Wednesday, Jun 26 2013 10:29 AM

Eye Gallery Chapter Nine: Adel Shafik born in Egypt, reborn in America

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    Artist Adel Shafik and his wife, Maha, consider themselves thoroughly Americanized, but they do try to impart their shared Egyptian heritage to their children.

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    Adel Shafik's piece for Eye Gallery.

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BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor

War has the power to redefine who we are, turning everyday people into conquerers, victims, heroes, martyrs.

The 1967 Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel was no less transformational for Adel Shafik, but he embraced the new identity the conflict gave him: artist.

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CHAPTER NINE: Another door

Never danced ...

Many doors and I am not certain what is behind each of them?

I have this sense of longing to open another door, though I may be unsure of whether or not I am awake, does it not matter if I am or not?

Is it night again? I see a full moon. Cannot keep track of time!

I can vaguely hear a muffled tune coming from behind a door, but it is so faint. Like the hushed footsteps of someone walking alone in a large room, it is almost as though it isn't there.

I feel this irresistible urge to walk toward another door and find out what is there.

I thought this to myself as I heard the sound of the melody, my life song again.

I will open another door ...

Eye Gallery reception

The annual art series is a partnership between The Californian and the Bakersfield Museum of Art whose purpose is to put the work of local artists in the spotlight. This year we asked 10 artists to collaborate on a story, in words and pictures. Each was given 96 hours, a canvas and all the work that had been produced to that point. The story ends June 27, when the museum will host a reception for the artists and unveil other exhibitions.

"It was a bad experience, honestly, and kind of scary as a child."

But out of the terror came catharsis and inspiration, when Shafik, 11 at the time, entered and won a national art competition whose theme was how children saw the war.

"I drew the planes and tanks and smoke and all that stuff and I filled the whole thing with a lot of information," said Shafik, a native of Cairo. "It was kind of a collage, though I didn't know what a collage was at the time."

The day Shafik accepted the prize from a top official of the Egyptian government still ranks as one of the proudest of his life.

"The prize was 20 pounds, which, at the time, was maybe $5. I gave the money to my dad. We were all struggling, so you feel like you want to help out.

"Since that time, I had an interest in art."

Shafik pursued his passion, first at a university in Cairo, and then at Indiana University Bloomington, where he earned his master of fine arts degree in graphic design after immigrating to the United States in 1986.

"At that time, the American Embassy was asking for artists and doctors. I applied and was accepted."

Though his parents are deceased, Shafik's siblings still live in Egypt. The father of three and Bakersfield College art professor is cautious in discussing his life in Egypt, except to say that as a minority Christian, "it was very tough."

Given the instability of the region, he fears for his sisters and brother, with whom he speaks on a weekly basis.

"I feel I'm a stranger when I go there. I feel like I don't belong there anymore. I changed a lot, even without knowing or trying."

Shafik, 55, and his wife, Maha, consider themselves thoroughly Americanized, but they do try to impart their shared Egyptian heritage to their children: Shady, 20; Phillip, 12; and Nolan, 14.

The couple speak Arabic in their home and are close with other families at their place of worship, St. Demiana Coptic Orthodox Church in the southwest.

For his part in this year's Eye Gallery series, which tells an ongoing story week to week, Shafik attempted to "get in the mind of others and make sense of what they have done, continue the flow of the story, add my own thoughts and ideas, and leave room for the next artist to continue on."

Shafik took time to answer our questions, noting that his latest artistic passion is exploring the ancient art process of encaustic, which uses pigments and hot wax.

Explain your process/technique on this piece:

After I read the last artist's narrative, I came up with a sketch and changed that sketch a few times. I knew the theme overall was about music, but needed to come up with a visual idea to continue the flow of the story. ... I built the piece applying acrylic colors mixed with acrylic gesso with a putty knife. I also carved shapes using a carving tool to reveal the yellow color of the background. I used many layers of color to add a texture to the work.

Do you consider yourself more American or Egyptian?

I'm hugely Americanized. I love it, honestly. I love the freedom, the beauty of the land, and I love that you can do anything you want. That's something I never had where I grew up.

Besides your family, what do you miss most about Egypt?

I really miss the Nile, the buildings, the ancient Egyptian artifacts, the Pyramids, the museums, the temples. It's a beautiful place, really, as a country. I miss the people too -- very nice, generous and kind.

As a college professor, what's the outlook for art education?

I believe there is a danger of it being cut back. It's affecting how we teach and how we can serve the students. Still, things are getting just a little bit better. It's been tight since 2011, but it's a bit better now.

BC students are getting a first-rate arts education. Most of us (teachers) have worked in the field for years. Most of us practice art. We notice that when (students) send us emails that they're continuing their education or continuing in the field.

What are some other non-art passions?

Spending time with Christ, my wife and kids. I play music (the lute and the violin; not very good and cannot read music notes), I love books, enjoy playing soccer and tennis, bike riding, fishing, traveling and fixing things in the house!

I like to build things, collect power tools, paint on papyrus and palm tree parchments, Arabic calligraphy, and take photographs.

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