Hamed Abdalla (Cairo, Egypt 1917- Paris, France 1985) was a self-taught artist who played a prominent role in shaping Egyptian and Arab modernism, as well as the history of postcolonial art. His groundbreaking exploration of Arabic calligraphy, alongside his visual and poetic creations, encapsulate more than four decades of political and philosophical discourse, not only within the Arab world but also on a global scale. Abdalla forged a modernity that was rooted in exile, spanning the cities where he lived and worked, including Cairo, Copenhagen, and Paris. His work was influenced by various movements such as CoBrA, leftist ideologies, and Islamic arts, among others.
Hamed's art was showcased in Egyptian galleries during the 1940s. He marked the beginning of his international journey in the 1950s with exhibitions in cities like Paris, London, and Amsterdam. He relocated to Copenhagen in 1956 and eventually settled in Paris a decade later. Despite his European residence, Hamed maintained a fervent interest in political movements and the ideologies of pan-Arabism and anti-imperialism.
Abdalla is often associated with the concept of hurufiyya and its artistic network, but his use of the Arabic letter had a more pronounced political dimension, setting him apart as a nearly unique case. He utilized Arabic as the cornerstone of his abstract art, recognizing its unifying power in the Arab World. His calligraphic abstractions took shape as organic forms, intricately arranged in symbolic compositions that conveyed various abstract ideas. Through diverse mediums, he depicted figures, made revolutionary statements, and portrayed realistic cultural situations. He pushed boundaries by exploring unconventional mediums like tar and aluminum, as well as by employing techniques such as airbrush painting and texturing, including burning with a blowtorch. Abdalla viewed art not as a didactic tool, but as a means of expressing himself. His aim was to raise awareness of cultural and political conflicts through his work, all while avoiding forceful or propagandistic perspectives.
Hamed Abdalla's artwork has been showcased in various prominent galleries and museums. He has also been the subject of articles in publications such as The Chicago Reader, The National, and Frieze Magazine, receiving recognition for his contributions to the art world.
The Dar Abdalla collection within the Arab Art Archive contains handwritten notes and articles by the artist, and translations of various art-related sources from French to Arabic. The collection also includes various exhibition ephemera, such as invitations, brochures, photographs, guestbooks, and correspondence, shedding light on the vibrant exhibition scene in the first half of the twentieth century, and the attendees of such events.
Digitized content will be made available to the public through the NYU Special Collections online repository and finding aid system in 2024.