“I have an old soul,” laughs Dina Hafez, as we sit down at Kulture House Dubai, where she recently made her UAE debut with a pop-up exhibition. “I think it’s the mix between the really old lady in me and the millennial who likes colors, weird compositions and striking combinations—trying to balance these two forces together is what has resulted in my art.” Take one look at any piece she has produced and you’ll know this holds true, especially with her deeply contemplative, imaginative use of beads across her oeuvre.
“I think it started when I was very young. My sister and I had all sorts of toys, but for some reason, I’d always play with beads, making necklaces and bracelets. I’d spend all my money on them,” she recalls. Today, that childhood interest has blossomed into a full-blown passion, one that’s marked by her efforts towards preserving her Egyptian heritage through her mixed media art. Vibrant colorways dominate her works, where she familiarizes the viewer with the unfamilar, through iconography that will stay with you long after you’ve viewed her work. Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in the title of her collection, ‘Unfamiliar Faces’, which features a few familiar ones, especially Egyptian cultural icons.
“The only famous pictures I used were of Umm Kulthoum and Amira Aziz, the godmother of Egyptian cinema,” Dina explains. “But I like to highlight a different narrative that people don’t really know. Umm Kulthoum is, of course, known for her songs. But if you read the label, I’ve highlighted a different aspect—related to the strong feminist that she was.”
Dina is also keen to bring back certain topics into public discourse, which is another reason she uses old and historically significant images, particularly those of women. “I think it’s important to shed light on women who are pioneers in their own way and kind of recolonized from our own perceptions to what women should be,” she notes.
And the same goes for her work charting ancient Egypt. “I tried to use those old pictures from Egypt as a canvas for my work. What I like about this is that it starts a conversation in ways I can’t anticipate,” she says. “It’s not only about nostalgia. It’s about raising awareness for people who aren’t familiar with heritage. It’s part of their identity whether they recognize it or not.”
For Dina, it’s important to highlight heritage in a modern way, how it relates to our lives today, how it affects us, and how we consume it. “Culture is becoming commodified. So, as a designer and with the work that I do, I try to inspire people to learn or think about their own identity and the authenticity of the heritage they see around them, and understand the interplay between both.”
Despite the digital boom, Dina harbors an affinity for the real and viewing art in a physical space. “Places will always have their importance, because you can’t replace the actual feeling of being there and experiencing the artwork,” she says. And when you look at her art, it’s the sheer physicality that gets you.
Photography by Efraim Evidor