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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art: Bidoun Library
On October 12th, 2010 Townhouse Gallery launched its first exhibition following its summer hiatus, and we couldn't be more excited! As Townhouse is one of the leading independent art spaces in Cairo, the exhibits never fail to impress, immerse and inspire those that have the opportunity to get involved. This latest project is no exception. The visiting exhibition Bidoun Library is held on the first floor of the Townhouse building; so head down to Nabrawy Street; the gallery is located up the stairs and to the left.
The Bidoun Library has been archiving and teaming with collaborators since its first installation in Abu Dhabi three years ago. It is an offshoot project of the leading arts and culture publication of the Middle East, Bidoun Magazine. If you're not familiar with Bidoun Magazine; now is your time!
Since 2008, the Bidoun Library has partnered with art collectives worldwide, including a Lebanese comic’s journal and its latest stop in New York City. Unlike any other exhibition in recent months or even years; the exhibition’s simple focal point is paired with a rich history and philosophical questioning focused on the book as an object of expression.
As many of us know, the value of the written word has become increasingly reduced in recent times. Focusing on the 20th century, the library explores that period when written word, including the book, newspaper and periodical magazine, was in its most tangible form of circulation. The exhibit's collection of written word draws from printed matter from around and within the Middle East, including exhibition catalogues, artists' books and other printed materials. Viewing the book as a means of material production, the concept stems from some of the very first publishing projects that took place during the Cold War; where the written word meets image.
The Bidoun Library covers the entire first floor, including the front room that is lined with the autumn 2010 issue of the Bidoun Magazine titled 'Library.' This issue displays a catalogue depicting the latest Bidoun exhibition held in the USA.
Attached to each issue's cover are one-of-a-kind photographs accumulated by local collector Amgad Naguib. Four different hardback books are suspended from the ceiling by silver chains in the middle of the room, representing varying portrayals of how the Middle East has come to be defined through literature.
In the two middle rooms, shelves are stacked with rows of books, providing the viewer with both a live art experience and a true understanding of the exhibit as it plays out in individual viewers’ actions: books are thumbed through and read out loud by visitors. It compels you to explore and research the materials at hand, most of which are rarely available for commercial sale.
The majority of material located in the room to the right offers a great selection by and for artists, including a copy of the inspiring Art is for the People. Take a seat at one of the long tables and read as long as your heart desires. Lastly, check out the video installation in the back, which conjures up more speculation through the use of musical media.
The Bidoun Library is a collection of books based on a clear vision. While the library itself is an organised institution that collects the written word for archiving and experiencing the depths that these printed materials came from, the exhibit portrays how they are used and understood today.
Showing until November 17th, the exhibition’s hours are Saturday to Wednesday from 10AM to 2PM and 6PM to 9PM, and Fridays from 6PM to 9PM.
Located in the heart of the island, Zamalek Art Gallery is currently exhibiting ‘Paris’ by revered Egyptian artist Farghali Abdel Hafez. Setting out to discover the intricacy within the relationship between certain cities and himself, Farghali has held a string of exhibitions starting in Venice, moving from Aswan to Cairo, and now we see him in the city of love, Paris.
A clean and straightforward set up, Zamalek Art Gallery does nothing more than open its blue door for the art to speak for itself. Drenched in daylight, with white walls and subdued floors, the bursts of colours from the pieces are undistracted and unavoidable.
Farghali’s pieces are dense and thick with vibrant colours; layered with paint, pastels, crayons and paper cut outs. This use of mixed-media gives depth to his work, the images draw you closer and with every closer look another detail is discovered. He almost scribbles; the shapes are sketched yet easily recognizable. His images of Paris are a mesh of cafés, the Champs-Élysées, lovers strolling by the Eiffel Tower and remnants of La Belle Époque and its cancan dancers; all splashed out in potent pinks, oranges, blues and purples with the occasional gold glitter sparkle to add to the magic.
There is a charmingly childlike quality to Farghali’s art; his perspectives are distorted and the lampposts he depicts along the streets of Paris often lay flat on the ground. Such motifs exude an Egyptian-ness, a theme that is indeed meant to coexist in his depictions of Paris. The artist likens the city to Thebes; the ‘original treasure trove’ that was once central to knowledge, art and culture. The beauty in this likening is how subtly it is delivered; it’s not visually obvious but rather emotionally felt. There is something largely familiar about his images of Paris, though nothing you can pinpoint.
The series is wonderfully alive, the colours fantastically rich; overall they are quite similar though. Two or three next to each other along a wall are most desirable to be taken home. The only stand-alone item that spoke a slightly different language was a large, mostly yellow painting in the centre of the exhibition. The figures are more defined, carrying clearer features and body parts. A couple with a baby carriage take up most of the canvas, along with a man in uniform to one side and another that looks suspiciously like Freud. In the details though, other small worlds are opened up. Lovers can be found absorbed in a kiss while famous Parisian monuments float around aimlessly in the vast background.
As a collection, ‘Paris’ is pure, simple and honest. Although set in a different city it’s evocative of a city we also know and perhaps live in to a certain extent. We view the city through the artist’s mind and in his relating it to himself, he somehow relates it to us.