Pink coffeepot with verses from the Koran
Pink coffeepot with verses from the Koran, 1980
Lent by Zalina Ali
(Photo: Harry Foster  © Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation)

" For the calligraphy, I choose verses from the Koran. Sometimes the idea influences the form of the work; sometimes it's the form that suggests the verse. In each case, reflection is necessary. One is in harmony with oneself, with one's senses and one's spirit. It is that which creates bahja, pleasure. "

Extract from an interview with the artist

Sanaa M. Wassef lived in Cairo, Egypt before her arrival in Canada in 1972. Born in 1934, she began drawing at a very young age, encouraged by the artist Ibrahim Gaber, who lived near the family home. To familiarize herself with art, she spent many an hour at the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. She waited until she was granted a Bachelor of Philosophy degree before studying at the faculty of arts at the University of Cairo, and before beginning to paint in earnest. It was after having settled in Toronto that she discovered ceramics.

Sanaa M. Wassef with her spouse Hamdy Wassef
Sanaa M. Wassef with her spouse Hamdy Wassef,
Toronto, Ontario, 1999
Camille Zakharia
Iris digital prints
Collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization

Soon influenced by the travelling Tutankhamen exhibition in Toronto, she created ceramic pieces inspired by Pharaonic art. Eventually, however, she grew tired of "duplicating" traditional objects (lamps, vases, jewel boxes) and figurines representing Egyptian gods. She then turned to Muslim art, which she considered to be more intellectually stimulating: I have found that this art allows you, to a certain extent, to reflect while painting . . . because it is based on calligraphy and ornamentation. For the calligraphy, I choose verses from the Koran; I reflect on their meaning. This gives me a very broad mental outlook. A verse can thus suggest a form, or a form evoke a verse.

Memories of El Eid (Memories of the Feast)
Memories of El Eid, 1995
(Memories of the Feast)
Lent by the artist
(Photo: Harry Foster p © Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation)

She has not, however, completely abandoned painting on canvas. And it is in her paintings that the influence of her adopted country shines through most clearly, particularly in her palette of colours: Take, for instance, the painting that shows military barracks in the Sinai. When my son looked at it, he said to me, "Those are not the colours of Egypt . . . of the desert." I then understood that I had, in fact, painted with the colours of Canada, the colours of its sky and its earth.

Sanaa M. Wassef has participated in some 20 exhibitions in Canada and in Egypt.