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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.
Unable to compete with technological advances of today, many argue that the role of the calligrapher died in the late 1980s when word processors upgraded to include multiple fonts, and printers emerged as household items. However, many artists continue to master the art of calligraphy simply for the appreciation of its beauty.
In the Middle East, Egyptian Khodeir Al Borsaidy is known for being one of the most active and acclaimed keepers of the tradition. His works are known for their vibrancy, favouring the use of the Thuluth script for its energetic sense of motion.
In this self-titled exhibition at Zamalek’s Picasso Art Gallery, Borsaidy has exposed his works with a pioneering philosophy. As opposed to strictly adhering to traditional calligraphic fonts such as Nash, Tawqi and the aforementioned Thuluth, Borsaidy has set about to create his own cursive style. His approach is daring yet simple; at first, he paints a letter or word in a traditional font and then adds layers in a calligraphic style of his own. Combined with the use of geometric shapes and figures, the end results are a daring step forward in the art of calligraphy, without going far enough to be labelled as radical.
Hanging in all corners of the gallery, the paintings are unnamed since the inclusion of text gives them the privilege of speaking for themselves. Like all calligraphers, there is a heavy religious theme in many of his paintings including Quaranic verses, Prophetic Hadiths or the names of God. That said, there are also works dedicated to secular poetry.
At first glance, Borsaidy’s use of contrasting colour and variations between small and large canvas size are pleasing to the eye. He does not seclude himself to a colour scheme or black-and-white, which is not uncommon in the style of calligraphy. Instead, Khodeir presents a full splash of colours - including gold and silver - that differ in their intensity and variation between his works. There are instances where the use of repetition and motion in his paintings leads to a hypnotic effect. On closer inspection, however, the intricacy of the paintings begins to shine as the calligraphy is deciphered.
Despite many people’s disinterest towards calligraphy, the twists to the genre by Borsaidy make this exhibition worth a visit, and it will certainly prove engaging.