strength of its idea, reflects the highly accurate and slender equilibrium of the lump in space. The beholder is also overwhelmed by an intense mythical sense, felt in the hissing wind passing through the cloak, which is rushing backwards as a result of defying the wind.

Finally, since I cannot have the final say on any artist, let’s leave it to the future to value Wechahi’s works.

Ezz-El-Din Najib

Cairo, Egypt, November 9, 2001