Farouk Hosni: Art is the antipode of terrorism

The Egyptian artist and former official says politics stunts creativity and that officials of culture in the Arab countries should clearly and distinctly separate culture from politics and refrain from bringing art into the service of politics.
Saturday 29/06/2019
Art and politics. Farouk Hosni during an interview. (Mustafa Abid)
Art and politics. Farouk Hosni during an interview. (Mustafa Abid)

Egyptian artist and former Culture Minister Farouk Hosni recently launched the Farouk Hosni Foundation for Culture and Arts, which aims to support young people in the fields of photography, architecture and theatre, in addition to opening an art museum in Zamalek, exhibiting works by various artists.

In an interview with The Arab Weekly, Hosni stressed that Egypt is going through a stage “characterised by regression in the face of the tide of Salafism and extremism and has lost the societal battle, preferring to recoil into a corner far from the public.” He said the battle against terrorism is wider and more dangerous than to just deal with it from a security point of view.

According to Hosni, extremism is born whenever there is a vacuum in the structure of society, a vacuum that should have been filled by art and culture. Encouraging and supporting arts of all kinds contributes to establishing a culture of tolerance and coexistence and reducing intolerance and intellectual tyranny. Hosni says that what some countries are witnessing in terms of violence and religious terrorism is the natural consequence of the disappearance of the right conditions for creativity, art and culture in those societies.

For Hosni, art is the antipode of terrorism.  It elevates society, renews its blood and uncovers its strengths. In countries where creativity thrives, violence and terrorism shrink. When he was minister, Hosni used to call Egypt’s Ministry of Culture “the Ministry of Cultural War” because it was at the forefront of the battle to counter terrorism and extremist thought.

Hosni is an Egyptian plastic artist who was born in Alexandria on the Mediterranean. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Alexandria University. He became the managing director of the Academy of Arts in Rome and was appointed Egypt’s minister of culture in 1987.

In 2009, Hosni was nominated for the post of director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). He competed with eight other candidates in five rounds. In the final round he received 27 votes against 31 votes in favour of Bulgarian Irina Bokova.

After completing his mandate as minister of culture, Hosni began devoting his time to his art and has held several art exhibitions in Cairo and many cities in the Gulf, which were well-received by critics. During his artistic career and up to now, Hosni has stayed away from politics.

Hosni points out that Arab governments have great financial resources and usually hold regular festivals and forums that can sway public opinion in the right direction if used properly. He warns, however, of the dangers of bringing politics into art, in the sense where artists are mobilised in the service of this political current or the other or even governments. He insists that politics stunts creativity and officials of culture in the Arab countries should clearly and distinctly separate culture from politics and refrain from bringing art into the service of politics.

The Egyptian artist says there has been a noticeable surge in public interest in plastic arts in recent years. He said that is a sign of a societal rebellion over close-minded religious thought that prohibits drawing and inhibits and suppresses human feelings. He said plastic art, which is more popular than before, expresses the artist’s feelings and interacts with the public on that level. Artistic abstraction is the voice of the soul, and if the recipient comes with preconceived ideas, he or she will come into collision with art and creativity itself. Abstract art has its own principles and each painting carries its own doses of beauty and talent.

The former minister of culture says abstraction in art form will require some time to become a full-fledged and popular art form in Egypt, but he is confident that it will come into its own and become a sovereign art as it has in Europe.

Hosni follows the experiences of the rest of the region and says he is fascinated with artists from different generations and in many countries. He points out the existence of talented and world renowned artists in many Arab countries, particularly in the Maghreb, as well as others he has met in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Arab Gulf states.

Hosni has been particularly impressed with the wave of unprecedented interest and enthusiasm for plastic arts in Gulf societies. People there have grown interested in buying and collecting paintings to the extent that it has created an encouraging market for Arab artists. He has put his works up for auction at Christie’s in Dubai a few times.

Nowadays, Hosni the artist spends most of his time in his private studio among his colours and tools, listening to quiet music and searching deep inside his soul, feelings and emotions for a creative message to share with others.

Hosni says he is now convinced that Arab countries need to educate new generations to respect art and its freedom, because it contributes to refining people’s feelings in general. As a burgeoning artist, he was brought up to respect the creative pioneers who established the foundations of modernity in the arts, culture and thought.

He told The Arab Weekly he enjoyed learning from the experiences and ideas of great modern Arab thinkers such as Taha Hussein, Abbas Mahmoud Akkad and Zaki Najib al-Mahmoud. He said he has been very lucky to have known many important writers and thinkers and that there were many Arab writers and creators who have deserved the Nobel Prize. “A poet like Adonis really deserves the Nobel Prize and so does Amin Maalouf and other Arab writers and creators,” said Hosni. The lack of translation initiatives from Arabic to other languages has diminished Arab writers’ chances of being known throughout the world, he said.

Paintings exhibited at Hosni’s studio; Credit: Mustafa Abid