Grandma Moses, East & West!
By Hoda Nassef
Hoda El-Ghayaty was born in Geneva in 1924 of a French-Swiss mother, and the well-known Egyptian patriot, writer and poet, Ali El-Ghayaty. He created his own newspaper in 1922 in Switzerland and called it “Tribune d’Orient”. Ali El-Ghaiaty was in exile for 27 years in Switzerland during the reigns of Fouad and Farouk, due to his famous book “Wataniaty” (My Patriotism) where he met and wed his Swiss wife Lucienne (who changed her name to ‘Soraya’, after embracing Islam) and who later gave birth to his only son (Ali) and five daughters (Jamila, Leila, twins Monirah and Sorayah, and lastly, Hoda).
All the sisters were strongly influenced by their only brother, Ali, who graduated with first-class honours from the Beaux Arts in Paris in 1935. He would have been one of the “greats” in art of the 20th century, had it not been for his very short lifespan, caused by a mysterious bullet wound in a hunting accident in Port Suez when he was thirty-four. Jamila, (then married to renowned poet Dr. Mokhtar El-Wakil) a natural artist, started watercolour sketches in her unique modernism style at the age of fifty, and displayed her art in a gallery in Switzerland. (Jamila even started ice-skating at fifty, later winning several medals in championships in ice-skating ballet).
From 1980, not only did Hoda El-Ghayaty learn how to paint in water colour and oil on canvas, cardboard, paper or wood, but also learnt how to make wooden floor-screens, engraving their borders in intricate relief by a burning tool, and painting the central panels in scenic designs, copying Japanese, Oriental or Rococo backgrounds. Without realising or planning it, she launched herself into a successful painting career.
Her best attributes are her oil portraits of bearded old men, or landscapes in fine detail, which she copies identically from several sources. In my opinion, the most difficult thing in oil painting to simulate is flesh, material texture, water, trees, animals, and the sky. But, she has painstakingly mastered all, and her sunsets, fields and forests, mirrored sea or ocean reflections, ragged peasants or smart Bedouins, still life or horses in motion, are astonishingly natural.
Following her career with great interest, I noticed a gradual maturity and improvement in her technique. From 1987, Hoda El-Ghayaty gave painting lessons at the French Cultural Centre, and simultaneously participated in many exhibitions sponsored by them, with other local artists. In 1990, El-Ghayaty had a one-man show of her paintings at the Palace of Arts, within the Opera House compound, and then three other exhibitions at the former French Cultural Centre in Heliopolis from 1991 till 1995. Afterwards and up till the present, she participated almost yearly in art expositions with other contemporary artists. Her last exhibition was at the Hanager Gallery on the Opera grounds early in 2003, with local artists. One of her paintings was sold for L.E.1,000. In fact, her painting was the only sale of the day!
The culminating and happiest moment of Hoda El-Ghayaty’s career was when she was invited to display her art abroad, for the very first time, four years ago. In July 1999, her most successful exhibition was in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, France, at the Galerie d’Art et d’Essais. Furthermore, one can now read about her on their website, as well as other local websites through the Internet.
El-Ghayaty, a very young-looking and dynamic great-grandmother, who daily commutes in her little golden car, acquired her own art studio three years ago, where she has art classes for children and adults, and personally gives them painting lessons. In the meantime, she is in the process of preparing for her next art exhibition due early next spring in 2004.
For Art Lessons at the Atelier, Children and Adults, telephone: 2266 8556
By now, you are probably wondering what is the connection here with ‘Grandma Moses’. No, I’m not blaspheming any Prophet or Saint. For those who don’t already know it, Grandma Moses is the nickname of another very real (American) artist, who started her career after seventy! Following is Grandma Moses’ amazing story, which is not less amazing than that of Hoda El-Ghayaty:
The true stories of Hoda El-Ghayaty and Grandma Moses are marvels of senior citizenship – east or west – and role models for anyone with a bit of talent, gumption, perseverance, independent living, and optimism.