Finding Belonging in A Small Town

Texas artist brings a feeling of “home” to her sculptures

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Entering the Samuels Studio building, located at 207 N. Beaton Street in Downtown Corsicana, feels like reentering a familiar, but bygone era of retail. Once a men’s clothier store, the building is now a new addition to the Corsicana Artist and Writer Residency’s gallery of studios.

Until recently, the building’s second floor served as a creative space for Austin-based artist Rehab El Sadek. An Egyptian conceptual artist of Sudanese ancestry, El Sadek began her work in the 1990s, creating works across 17 countries and four continents.

Rehab El Sadek blends two worlds to create a sense of home to her work. – Photo by Guy Chapman

The artist immigrated to the United States in 2006, leaving behind Egypt’s familiar daily routines and ways of thinking before eventually moving to Austin in 2016. Her “outsider” point of view allowed for a deeper perspective in her work as she learned more about the place she would eventually call “home.”

“What everybody loves about Austin, and what I love, is that it’s very diverse community,” El Sadek said. “People are very accepting of different cultures. It’s good to be different. The Austin art community is very supportive of each other.”

Her “outsider” point of view allowed for a deeper perspective in her work as she learned more about the place she now calls “home.”

“I always work in work that is towards community,” El Sadek said of her creative motivations. “Getting involved in how my work can be part of the change. Any good change bringing people to think about things they didn’t think about, or to bring them to be involved in something that they didn’t expect.”

El Sadek’s 100W residency is her first in Corsicana, having initially discovered the town by chance through sites such as Google and Instagram. The images she found, coupled with the historical buildings of downtown, impressed her enough to want to visit in person.

“What I’ve really loved about Corsicana is there is an art community here that’s meaningful, and is growing,” the artist said. “I hope this never changes. It feels very human here. Corsicana is a very generous community.”

The city installation within the the Samuels Studio pulled inspiration from El Sadek’s native Alexandria in Egypt. Those personal influences merged into her residency work, reviving architectural sculpting once lost to time, to blend naturally into the interior walls of the Samuels building as if it had always been there. The resulting process creates a sense of familiarity within its newly formed environment.

Sunlight pours in from the window to provide natural lighting for the sculptures. – Photo by Guy Chapman

“As an artist, I saw this is a place for me that I can give something different which is to create a space, to create a city like I’m doing upstairs,” El Sadek said. “I’m creating an old Egypt city that is coming from imagination, coming from architectural references from places in the world that when people go and walk about they will be transported to a different place.”

“That’s a goal for me that I go to some place and make you feel like ‘I can belong here’,” the artist added. “We can all belong in any place if we’re open to it. It’s in your mind. It’s how you think about things.”

In sharing her interests of finding and making local community, one of El Sadek’s favorite residency memories was conducting a workshop with twenty Corsicana High School art students. The group was put in charge of creating an imaginary city, where they collectively chose location, the types of houses that would inhabit the space, where they would eat, and how the city would be would be managed.

The results of the student activity was called “Seaweed City,” an underwater cityscape whose primary food source was “Waterburger.” The artist laughed as she recalled the playful nature of the student exercise.

“This workshop was a highlight for me,” El Sadek smiled.

Rehab El Sadek adjusts details of her sculpture work. – Photo by Curt Gettman

The artist also recalled the comfort of sharing the residency space with fellow artists and writers during her stay, as well as meeting new people through the studio visits.

“I believe this was rewarding,” El Sadek said of her experience.

El Sadek plans to return to Corsicana again in the future, and is looking to one day live here.

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