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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.
Art awakens the senses; it provides an alternative insight into the world around us and brings enlightenment to those who delve into its forever widening porthole. Fortunately Cairo does not run short of galleries and one of the most popular art complexes exists right here in Zamalek at the Cairo Opera House. The latest exhibition to take place at Al Bab Selim Gallery, one of the Opera House’s smaller exhibition spaces, is by the talented Sayed Khalifa.
Born in Cairo on September 21st 1933, his education in the arts is a vast venture in itself with a diploma from the Faculty of Applied Arts at Helwen University, an MA from the Public Institute in Florence, and a PhD in the Philosophy of Applied Arts back at Helwen University where he later became a professor in 1982. During the opening of his exhibition at Al Bab Selim Gallery, Khalifa was present and gave a passionate speech about each piece of work on display.
His current collection shows a great interest in birds and flowers. Many pieces portray birds taking flight or returning home, some with a single bird surrounded by blooming flowers, and others portraying a flock in motion. One rather sensual creation depicts the idea and importance of motherhood through one large bird soaring above three smaller birds in a serene and sunny setting.
In this exhibition of work it’s not only the subject that draws interest but also the method and mediums used to create the final pieces. One of these methods that Khalifa favours is called Batik. Batik is an art process where material is used as a base and wax is used to draw and create the desired image, whatever it might be, patterns, swirls or clear images. Next, once the wax is dried, a wax-resistant colour is used on top of this to give a background and when the wax is removed, there remain the drawn-on images, creating a rather unique effect.
Khalifa’s love for shape, colour and design are also visible throughout each piece that is displayed, in particularly the ones created using batik portraying twists and swirls of pattern, colour and visual confusion. Some pieces, for example the ones titled: ‘Flowers’ and another titled: ‘Tree’, portray a ray of multi-coloured swirls and beautifully applied marks that from afar appear as rippling water, almost moving on the material.
Despite the majority of Khalifa’s work focusing on nature, there are several pieces entwined within this exhibition that are based upon Cairo’s man-made structures though they are not apparent at first sight. One fairly large piece shows a zoomed in entrance of a building; the entrance is arched which immediately conjured up ideas of old Cairo where many of the doors are also rounded at the top. Furthermore the artwork shows an Islamic symbol above the door way which also suggests it is of a building in Cairo – Egypt.
Most of his pieces are created through printing though there is a small selection of detailed, figurative drawings: two are still-life pieces with one a bowl of fruit drawn in ink and the second a simple plant on a table top drawn in pencil; both are very detailed, life like and differ from his other work displayed in the gallery. The other three are portraits also done in pencil and ink.
The exhibition at Al Bab Selim is just one of many in a rich history of both local and international exhibitions which include exhibitions throughout Italy, Czechoslovakia and Germany. Another interesting fact we discovered about Sayed Khalifa’s artwork is that it is currently displayed within the Marriott Hotel right here in Cairo, as well as the Sheraton Hotel and the Meridian Hotel.