Youssef Nabil is a big name in the art world – if not here in his homeland of Egypt, then almost certainly abroad; the artist’s acclaimed photography has seen him work with some huge names – everyone from controversial British artist, Tracy Emin, to r&b singer, Alicia Keys, to the late Omar Sherif.
The latest star to collaborate with Nabil is Hollywood heavyweight, Salma Hayek, who stars in his second short-film, I Saved My Belly Dancer. Set to debut in January at Dubai gallery, the Third Line, Nabil has also created 26 hand-painted images based on the 12-minute piece, which has been described as both a celebration and mourning of the art of belly dancing.
Speak to the National, Youssef has cited the rise in religious fundamentalism in post-Jan25 Egypt as inspiration, pointing to a new wave of attacks aimed at one of the country’s native arts. Now based in New York, Youssef commented on the casting, saying that he “saw an Egyptian in Salma [Hayek],” who is actually an avid collector of Youssef’s work. “I had drawn the storyboard for I Saved My Belly Dancer with her face and we met two years ago, ” he continued. “She has also never played an Arab role and I guess I put her in touch with her origins.”
Youssef describes the film as a “love letter to his country” and it comes together to form a personal feeling of loss of an essential element of Egyptian culture. “She [the Belly dancer] belongs to an era in Egypt that no longer exists, so I saved her. We all choose what we want to save in our minds, to continue living with us, and I am choosing my Egypt, one that is more tolerant and open-minded through a belly dancer, who, today is subjected to attack because of her body, because she is a woman, and because she is a dancer.”
For more on Youssef Nabil’s work, check out his official website.
By Kalam El Qahaira
Images: Youssef Nabil