Ashamallah studied photography at Alexandria University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and graduated in 1973.
She then began a career in journalism, writing for Rose El-Youssef magazine while practicing her art and participating in group and solo exhibitions. Later, she quit journalism, feeling satisfied with her paintbrush alone. Between 2000 and 2002, she served as director of the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art before she resigned and devoted herself, once again, to art alone.
Ashamallah belongs to what is known as the 1970s generation in Egypt, which was prompted by the defeat in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 to adopt a different trend from the realistic art that dominated Egyptian visual art in the 1960s.
She and others of her generation followed in the footsteps of artists like Abdel Hadi el-Gazzar (1925-1966) and Hamed Nada (1924-1990), who produced folk fantasy paintings with an Egyptian-styled surrealist touch. (See a related article, “A ‘Horizon of Infinity’: The Promise of Arab Abstract Art.”)
On her latest exhibition, Ashamallah told Al-Fanar Media: “The paintings culminate a stage began in 2015 and continued until 2020, in which I moved from magical figures to weaving letters into them, giving my stories the form of painted letters to write a summary of my own philosophy and legacy.”
However, Ashamallah does not categorize her art as part of the Hurufiyya movement, which uses elements of traditional Islamic calligraphy within the context of modern art. “I am keen to paint freely without committing to a style and to paint spontaneously with the aim of introspection of the self,” she said.
Scenes from Childhood
Ashamallah does not separate her current exhibition’s works from a previous series of paintings titled “Desouk Icons”. In those works, she drew about childhood memories, highlighting the names of the children with whom she shared her early joy. However, the influence of Hurufiyya is less prominent in them, giving more space to the power of imagination and elements of exotic worlds.