Born and raised by the seaside in Alexandria—one of the most beautiful cities in the Mediterranean—his soul was saturated with the beauty of the sea intertwined with Arabic tradition and other Mediterranean cultures. At that time, Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city, welcoming all other cultures to live on its beautiful land.
Farouk Hosny, an Egyptian artist who served as Minister of Culture for twenty-four years, has always said that the sea left its print on his soul and provided him fuel in his personal and professional life.
Farouk discovered his artistic gift early in childhood and began to draw the sea, boats, and the beauty of nature that surrounded him. The power of art inside his soul motivated him to study at the Faculty of Fine-Arts at Alexandria University. After graduation in 1964, he started his profession as director of a cultural palace in Alexandria, and then moved to Paris as Cultural Attaché in Charge of the Egyptian Cultural Center. Following that, Hosny relocated to Rome as the Director of the Egyptian Academy of Arts before he returned to Cairo as the Minister of Culture from 1987 to 2011.
During this busy professional time, he never abandoned his passion for art. As he always says, “I’m an artist, not a minister.” Using the magic of colors with unique abstract style, Hosny expresses his inner-feelings, mixing all of his life-experiences with the cultures to which he was exposed. He has exhibited his works in the most influential and prestigious museums around the world and has won many recognitions and prizes.
Face the Current enjoyed a special chat with Farouk Hosny about the influence of art on his life and on humanity, and the ways in which he uses the magic power of art to change society. The resulting discussion was a journey full of colors and emotions.
Fathia Eldakhakhny: When did you discover your gift as a painter, and how has this gift influenced your life?
Farouk Hosny: I’m the son of the sea. I grew up by the Mediterranean Sea and it became my friend. It gave me freedom and the ability to read the future, and I always feel that there was a strong connection between me and the sea. This connection created me and has driven me to become who I am now.
Early in my childhood I found myself attracted to nature, music, philosophy, ancient antiquities, and reading. I start drawing like every other child, but I have a gift and everyone around me noticed that gift. My family—especially my mother—started to push me to improve my skills and discover my artistic gift. My mother actually bought my first painting and gave me a space to improve my talent and discover the world. She gave me a private room with a private entrance and let me choose the furniture. I chose every beautiful thing and put it in that room; it became my world.
The power of art inside me pushed me to listen to music, engage more with nature, and dive into the world surrounding me. It truly gave me the freedom to discover.
FE: Why did you choose abstract art?
FH: Like every artist, nature was the first thing I started to draw. After a while, I felt that I was in a nature prison. I told myself, “I’m not a real artist; I lost the passion. Nature art has imprisoned me and limited my ability to express.” At this point, I told myself I should stop drawing, but the power of art inside me drove me again to look for something that suited the passion I felt. It was then that I found myself in abstract art. This kind of art gave me the freedom to look, listen to my inner voices, and use the power of colors to represent those voices. I felt that I was full of abstract art and it didn’t just show in my paintings, but also in my life. I started to look at everything around me from an abstract view—even real nature.
When my soul filled with art, music found its way to my life and controlled my early paintings. After a while, meditation came to my paintings like an opened floodgate. The philosophy of colors and their power found their way to my soul and my paintings, and everything changed.
To complete my artistic view, I began to look at other abstract artists around the world to get inspiration and learn from them. I think dialogue between artists is very important to improve art.
FE: You have so many paintings—which one is your favorite?
FH: All of them! Every painting has a part of me; it is something I felt inside me and tried to translate with colors on canvas. It is something like a heart beating, coming to me like a storm without a previous schedule. That’s why I don’t have a specific time for painting—I simply enter my painting room when the storm of art attacks me.
FE: Do you believe in the power of art to change people?
FH: Yes, sure. Art creativity is a power and this power has the ability to motivate people. Like the flowing river, it is always pushing the artist for more creativity and changes.
Art is like magic; it leaves its prints on the soul and mind. Through art, humanity can move forward. It is like a vaccine against ignorance, hate, and ugliness. Fine art was the first method to express humanity and it was used to document ancient life through drawings of animals and planets on cave walls. All ancient civilizations used art (painting, architecture, music, and literature) to represent themselves.
Art gave value and power to ancient civilizations, and I think this power was the main motivating factor for war. In an attempt to control this power, the colonial war sought to hold dominion over the creativities and treasures of other civilizations.
Though art motivates, humanity it is also influenced by social and political development. For example, during the Middle Ages when the church dominated everything, art was used to express the power of religion. This is obvious in this period’s paintings and architecture. After the end of the church’s domination came the romantic period. People started to see nature through the artist’s eyes and this added more beauty and value to nature. I think the power of art has a very strong and positive influence on humanity and without it we lose the meaning of life and the meaning of humanity. Art is the way to soften the world and without it, everything becomes dry, spiritless, and without value.
FE: As you grew up in Alexandria, how did you see the influence of art on the city? How did you see it on other cities that you lived in, such as Paris?
FH: I think I’m lucky to have grown up and lived in Alexandria at its flourishing time. It was a time when it was a beautiful and cosmopolitan city. Artists in every field competed to make Alexandria more beautiful; it was like a flourishing garden with the smell of jasmine everywhere and the beautiful, beckoning sea. The power of beauty and art has a real impact on the Alexandrian people and gives them the feeling of freedom and the motivation to touch the sky. Because of this, the city has delivered many famous artists to the world.
When ignorance controls a city, the beauty of art disappears and the city becomes solid, dry, and unwelcoming. Its people also lose their sense of beauty and their creative abilities.
When I moved to Paris, I didn’t feel any differences. On the contrary, I felt that Alexandria is a more beautiful place with more culture and space. For me, Paris is an immortal city with great artistic and architectural views. Every street has character and the city is full of artists, philosophers, and authors. All of that gave the city a different spirit and taste, and made it an exporter of art. When people grow up in a place that understands the power and value of art, they become like a sun that distributes its rays all over the world.
FE: Radicalization and hate speech has a loud voice nowadays—how can we use art to counter it?
I think art is the best way to counter radicalization, but we have to start with children. We can do this by teaching them to accept others and to understand the value and beauty of this world through music, painting, and games. When we succeed in teaching children the value of art, no one can steal or control their minds; they will have learned to see the beauty of others and the common interests they share. Art has the power of tolerance to spread love and understanding. It is the ultimate power to counter hate and intolerance.
FE: As an Egyptian Minister of Culture who occupied this position for twenty-four years, how do you manage to use the power of art to change society?
FH: I usually use what is called an “artistic shock”. I knew that if I represented what the people already know, I would not get their attention. So, I tried to change the meaning of cultural work through the changing of architecture and activities. I tried to introduce the new schools and theories of art to Egyptians, and at the beginning I faced huge criticism—they said that I was destroying art, theater, and Egyptian culture. After a while, they understood the value of my visions. The young people that were exposed to what I did have now become the motivators of society.
FE: In your opinion, do you see art as a motivator or reflective of society?
FH: Both! Art has the power to motivate society and improve it. At the same time, art reflects the culture and life of any given society.
FE: To what extent do think we should control the art?
FH: Creativity should not be controlled. When we control art, we lose creativity. Through time, the artists who tried to rebel on societal traditions faced a lot of criticism—even death. They are the ones who gave us our rights and the life we have now, so we should always seek to break the cultural chains.
FE: Do you think Egypt has this kind of freedom with art?
FH: I think the only way to improve Egyptian art and put it in competition with other kinds of artists is to give it creative freedom. Artists should also have the courage to destroy the chains and face societal criticism and anger. This kind of push-back will give them popularity and immortality.
FE: You left the office as a minister and that gave you time to focus more on your paintings. Why did you decide to open a foundation and a museum to become involved in civil work again?
FH: Yes, the last eight years were full of paintings and exhibitions. I suddenly had more time to paint, but because I believe in the role of art to improve society, I felt that it was my responsibility to support young artists and to help them to find their way. As a result, I established Farouk Hosny Foundation for Culture and Arts to support Egyptian artists and give them a space to create. I spent my life collecting painting masterpieces and a huge library, so I now consider it my duty to let people see my collection and benefit from my library through an art museum. It will soon be open to the public so people can enjoy, learn, and open their minds to the future. I’m trying to use the power of art to make a better life for my society and for the world.