Rue St-Denis, Montréal (St. Denis Street, Montreal)
Rue St-Denis, Montréal, 1991
(St. Denis Street, Montreal)
Oil on canvas
Lent by Susan Frank and Max Haberkorn
(Photo: Harry Foster  © Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation)

"My work is full of people so that I may feel surrounded by them, and also because they enrich the scene. The characters are there so that I may feel good, to make me happy and to please themselves. ... These are my children; I bring them into the world as one would deliver babies. [...]

At home, for example, the souks are very crowded. And when a place is very crowded, very animated ... there is much more life."

Extracts from an interview with the artist

Abdelhamid Hanafi was born in 1950 in the Tunisian city of Menzel-Bourguiba, a city built by French colonizers. He started to draw at a very young age. As an adolescent, he began painting with gouache, and then the artist Béjaoui introduced him to oil painting and mosaic. In 1969, he left Tunisia for France, where he began an apprenticeship with the sculptor Tati. He later lived in the Federal Republic of Germany and in Sweden. In 1977 he decided to immigrate to Canada and took up residence in Montreal. He then completed his artistic training through private studies in the art of engraving at the Centre de conception graphique Graff, and in jewellery making with the jeweller Léo Beinglas.

From adolescence on, it was the scenes of urban life (daily activities, festivals, social events) that held his attention. He paints them as joyful, vividly coloured and filled with humour: My aim is to create a painting that makes people happy, he explains. Like the souks of his childhood, his paintings overflow with figures of all ages, actors and observers, native and foreign. In this way he tries to bring together beings and cultures: I feel as if I am ... a junction point between different cultures.

Variétés de la Médina, Sousse (The Diversity of the Medina, Sousse)
Variétés de la Médina, Sousse, 1995
(The Diversity of the Medina, Sousse)
Oil on canvas
Lent by Susan Darra Lang and Malcolm Pesner
(Photo: Harry Foster  © Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation)

Because Hanafi's canvases represent, in condensed form, the life of the places that he paints, his role approaches that of a sociologist and chronicler, or a stage director and storyteller. For this reason, rather than a "naive" painter as the arts establishment has labeled him, he prefers to be called a "popular" painter. My style is popular, not only because it is accessible, and because people like it very much, but because it is close to the people and represents them.

Abd Hanafi has to his credit more than a hundred exhibitions across the world. He has receive, along with other tributes for the whole of his work, the Médaille des Arts de la Renaissance Française, in 1998. His paintings can be found in various private and public collections, including that of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Museum of Fine Arts of Sherbrooke and the Museum of Fine Arts of Göteborg in Sweden.