Hala El Sharouny

Cairo artist carving out her freedom

A fine painter’s fight to express herself and make her mark in Egypt’s art scene
“A meeting of free, creative minds. An inspiring workshop with some great art on display.” Positive feedback from Egyptian expressionist painter Hala El Sharouny, one of the artists taking part in RNW’s Love Matters graffiti exhibition in Cairo. “It added to my thinking and my career as an artist”

Hala El Sharouny is  passionate about her art, driven and free-spirited. She tries to steer clear of politics, although there was no way to ignore it before and after the 2011 revolution in Egypt. Even then, though, her graffiti work was leavened with humor.

"I have all the freedom in the world and I can express myself in all the ways I want," El Sharouny says with a smile. But. She’s an independent woman in Egypt. Of course, there is a but.

Establishing a name for herself in the fickle  art world has been “quite a struggle”, particularly in the past few years. In 2011, El Sharouny took part in a contest organised by the Culture Ministry.

"The theme was Egypt after the Revolution and I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic. I painted a huge ugly mother breast feeding eight small ugly creatures. Of course, the work was refused and they threw it in the bathroom of the Palace of Arts. I spent four hours looking for it before I eventually found it in a poor condition."

“The real obstacle we have as artists is the mentality of the people responsible for art and culture”

Corrupt society
El Sharouny doesn’t blame politics, though. “The real obstacle we have as artists in Egypt is the mentality of the people responsible for art and culture,” she says before adding with another smile: "Corruption, baby."

Hala El Sharouny - "Untitled"

October’s “Without Barriers” graffiti exhibition in Cairo was different. Organised by RNW’s Love Matters project, it showcased the work of 13 Egyptian street artists and their visual response to themes around intimacy and relationships. Addressing contemporary social issues like women and society, El Sharouny’s work fitted in nicely.

"It’s very important for artists to get together and interact in a workshop."

"It was a good exhibition, with each artist giving their best to express their ideas,” she says. “It gave us all a boost. It’s very important for artists to get together and interact in a workshop - you learn a lot."

Love Matters
El Sharouny’s first experience of the Love Matters Arabic project has been very positive. "You’re doing a great and important job, spreading information and ideas about sensitive issues in regions like the Arab world."

For El Sharouny, the exhibition has marked another milestone "on the road to prove myself and mark my spot in the art movement".


Raised the profile of young Egyptian artists, gave them a safe platform to express themselves and boosted interaction between them.

The exhibition was extended by a week due to success.

Local Love Matters Arabic representative Sarah Othman says the piece by Basant Elbayoumy was the most popular. It tackled three taboos: religion, women’s rights and free speech.

Widespread coverage in local media, including the biggest Egyptian daily newspapers, Al Ahram Al Massai. Extensive online reporting on Egyptian streets and the BBC.

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