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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.
New art has been aplenty across Cairo this month, with the city’s galleries resuming normal service after the summer. Zamalek Art Gallery – boasting two spaces these days – has kicked off the season with a huge retrospective of the work of famed Egyptian artist, Mohie El Din Hussein – a man that is considered one of the best sculptors of his kind in Egypt.
The exhibition in itself is unique in that it hosts such a large collection of Hussein’s sculpting work – it’s so extensive, in fact, that it takes up both of the galleries separate halls, which usually host separate exhibitions. The materials used range between bronze to ceramics, meaning that there’s plenty of variations in Hussein’s pieces – in fact, some of the pieces are repeated, but in different materials. One such example is an abstract sculpture depicting an owl and another of a frog.
The most interesting material Hussein uses, however, is basic fire brick. Much of the pieces that use It are again, abstract human figures, with one of the standout pieces including a female face, painted in a striking green. Hussein’s pottery work has appeared in many a gallery and is a big part of this exhibition. Some of the pieces are atypical and unremarkable in form, relying more on colour, with an orange, blue and white one showing a set of simple, rural houses catching our eye.
Some of the more untraditionally-shaped pottery pieces are just as striking in colour, with one in particular stand out; the slanted piece fades between blue, olive green and orange.
The exhibition also holds a large number of murals, some of which are done over ceramics, while others see Hussein take a collage-like approach to their formation. Many of them are inspired by nature in its widest of meanings and colour, once again, plays a huge part in them.
Overall, the exhibition achieves its goal in paying homage to Hussein as one of the most influential and versatile contemporary artists in Egypt. If one needed any further proof, look to the fact that New York’s Everson Ceramic Museum house some of his work, as does Bibliotheca Alexandria – recognition owed to his innovative abstract expressionist approach.
(Photos: Zamalek Art Gallery/Facebook)