Former culture ministry official Mohsen Shaalan exhibits his artwork – completed during his recent one-year stint in prison – at Cairo's Gezira Art Centre until 28 February.
Charged with negligence and professional delinquency and imprisoned for a year after Van Gogh’s $55 million "Poppy Flowers" was stolen from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum, former Deputy Minister of Culture and enduring artist Mohsen Shaalan, 62, rendered prison as his personal studio.
An exhibition entitled 'Black Cat: A Prison Experience' that opened 16 February at the Gezira Art Centre showcases the artwork Shaalan created behind bars. Prowling through the collection of large scale oil paintings and ink drawings is a black cat, a symbol for the feeling of injustice experienced by the artist.
Deputy Minister of Culture Mohsen Shaalan was the main defendant in the last major public opinion case, the theft of Dutch post-Impressionist genius, Vincent Van Gogh’s multi-million dollar painting. The artwork had been displayed in the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Dokki, home to one of the most significant collections of 19th and 20th century European art in the Middle East, including works by Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. (...)
Mohsen Shaalan, who had been working for the ministry of culture since 1989, does not deny the lax security and wretched condition of the the museum. In an investigation carried out by the attorney general following the robbery, it was uncovered that out of the 43 cameras at the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum, only seven were functional (...)
Art and freedom
The only fragment of freedom he could hold on to was art. After resistance and a brief refusal to get accustomed to life in prison, Shaalan adapted to his reality, and in any ways capitalised on it. His son, Ahmed, brought him art supplies in prison, serving as a trigger for an unexpected artistic endeavour that Shaalan exhibits in February.(...)
'Black Cat: A Prison Experience' runs until 28 February
Gezira Art Centre, 1 Al-Sheikh Al-Marsafi Street, Zamalek, Cairo