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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.
Now showing at Zamalek Art Gallery’s Venue II, ‘Passion Offerings’ displays a culturally rich series of paintings by Egyptian Artist, Adel Tharwat. Born in Cairo in 1966, Tharwat holds a PhD in Art education from Helwan University, where he later went on to become a professor.
Tharwat’s approach in ‘Passion Offerings’ delves into both shared and personal self-assessment when it comes to cultural identity and explores cultural heritage, with the aesthetic of Pharonic imagery, with African and more contemporary touches. The paintings themselves are enormous in size reaching a staggering 135 X 135cm, creating an effect of power and gravity, and each one features several figures grouped together and engaged in some sort of manual labour whilst others, the female figures, are displayed as symbols of vanity, love and the softer nature of humans.
The style of the painted figures lack detail and so the individual role of each character is not important; the faces are merely just brown colour as are the bodies dressed in simple clothing: the males with simple cloth around them and the women in dresses. Sharp lines and exaggerated curves are used to form the figures in likeness to the Pharonic wall carvings from centuries ago as are the meanings they give. Tharwat’s paintings read like a story – a story of traditional Egyptian cultural heritage filled with symbols, bold colours and each with the traditional essence of Egypt. His paintings are filled with marks and patterns that may resemble the weaving of tapestries.
Another point that is apparent in several of these large paintings is that there are some areas painted in gold, which not only captures the light in a way that even the bolder colours used cannot, but also a certain beauty that fittingly represents wealth and sacredness.
In the brochure which is available at the exhibition, Adel Tharwat quotes: “I am an Egyptian” and his paintings convey this message with a thoughtfulness and subtle passion in beautifully artistic fashion.
Egypt has a rich culture and a vast artistic history, so exhibitions like this have an important presence in the what is quickly becoming a more eclectic local art scene and Adel Tharwat’s latest collection aid in preserving a piece of it.