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Darb 17 18: 'Maspero'
Maspero, Egypt’s state TV building is no stranger to ridicule; for generations, its giant plump cluster of offices has been associated with an ailing government that gambles on partial media.
During the eighteen days that toppled former president Mubarak, protesters criticized the notorious establishment, often right at its doorstep. And as the fight for free press continues across Egypt’s squares, artists featured at Darb 17 18’s recent exhibit pay tribute to the last 50 years of forceful, faulty state indoctrination.
The first piece, titled Man Made, explores the notion of one’s outlook being obscured by an external force. Moataz Nasr Eldin juxtaposes an image of a young man blinkered with an eye patch with an image of a horse looking straight and steady, with its blinker tied around his eyes. The message is clear; Egyptian state media, like a blinker, has long tightened our visions, ensuring that we do not see the other side of any story.
Engy Ali’s Sanzaru portrays the absence of state media from the childhood of many Egyptians.
'I don’t remember what was usually on Wednesday night, and I don’t remember who I watched Friday shows with,' she says about her digital collage that duplicates an image of three chimps that can’t hear, see or smell.
Set against an abstract geometric background, the stifling of one’s senses is both powerful and comic, perhaps due to the chronic ineptness embodied in Maspero’s catalogue of broadcasts.
On the adjacent wall stands Adham Bakry’s Blueprint, a stark, sky-high mural stencilling the TV headquarters next to what looks like a map of its interior, in way of inviting someone to hijack the building, put an end to its unearned grandiose status and lift the shadow that it casted on Egyptians for decades.
In a series of sketches drawn on cardboard, Ali Abdel Mohsen, who is also the curator of the show, toys with the common belief that Maspero has long been regarded as the government’s mouthpiece, depicting both its anchors and the subjects invited on air as large megaphones.
While Khaled Hafez’s love-hate relationship with state media, capsulated in a video installation, ends silently with him watching news on mute with his two children, May El Hossamy’s affair is one with a concrete end: a grave titled Maspero 1960-2011. For both artists, the lies propagated by the Egyptian media are falling on deaf ears, but the question is when the rest of Egyptians will catch up.
When it comes to artistic variety, Zamalek’s Art Corner never fails to deliver, particularly in its current group exhibition, Ta7ya Masr, which includes a large collection of paintings by some of Egypt’s most talented artists, each showing a variety of techniques and ideas. While the exhibition has been held to commemorate the New Suez Canal, it doesn’t exclusively feature elements of patriotism and explores much more.
Some people say that art should evoke some kind of feeling or emotion from the viewer, even if it a negative one. In the first collection of paintings by Mohamed Tamam, the process and technique are clear too see; thick layers of dark blues and vivid yellows are applied by a palette knife to create a heavy pasted effect. The subject is unclear, though the first piece shows a face with red eyes and open-mouth, below it a human body lying down and could perhaps represent a death; it appears figurative, scenic and expressive.
Our favourite of them all had to be the three gigantesque paintings by Fathi Ali whose focus is on the darker side of life; in his first painting, he portrays a group of people who appear to be Egyptian from their long gallabeyas and head scarves. Three of them have faces that portray a feeling of obscurity and confusion through the dripping marks and empty eyes, though the most disturbing part is the red face with the horns who clearly represents Satan and the presence of evil being among us.
In the next room there are two more paintings by Fathi Ali focusing also on a darker, but more topical, side of life – terrorism, particularly that of ISIS. The pieces show figures in the bright orange jumpsuits we have all come to despair at, with one showing not only the violence but also the sadness left behind as a distraught mother holds up a photograph of her son, alluding to the execution of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya in February this year.
Testament to the sheer and boundless variety of work in the exhibition, one of the other collections that catch the eye are some cartoon strips and paintings looking at Egyptian heritage; one is a beautiful rural painting by Eman Hakim of an old lady in a scarf on a background of mixed countryside scenes. The colours are soft greens, blues and yellows creating a relaxed and positive scene.
Though the gallery space is quite small, Art Corner’s latest exhibition manages to bring together a collection rich in variety, style, colours and subjects, despite its name.