Egypt’s former Deputy Minister of Culture, Mohsen Shaalan, is also an artist, so when he was sentenced to serve a one-year prison term after being blamed for the lax security that facilitated the theft of the $55-million Vincent van Gogh painting “Poppy Flowers” from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Dokki in 2010, the 62-year-old painter seized the opportunity to turn his cell into a studio. An exhibition of his prison oeuvre opened on February 16 at Cairo’s Gezira Center for Modern Art.
Shaalan’s show, “Black Cat: A Prison Experience,” features large-scale oil paintings and ink drawings, and feature the recurring figure of a black cat that hung around the artist’s cell, and became a symbol of injustice and corruption, Ahram Online reports. One work in the exhibition, “Held for Questioning,” shows three figures standing in line, the first of them wearing a shirt that bears an image of the stolen van Gogh painting.
During his time in prison, which included the Arab Spring uprisings that brought revolutionary change to Egypt, Shaalan painter continuously, even adorning his cell’s walls with artworks. “Art gives you the freedom to use symbols that no one can take away from you,” Shaalan told Ahram Online.
Mohsen Shaalan’s “Black Cat: A Prison Experience” continues at the Gezira Center for Modern Art through February 28.
— Benjamin Sutton