The work of Victor Fakhoury, and in particular The Martyrs of Maspero icon, was introduced to the Coptic Museum of Canada through a special feature article in the Egyptian weekly newspaper, Watani International. In its 7 October 2012 issue, the paper dedicated a full page to remembering the one-year anniversary of that tragic event. What was striking in the Watani article was the fact that Fakhoury was writing an icon about a current situation in Egypt that affected the Church and the Coptic community. This is in stark contrast to the icons in the Coptic Orthodox Church that represent saints and martyrs predominantly from the Roman period. Furthermore, Fakhoury has made it his mission to write not one but a series of icons on the life of the Church during a period of general upheaval in Egypt and the Middle East.
The Museum acquired The Martyrs of Maspero in 2014 and a second icon in the series, The Martyrs of Libya, in 2015. Gradually, it became evident that the significance of Fakhoury’s historical series had a place in a museum such as the Coptic Museum of Canada. The Museum has acquired for its permanent collection the first ten icons in Fakhoury’s series. (click here for images)
The Fakhoury icons meet three of several criteria considered in the selection of the Museum’s collection:
- Represents a theme or work of historical and cultural value.
- Originality of theme and representation.
- Show-casing contemporary Coptic art and artists.
An icon in Coptic Orthodox tradition is conceived to tell the essence of a “story” about the image, the spiritual message. The icon’s shape/drawing translates the essence of Coptic spirituality with the Holy Bible as its guide and inspiration. The aim is to portray divine beauty and glory in a material way that is visible to the eye. It is for this reason that icons are said to be “written” and have been described as “windows into the spiritual world,” “visual theology,” and a conduit or invitation to prayer. For all these reasons, one distinctive characteristic that is never conveyed in Coptic icons is the expression or portrayal of violence. For example, animals such as lions are stripped of their ferocious character and represented as docile creatures. Dragons or snakes, usually presented as symbols of evil, are represented disproportionally smaller in size. Similarly, icons about martyrs do not depict or express the violence they have endured but rather express an internal serenity and tranquility to evoke a sense of inner peace and spirituality to the onlooker. True to this principle, Fakhoury first seeks his inspiration from the Holy Bible. In fact, he titles several of the icons with a biblical verse and often uses more than one biblical verse to reinforce the underlying spiritual message he seeks to convey.
The imagery of Fakhoury’s icons are not easy to “read” because they have many layers of meaning Fakhoury seeks to communicate. The Museum has therefore sought Fakhoury’s interpretation of each icon. This interpretation will be available in a future publication of the Museum and of course is now shared with visitors at the Museum. By recording Fakhoury’s interpretation, art historians and scholars, today and in the future will also know how Fakhoury came to create each icon, the historical forces that shaped them, the key features that determined his style, and the meaning he sought to convey, among other analytical scrutiny of his works.
The Museum has published a catalogue which reproduces the first ten icons in this series and interprets from the artist’s perspective the many layers of meaning the imagery he uses in each icon to communicate the spiritual message he seeks to convey. A video interview with Victor Fakhoury provides in his own voice what started him on this journey and his approach as a Coptic iconographer.
Victor Fakhoury’s biography (below) details his training as an iconographer and especially the influence his teacher, Dr. Isaac Fanous, “father” of Neo-Coptic iconography has had on his works. Iconographers will certainly look at the quality of Fakhoury’s brush, the symbols he uses to translate the biblical texts, and significantly how ancient Egyptian imagery is used to reinforce both the message and the historical roots of the Coptic Church, the Egyptian Church in the Valley of the Nile. Because Fakhoury seeks his inspiration from the Holy Bible, each icon can also become a source for individual and group biblical reflection and study. Last but not the least, the general public is invited to engage with his icons.
Nile Scribes blog, February 25, 2020 “Scribal Spotlight: Victor Fakhoury
and Neo-Coptic Icons.” click here
Biography – Victor Assad Fakhoury
Victor Fakhoury was born in Cairo in 1960. He graduated with a bachelor of arts in classics from Ain Shams University in Cairo (1983) and a diploma from the faculty of fine arts (painting department) at Helwan University (1993). In 1996, he graduated with a master’s degree in Coptic art (drawing, sculpture, painting, and Coptic iconography) from the Coptic Orthodox Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (Cairo). After graduating, he worked for several years under the tutelage of Dr. Isaac Fanous, the “Father of Neo-Coptic Iconography.”
Fakhoury has written icons for churches and taught icon writing workshops in Egypt . He has also written icons for several churches in France, as well as churches in Lymasol (Cyprus), and Florida (USA). In Ottawa he wrote the icons in St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church. In Europe, he exhibited his icons in Belgium, France, and Germany.
Fakhoury is a Coptic iconographer influenced by the Isaac Fanous School While he is loyal to Coptic traditional iconography’s two dimensional representations, intensity of colours and stylized lines, oval shaped faces, a black line surrounding almond shaped eyes, and the use gold leaf to evoke the Divine Light, Fakoury is also a contemporary Coptic artist, influenced by modern movements, such as, cubist and abstract art. Above all, his art recalls the imagery of his ancient Egyptian artistic heritage: papyrus boats, the ankh, the scarab, the solar disc. He incorporates these ancient representations with traditional Coptic themes. In this way, ancient Egyptian artistic heritage “nourishes” contemporary art and the spiritual message Fakhoury seeks to communicate through his icons.
One of the major cultural outcomes of the March 25, 2011 so-called Arab Spring was how it became a catalyst for artistic expression. Graffiti on walls, visual and other art forms so to speak “burst out” from nowhere. Several publications have documented this art. It has generally been “secular” in its representations. Fakhoury’s contribution to this movement it is unique in the field of Coptic iconography because he not only created one icon but a series icons in which he has made it his vocation to narrate a sequence of contemporary events in the life of the Church in Egypt, beginning with the popular uprisings unleashed by the 25 January 2011 revolution. This in itself is an innovation that totally departs from Coptic iconography which has depicted saints and martyrs from the early centuries of the Church.