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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Special Exhumation of the Egyptian Surrealist Movement
Most Cairenes, including those in the art community, had never heard of the Egyptian Surrealist Movement until the Townhouse Gallery introduced a special exhibition in early April. The exhibit aims to present the work of the Egyptian Surrealists, or the ‘Art and Freedom Group’ as they called themselves, in a way that honours their attitude towards art and life. The display is organised by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.
The exhumation technically opened on April 18, 2010, but true to the style of the Art and Freedom Group, the exhibit is running backwards. Thus, the exhibit’s official opening is actually on its closing night, which is May 12, 2010. Each day, the display will change or be added upon, transforming the Townhouse Gallery’s first-floor gallery. It is truly an exhibit-in-progress that allows observers to engage with the space by visiting regularly and witnessing how the process unfolds.
On the exhibit’s unofficial opening night, the walls of the first-floor gallery were almost completely bare. In the main room, a calligrapher was writing the display’s invitation in Arabic. On an opposite wall, there was a sign that read in Arabic and English, ’Women Workers of All Lands, Be Beautiful.’
The following two rooms consisted of completely white walls that seemed to be assigned to certain original ink stamps of the ‘Art and Freedom Group’. The stamps proclaimed ironic sentences including ’Like a Knife without a Blade that has Lost Its Handle‘ and ’Doomed to Yawn In front of Its Own Image.’
In the fourth and final room, a TV was placed in front of a video projector. The TV screen repeated the same factual paragraph about a film made by one of the movement’s original founders. The paragraph ends ’A copy of [the film] will be on show here as soon as the organizers of this exhibition manage to find one,’ leaving a very unclear direction as to where this exhibit is going in the next two and a half weeks.
Simply put, the Special Exhumation of The Egyptian Surrealist Movement is the kind of exhibit that makes you remember why you go to the Townhouse Gallery. The exhibit has brought light to a long-lost Egyptian art movement whose manifesto was ’Vive l’Art Dégénéré‘ and who stood up against perceived enemies of the public– order, beauty and logic. Capturing the irony and humour of the original movement, this special presentation of the Egyptian surrealist movement is easily the best Townhouse initiative since Townhouse’s Model Citizens Exhibit, which ended in April 2009.
Eyes are the windows to the soul; an old saying that was perfectly demonstrated in Zamalek Art Gallery’s current exhibition, ‘The Magic Thread’.
‘The Magic Thread’ features a collection of unique, childlike and somewhat eerie figurative paintings by Syrian artist, Souad Mardam Bey, who, through her artistic talent and devotion, conveys intense feelings through the eyes of each painting.
Each painting portrays a different character; only it seems that the same captivating element in each one of them is the eyes, which seem to be filled with some sort of sadness or longing that can be further understood differently.
One particular painting shows a female figure –a child most likely— with her head titled to the side, smelling a white-petal flower with large longing eyes which seem to be gazing right out of the canvas. Everything about this painting is simple and bland; except the eyes, which are much more detailed and slightly bigger than one would expect which draws the viewer in even further.
The background of Bey’s paintings are simple and exist purely of one flat colour; which is why more attention is drawn to the innocent childish figures painted on top portraying a 2D style, similar to the one you find in children’s books.
Another painting that stood out depicts a young girl figure or doll, dressed up in a floral pink dress and make-up, looking into a mirror with large sad eyes, a common element in many of Bey’s artwork.
‘The Magic Thread’ is a title that not only draws on the childlike theme in this exhibition, but also evokes the idea of children’s toys and dolls coming to life, especially through their expressive eyes—which seemed to be the central point of this exhibition.
With its ray of unique large portraits and simple childlike style, Bey’s exhibition is without a doubt captivating one and it succeeded to attract a large crowd among art connoisseurs in Cairo.