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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.
While many lament Zamalek as an island of sidewalk-encroaching loiterers, many forget that it is also home to some of Cairo’s most active and prolific galleries. One such example is often overshadowed by its more established peers: Ubuntu Art Gallery.
Filling the walls of the gallery right now is Refki Al Razzaz exhibition, The Spirit if Civilization – the name alone inspires ones imagination.
We imagined a number of paintings taking inspiration from Egyptian folklore, but what we found was a much larger amalgamation of historical civilizations throughout time, all embodied in oil paintings of different sizes.
In one painting, Al Razzaz draws on the Assyrian civilization, showing with a mythical creature with a raised tail drawn in the foreground, while the background consisted of shapes resembling an ancient language. Deeper into the background are palm trees painted with striking hot colours, contrasting the earthy colours used in the rest of the painting. While the description of the painting may sound erratic and unusual – it’s true that words can never really do art justice – the piece flows consistently as the artist creates a natural amalgamation of imagery, drawing on the symbolism, and at times ambiguity of, ancient iconography and folklore.
Some of Al Razzaz's smaller pieces are just as striking.
In other paintings, however, Al Razzaz deviates from this approach in slightly using more modern elements, like one piece which shows woman drawn in stripped down geometric form. It’s just one of the pieces that resembles Picasso’s cubist style, specifically in the way in Al Razzaz depicts the female form.
In one painting, three women are shown standing with arms linked as if in some kind of dance or skip and a turquoise figure that resembles a primitive drawing of an Ancient Egyptian boat.
Al Razzaz’s approach is an interesting and unique one that demands that you pay attention to its detailing. Said approach – from the moment of interpretation of inspiration or source, to its subsequent interpretation onto canvas – is like a metaphorical collage, but one that begins its fusion in the mind of the artist first and foremost. In theory, it could well have made for messy, disorientating pieces, but the end result is, in fact, is a graceful and effortless collection of work.