Mariam Aziza Stephan in Cairo

Visual imagination is the guiding force in Mariam Aziza Stephan‘s paintings. While on a Fulbright to Egypt in 2011 during the January 25th Revolution, she was fascinated by the country’s rich but at times violent history. Most compelling to her were the fact that this arid country had once been submerged under water, and Egypt’s long and varied political history. In her ruminative paintings, on view in a solo show at The Gezira Art Center in Cairo, Stephan elaborates both the advance and the destruction that have occurred over Egypt’s millennia.

[Image at top: Mariam Aziza Stephan, Rising Tide, 2014, oil on canvas.]

 Mariam Aziza Stephan, installation view.

�The paintings are a twisted dreamscape of journeys and arrivals, of imagined objects simultaneously collapsing and growing,” Stephan told me during a visit to her Greensboro, North Carolina, studio last year. Multiple forms are situated in the same space, and different points in time are revealed at once. At first glance the paintings appear dystopic–dark, mysterious, inaccessible–but on closer viewing they are less foreboding. The more you look, the more you see. Subtle colors come forward, and as new edges and shapes begin to emerge, the scenes change. Rich with allusion and symbolism, hence with ambiguity, Stephan’s paintings are seductive and ultimately hopeful. In the face of disintegration and complexity, she bets on rebirth and renewal.

 Mariam Aziza Stephan, Ladder, 2014, charcoal on paper.

Mariam Aziza Stephan

Born in Pittsburgh, and of Afghan and German heritage, Stephan is married to Ibrahim Said, a talented Egyptian ceramicist who fuses the traditional craft he learned from his father with contemporary form and ideas. She is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she is also the Director of Graduate Studies.

“Mariam Aziza Stephan: Undercurrents,” The Gezira Art Center, Cairo, Egypt, through January 12, 2016.

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