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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.
Zamalek’s Art Corner Gallery has garnered a reputation for exhibiting more versatile art for established as well as young aspiring Egyptian artists – something that can be seen in the gallery’s two-week summer exhibition featuring a multitude of artworks mostly exhibited over the past year.
Art Corner’s summer collection offers a delightful mix of styles in different in shapes and sizes; from gigantic abstract pieces, to smaller, more intricate paintings.
Perhaps the most prolific artist within this summer exhibition is Omar El Nagdi, with his delicately painted pieces mixed with bold lines and his signature gold frames. One of El Nagdi’s most remarkable pieces is an oil painting featuring Egyptians engaged in manual labour and wearing garments from different eras including the Pharonic era – a beautiful piece manifesting the working class in Egypt.
Another particularly remarkable piece – and quite large in size – is one by Taher Abdel Azeem, in which he composes a beautiful portrait of Old Cairo during nighttime when the place seems to have a magical glow. Abdel Azeem is a special artist known to capture scenes at their best, emphasising them in all their glory and splendour using an expressive style of painting as well as a limited colour palette.
Laila Allam also has several pieces displayed in the summer collection, one of which boasts a unique and modern style of portraiture. Born in 1932, Allam is a noted sculptor and an art professor whose refined work has earned significant recognition. Allam paints women with special features ; big eyes, plump lips, fiery red hair; in fact it seems the features have the essence of caricatures, where the artist focuses on a particular human feature and then magnifies it in some way. The most interesting aspect of Allam’s paintings is that all the drawn faces appear to be of the same woman, which stirs curiosity and a great deal of admiration to her style. .
Art Corner’s summer exhibition proves to be another successful and enjoyable celebration of some of Egypt’s most esteemed artists and it definitely offers a further insight into contemporary art.