Omar Howaida El-Sabrout
she won’t have pain
she won’t have anything
“The pits are something that we consider to be garbage… We don’t consider them useful when we consume them, so then we dispose of them. But actually, any one of those seeds could be a life.”
– Omar Howaida El-Sabrout
Written by Weston Teruya:
Creating tamy’ mud-bricks from compost and recovered clay, Stanford graduate Omar Howaida El-Sabrout constructs large sculptural forms reflecting cultural knowledge and a familial agricultural lineage passed down through oral storytelling across continents and generations, from Egypt to San Francisco, from grandfather and granduncle to El-Sabrout. The process of adapting these building techniques, similar to adobe brick construction, to the specific context of materials found at Recology offers a lens on how tradition and spiritual practice can be sustained and transformed in diaspora–and to some degree, what might be lost as elders pass on.
At the center of in heaven // she won’t have pain // she won’t have anything is a large tamy’ brick structure that anchors the exhibition. The cave-like piece references both a mihrab–the wall niche in a mosque which faces Mecca (and from San Francisco, the approximate direction of Egypt and El-Sabrout’s family)–and Egyptian dovecotes–earthen towers with openings and embedded sticks that house hundreds of pigeons, a ubiquitous architectural feature in some regions of the country. For El-Sabrout, the structure proposes a kind of sanctuary for immigrants and those far from home, a protected space that looks toward distant family, built using the knowledge inherited from those relationships.
The other two pieces in the exhibition, a painting that El-Sabrout created on the surface of a found canvas and a coffin constructed from tamy’ bricks, acknowledge the passage of life, the ephemerality of these artistic works, and the emergence of something new from what came before. The painting depicts a baby-figure with a skull head, sitting next to a sand castle about to be washed away by a large wave. Bits of the original, discarded painting found by El-Sabrout peek out at the edges of the image. The coffin form, filled with fragments of broken glass and pottery, suggests a sense of loss, but frames it in this earthen vessel, made of fecund compost and soil. In an exhibition inspired by knowledge passed down from elders, the pieces simultaneously mourn the inability to capture all of the wisdom held by previous generations, while celebrating the possibilities for the future. The installation also includes chairs strategically arranged in the gallery which the artist offers with the hope that visitors sit, contemplate the work, and possibly share their own stories of what they have learned from previous generations.
Omar Howaida El-Sabrout is an artist, writer, and musician who graduated from Stanford University in June with a degree in Comparative Literature. They play with dirt & fermentation to make work about memory, identity, cultural heritage, community, brownness, queerness, and the like. This is Omar’s premiere exhibition outside of school.