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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.
Marking the month of Ramadan, Zamalek’s Art Corner Gallery has brought together the work of fourteen talented artists in group exhibition, The Story of Arabic Calligraphy, which serves to highlight the art of calligraphy and celebrate Egyptian and Islamic heritage.
Upon entering the exhibition, one of the first pieces to meet you is a delicate assemblage of religious words in gold and silver calligraphic handwriting, structured over a black background to form the image of a fanoos – the traditional Egyptian lantern that floods the streets and homes of Cairo during Ramadan.
Many pieces bring the touches on the politics of religion and religion as identity; a piece by Doaa Abdelhadi shows a faceless man outlined by his hair and beard in colour-splattered scene. The calligraphy on the piece translates to ‘My Religion is For Myself; The Religion of Others is For Themselves,’ - an apt and relevant message in Egypt’s fractured society.
Abdelhadi has contributed several other pieces in similar style, with one particular standout using the outline of a woman’s face and hair. The text over the piece translates to: ‘The Answer to the Question is How He Loves’ – another message that feeds into the exhibition’s goal in showcasing calligraphy as a visually rich and layered form of expression.
Another piece by Doaa Abdelhedi depicts a colour splattered scene behind a faceless man who is made apparent only by the outline of his hair and beard. The beautiful Arabic writing over it translates to: My Religion is For Myself; The Religion of Others is For Them. This is quite an important message in today’s society as religion is often being attacked and discriminated when it should in fact be something sacred and important for each individual rather than being fought over publicly.
Despite the title of the exhibition, there is also a mixture of figurative and scenic paintings entwined within, two of which were particularly detailed by Essam Kamal. His first painting depicts a daytime depiction of a mosque and dated building in Old Cairo, while the second is of an old man carrying a tray of tea through a street, ready to serve it to customers. The way in which Kamal presents these typical Cairo scenes is almost photographic in capturing the very essence of the place and even the kindness in the man’s face in the latter piece.
Art Corner may be a small gallery, yet their messages and ideas are often much greater in size. This exhibition has proven to be a wonderful way to celebrate the month of Ramadan as well as highlighting its meaning to those who may be less familiar with the iconography of Ramadan and Egyptian culture in wider sense.