Mohamed Abla: The First Arab Artist to Obtain Goethe Medal

Abla to Majalla: "Art is a Personal Experience that Meets Society"

Egyptian visual artist Mohamed Abla. Photo by: Salma Adham
Egyptian visual artist Mohamed Abla. Photo by: Salma Adham

Mohamed Abla: The First Arab Artist to Obtain Goethe Medal

On May 4, fine Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla won the Goethe Medal 2022. The medal is an official badge of honor of the Federal Republic of Germany and the most coveted prize in its foreign cultural policy. The medal honors personalities committed to international cultural exchange or teaching the German language.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is considered one of Germany's greatest authors. On August 28, 1749, he was born in Frankfurt and wrote poems, plays, and novels, now regarded as German literature classics. The Goethe Prize, worth ($72,000), is awarded every three years on Goethe's birthday to someone whose works are deemed to reflect the spirit of the German literary giant. Abla will receive the Goethe Medal from the President of the Goethe Institute at a ceremony on August 28 in Weimar.

Mohamed Abla is known for his paintings of abstract sceneries in Egypt. He was born in 1953 in Belqas in the Egyptian Nile Delta. After studying fine arts in Alexandria in 1978, Abla embarked on a seven-year academic trip to Europe. In 1981, he studied graphics and sculpture at the Arts and Industries College in Zurich, Switzerland. Abla then studied graphics in Austria.

"It was wonderful news. When I have informed of the award, I was very happy. I love Goethe as a poet and a human being. So, I am thrilled that my name is associated with him," Abla said to Majalla.

"When I heard (that I had won the award), I thought of the long artistic history that I had made between Egypt and Germany. The award made me remember many events and memories in my life," he added.

In 1985, Abla won First Prize at the 'Cairo seen by artists' exhibition. In 1996, Abla won the first prize in Kuwait Biennale and the Grand Prix at the Alexandria Biennale in 1997.

"People are always heroic in my work. You will always find a human being or the shadow of a human being. In all my works, I followed people everywhere. You will always find people and their stories. People are always interesting to me, so I address them in my work. The human factor is a feature of my work: the interest in the human element and the attention to aesthetics related to humanity," Abla explained to Majalla.

"I draw my diary. My life is reflected in my work. Every face has a story behind it which is enough to write a book about it. We can say that all the topics relate to me and the things I have experienced. I draw to discover the world and to document events."


Abla started thinking about old photos and incorporating them into the artwork when he had a state of nostalgia after her mother passed away.

"I started looking at old photos and made a whole exhibition called Nostalgia related to old photos, particularly family photos," he said

"I do not like the idea of one style. I change according to the topics and ideas I aspire to paint. I like to do the thing that I love; it does not have to be linked to a specific style."

Abla stated to Majalla that photography, literature, art, writing, and poetry attempt to describe aspects of life, and the artist needs to see it from different sides. Being interested in all these arts and cultures, in general, is part of the artist's tools.

Drawing emerges from the human soul, and therefore it is directed to the human soul. That was the answer when I asked Abla about the relationship between art and psychology.

"The human soul, whether the artist or the receiver or the psychology of the whole society, is something worthy of study. I wanted to know about myself and the people around me. And I was engaged in art therapy, and most of the time, I was thinking about its psychological impact.

Abla has done various projects of which he is proud, including a very important project about the Nile, another project about Cairo Towers that talks about random buildings, and a significant project, which is the interactive Abla method.

In 2007, Abla founded The Fayoum Art Center, a space for artists to meet, work and collaborate. The International Summer Academy inspires the center in Salzburg, where Alba teaches. It is located by Lake Qarun in Fayoum and is surrounded by mountains, dunes, and palm trees. It is also close to Wadi Elrayan waterfall and the paleontological site Wadi Al-Hitan, which have inspired scenic artists.

"The Fayoum Art Center is one of my dreams that I achieved. I dreamed of a place that brings together artists, young and old, and they learn from each other and their work. Especially in Fayoum, a quiet and beautiful place with large areas," Abla stated to Majalla.

The place includes workshops, lectures, a museum, and various activities. Last year, Al Fayoum art center opened a section for Arab caricatures that did not exist before, and people from all over the world and media colleges come to visit it.

"Anyone who works in media and newspapers deals with caricatures, and there is no place like the Al Fayoum art center to find all the history of caricatures."

Talking about future projects, Abla said that he has an exhibition on August 26. The show will be an introduction to his art and will include selections of his works. It will be displayed in Weimar, where Goethe lives, and in Cairo.

"In Egypt, of course, there are many artists and galleries. This is something to be optimistic about, but artists need to choose their artworks carefully. There are many beautiful artworks and large projects that deserve to be prized.

My advice to any artist is to work a lot because art is like the sea. Don't let anything distract you from work, and direct all your focus to art if you want to make a difference." Abla added.

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