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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.
Located in a relatively hushed side street in the ever picturesque Zamalek area, Safarkhan Art Gallery has always been a leader in its field, hosting exhibitions for Egypt’s most prominent artists and just generally being a must-go for all Cairene connoisseurs of the arts.
All throughout the next month, till the 27th of February, the gallery is displaying the works of one of Egypt’s most talented and renowned artists, the late Dr. Salah Abdel Kerim, including some never-before seen pieces. His works, which range from oil paintings to felt-tip portraits to shaded landscapes and theatrical sets to wooden and wrought iron sculptures all suggest surrealist muses.
Being one of the most established names of modern art in Egypt, Salah Abdel Kerim’s works have attracted a lot of local as well as global praise due to his use of several diverse mediums in his art and his versatility. Some of the national and international prizes the creative artist received include the San Vito Romano prize in painting and the prize for sculpture at the Biennale of Alexandria, as well as an honorary distinction in sculpture in Saint Paolo in 1959.
On display front and center in the gallery is his most famous, award-winning sculpture ‘The Cry of the Beast’, which was featured in Rene Huyghe’s book Art and Man alongside the works of Picasso and Muller - the former being an obvious source of inspiration and admiration. Visitors can also get a first-hand look at his design wirk, done in collaboration with Salah Jahin, in celebration of Cairo’s first millennium. His illustrations for Al Ahram newspaper can also be seen hanging on the walls of the gallery’s top floor, as do some of his drawings of landscapes.
Some of the other truly breath-taking pieces currently being shown at the gallery include Abdel Kerim’s owl sculptures, and the different décors he put together for theatrical productions.
Dr. Salah Abdel Kerim’s works are, without a doubt, some of the most striking in Egyptian art history thanks to his skill, creativity, talent and openness to experiment with countless methods and materials. Rarely does a single exhibition capture such a wide range of one single artist’s work like this one does. As a collection, the links between Abdel Kerim’s inspirations and style are obvious and the whole exhibition flows.