Khaled Hafez on the Metamorphic Nature of Animals and Iconography

In a remodelling of cultural paradigms, Khaled Hafez constructs a fictitious universe where gods, animals and advertising collide. 

*Click images  to enlarge.

© Khaled Hafez. Houston Runners, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.


Cairo born Khaled Hafez fabricates an alternative mythology based on a roster of universal icons. His craft spans an assemblage of mediums with the aim of breaking barriers between past and present, sacred and profane, East and West.

Hafez endeavours to explore Egyptian identity and current political concerns by crafting complex visual narratives. These stories are occupied by well known shapes and forms–a cross reference of global advertising with localised historic deities. Through this, Hafez presents a plane populated by a surreal blend of religious iconography, models, comic book heroes and fauna. The animals are key players in the symbolic language developed in this realm, comparable to how the ancient hieroglyphic system sourced much of its imagery.


© Khaled Hafez. the code of femina – LR .  


Culture is a process of unceasing recycling. Across and from within political and geographical boundaries, familiar archetypes have been construed time and time again. Importantly, the inclusion of animals and ancient gods allows Hafez to explore without censorship the notion of ‘the sacred’. Icons of every nature are reinterpreted in an effort to lace his social commentary with a jagged irony. Hafez describes this as “a sarcastic regard to the tradition of painting and its sacred and commercial contents while respecting the elegance of the work.”


© Khaled Hafez. Berlin Angels.


Recurrent is the jackal-headed Anubis, the guardian of the dead that presided over weighing the truth in one’s heart. Hafez integrates the canine god with one of the world’s most famous comic book heroes, Batman. As the artist states, the basic silhouette of the two icons are remarkably similar though the roots of this comparison run much deeper. Anubis protects the dead whereas Batman protects the living, both however protect from evil forces. These icons stand in positions of power as the peak of physical fitness. This level of bodily perfection is frequently deemed the epitome of masculinity, maintaining the concept of ‘the unobtainable ’ in the minds of the masses.

The ways in which we perceive ideas of masculinity and power are subject to limitations, for there is nothing new under the sun. Hafez masterfully spotlights this with his prime examples of recycled archetypes.


© Khaled Hafez. The Challenge.


Bastet and Sekhmet, the cat and the lioness, diverged from the same entity to embody different aspects of femininity. The loving perfumed protector Bastet appears seemingly domesticated when compared to the ferocious war deity Sekhmet. While known for her bloody rampages that nearly doomed humanity, Sekhmet was also viewed as a great provider to those in her favour. Under the sweet and precious image of Bastet, on the other hand, lay the feisty heart of a predator akin to the modern day cat. Anthropomorphism allows these creatures to convey the complex personalities of humans and gods. Both mirror this equal capability of ferocity and charm.


© Khaled Hafez. Divine Exodus, 2009.


As with Anubis and notions of the masculine defender, Hafez too explores the ongoing link between femininity and the feline. The Bastet-Sekhmet hybrid re-enters this narrative as Catwoman. The addition of sexually charged imagery, from the worlds of modelling and advertising, shatters divides between the sacred and the profane.


© Khaled Hafez. Kinsola Work.


 © Khaled Hafez. Three Flag Cats, 2011.  


Hathor, the cow god and the mother of mothers, was a deity responsible for many aspects of femininity and fertility. She was present in every corner of life even adopting the roles of Anubis in the underworld. An omnipresent force in both Ancient Egypt and the work of Hafez, Hathor is a call for tolerance and social equity.


© Khaled Hafez. Three Goddesses, Two Angels and One Nute.


© Khaled Hafez. Flight of the half-gods, 2009 (detail).


While acknowledged and worshipped separately, Hathor, Bastet and Sekhmet are also part of one singular entity, the Eye of Ra. In other accounts the three goddesses were aspects of one complete feminine genesis deity, Isis/Iset. In either case they are representatives of function such as Sekhmet indicating anger and war. This is a game of masks where animal façades dictate the changeability of godly natures.

Mythology and iconography, in Egypt and on a global scale, are fluid. This flexibility allows for the alteration of icons to be worshipped depending on our needs at the time.

Humankind will always strive to see aspects of itself in other life forms. The physical characteristics and behavioural tendencies of animals, from predation to nurture, are incorporated in religious and secular belief systems to reflect our own traits. By way of this symbolic code, Khaled Hafez delivers poignant socio-political statements.


© Khaled Hafez. Flight of the half-gods, 2009.



Khaled Hafez (b. Cairo, Egypt, 1963) lives and works in Cairo. His practice spans the mediums of painting, video, photography, installation and interdisciplinary approaches.

Written by Keiron Le Vine.

Cairo, Egypt | Doing our part to combat immappancy

All images courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.


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