AGAIN: WHAT IS COPTIC ART?
El Mawlaweya by George Bahgory, 2008 (160 x 150 cm; mixed media on canvass). There is nothing Coptic really in this painting. George Bahgory’s work, though brilliant, qualifies as Coptic only at a basic level.
In a previous article, I tried to answer the question: What is Coptic art? I limited myself to visual art, and used the examples of Isaacc Fanous, Guirguis Loutfi, and Sobhy Guiguis to divide modern Coptic visual art into three categories. By Coptic art, I meant art produced by Copts – any piece of art produced by an individual who identifies himself or herself as Copt is Coptic art, but only at a basic level. I then tried to evaluate the work of these three groups, and see what constitute Coptic rate at a higher level; and said, in a way, that only pieces of art that use Coptic subjects deserve to be given the title of proper Coptic art. Coptic artists may draw beautiful non-Coptic subjects, and some may use in that Coptic neo-iconographic style as a work signature, but that will not be reflecting or expressive of Coptic life and reality – it’s an art that does not belong to the Copts as a people or nation.
Sobhy Guirguis (1929 – 2013), to my knowledge, never used Coptic subjects or style; most of Guirguis Lotfi’s (b. 1955) work has non-Coptic subjects even though he uses the neo-iconography style in his work; and Isaac Fanous (1919 – 2007) always uses Coptic subjects and style but only religious subjects and iconographic style. With all due respect to all these great Coptic artists, particularly the giant Isaac Fanous, their work needs to be developed to encompass and reflect all Coptic reality, religious and non-religious; and while not reject the iconographic style (which is important), free itself from any restrictions or limitations, and use all styles.
An argument may be put that a Copt does not necessarily need to use Coptic subjects but general Egyptian subjects; but I say: If a Copt produces Egyptian scenes and omit the Coptic in them, he cannot expect to be described as Coptic artist. Take, for instance, George Bahgory (b. 1932) who is a prolific cartoonist: I have not seen in his work – and I have not seen all of it – any Coptic subjects or symbols, while it abounds with Muslim symbols such as mosques, crescent, camels, praying folks, etc. His work is undoubtedly beautiful and dear, but I find the omission of Coptic themes striking. Bahgory is undoubtedly Coptic artist, but only at the basic level. What we need is an artist who focuses on the Coptic and reflects it but tackles, if he wants, also the wider Egyptian and universal. That would be better.