Los Angeles-based Sherin Guirguis is an abstract artist, who works both with painting on paper and sculpture. She engages with craft and ornamentation, traditionally associated with women, to bring sacred geometry into her work. Her mixed-media paintings and sculptures contain an abstract lexicon of pattern and geometry, elements of Middle Eastern Architecture and West Coast Modernism. Her abstract doorways, windows, and arches explore cultural identity and women’s agency.
Guirguis was born in Luxor, Egypt. As a non-Muslim she was already considered an outsider in Egypt, and this feeling of being an outsider continued when her family moved to the United States when she was fourteen years old. She received her B.A. in Painting and Sculpture in 1997 from University of California, Santa Barbara and her Master of Fine Arts, Painting in 2001 from the University of Nevada where she had originally studied geology. She is a professor of Fine Art at the Roski School of Art and Design at the University of Southern California.
In 2007, when her family home in Egypt was torn down, Guirguis focused on the imagery of the architectural veil, the lattice-work wooden screens that separate the public and private parts of an Egyptian house. The public is the male part of the house, while the private part relates to female life and is the section where the women live. Such division also corresponds to the tradition of women wearing veils when in public. The veil can both conceal and beckon as it elicits attention even while attempting to obscure the woman. In the same way, Guirguis makes perforated cutouts in wall-mounted paper work and in shaped canvases. This draws the viewer in so that he or she has to look carefully to see the backing behind the cutouts. Guirguis also uses this optical technique of piercing the picture plane in her freestanding sculptures. There the decorative woodwork patterns become actual architectural armatures in an intimate scale.
In a 2013 exhibit at L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, California, Guirguis presented an abstract painting, “Untitled (maad wu gazr),” 2012. This was a triptych in ink and watercolor, executed on hand-cut paper that burst forth with energy. In the same gallery was a large wood sculpture, “Untitled (et sokareya),” 2013, that blended Islamic patterning with Western abstraction, reflective of Guirguis’ own complex heritage.
Guirguis was a participant is the 2017 Desert X exhibition that was held in the Coachella Valley in Southern California. Her “One I Call,” takes is name from a Rumi poem about being everywhere and nowhere. It is an adobe structure in Whitewater Preserve, a meeting place for communities in the California desert near Palm Springs. “One I Call” is a site-specific, immersive art installation based on pigeon towers for homing pigeons, which the artist saw in Africa and in the Mid-East. She constructed her piece out of sandbags so that people could enter it and experience the desert. This art work not only told Guirguis’ own story as an immigrant but also the story of this particular site in Southern California.
In 2019, Guirguis exhibited “Sherin Guirguis: Here I Have Returned” at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. Her hand-cut works on paper and sculpture were inspired by a forgotten leader of the Egyptian feminist movement, Doria Shafik who in 1951 led 1,500 Egyptian women to the gates of the Egyptian parliament to demand the right to vote and to hold public office. She was arrested and silenced, and her role in the feminist movement was erased over time.
Guirguis has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions in Santa Monica and Venice California as well as in Dubai. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Las Vegas Art Museum, and Orange County Museum of Art, among others.