Gazbia Hassan Sirry (11 October 1925–10 November 2021) is one of the leading artists of modern art history, with a career of about 60 years. As a part of a group of female artists who were famous in the 1950s during the Nasser Era in Egypt, she has responded to shifts in the political, social, and artistic lifes in Egypt. Sirry is well respected for her richly colored canvases and her artistic sense.
After graduating from the Higher Institute of Art Education for Women Teachers in 1949, she earned government scholarships that sent her abroad, where she pursued her postgraduate studies with Marcel Gromaire in Paris in 1950, then at the Egyptian Academy in Rome in 1952 and at the Slade School in London, in 1953.
Sirry’s academic work traced Egypt’s political history. She was a professor in the Painting Department of the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University. She was also a professor at the American University in Cairo.
Paintings and contemporary issues
The specific qualities of Sirry’s paintings provide a unique glimpse into her attitudes towards the cultural and political transformations in Egypt. She concentrated on the relation between feminist consciousness, advocacy of women, history, fascism and Islamic futurism.
Sirry’s concentration shifted from representation to abstraction in the aftermath of the obstruction defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, as she experienced the 1952 Free Officers Revolution and the Socialist ideologies inspired by President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Pan-Arab nationalism.
This abstraction was replaced in the early 1970s by the reappearance of human forms, but the dark paintings represent the fears about the fortunes of women’s freeing. The dominant bright colors and pyramidal shapes of her paintings show the national pride and enthusiasm following the Ramadan/Yom Kippur War of 1973 in the later part of the 1970s.
She remains one of the most significant artists of her generation by reacting to the January 25th Revolution with an exhibit of new work in the Spring of 2012.
Sirry hosted 68 solo exhibitions for her work in Egypt, the Middle East, Europe and North America. She was the first Egyptian to exhibit work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Her work had been auctioned in Christie’s, a famous auction house for fine art in Dubai, and has been acquired for numerous public and private collections across the globe.
She received many prizes. The Prize of Rome in painting, 1952; Honorary Prize from Venezia Biennale, 1956; Second Prize (lithography) Alexandria Biennale, 1959; State Prize and Order of Sciences and Arts of First Degree, 1970; State Appreciation Prize in Arts, 1999.
A film was made about her screened by Egyptian TV in 1982; also a documentary was produced in 1992 by the Culture Ministry’s National Centre for Documentary Films.