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Gallery Misr: 'Tank Girl' by Nadine Hammam
Every now and then you find an art exhibition in Cairo that is completely different from all the others, to the point where you can’t stop Tweeting about it or taking pictures to put up on Facebook. This is exactly what happened when we stepped into Gallery Misr where ‘Tank Girl’ by Nadine Hammam was on display.
The first thing that caught our eye was the blue banner covered in pink letters, with the words: ‘GO LOVE YOURSELF’. The pieces, by Cairo born and raised Hamman, are mixed-media and focus mostly on gender dynamics and investigate the relationship between the public versus the private, the external versus the internal, which are key to Middle Eastern society.
Tank Girl is about the most primitive search for attention, affection and passion. It highlights the elusive yet complex relation of love and sex; something that, in contemporary social context, ties into the traditional overbearing Egyptian society. Hammam’s paintings suppose a stronger, more independent and more elusive female persona.
From an aesthetic point of view, Hammam’s pieces are multilayered and her use of colours pops. One example shows a female figure with a glittery bunny in between her legs, with text reading ‘Just Love Me’. The same colours are used in most of the series; mainly primary colours red and blue. Her piece ‘The Girl with a Hole in Her Heart’ features a woman sitting down with condom wrappers in the place of her heart. One of the best pieces, carrying the title of the exhibition, is ‘Tank Girl’. A woman sits with her legs straddling an army tank with the phallic shaped turret of the tank in an erect position and seems to be ejaculating rats.
Another very nice piece shows a woman sitting in a seductive pose with ‘You said you wanted me, so here I am’ written on her body. Condom wrappers make another appearance in a piece with two women back to back with the text ‘I need a revolver more than I need you’. The word revolver is made out of the wrappers while some words have a small white line with the text ‘Love me please’. We were also quite impressed with the ‘For How Long Will You Love Me’, which shows the word ‘me’ between the legs of the female figure.
If you want to purchase a piece by Nadine Hamman, you will need a fair amount of money. Pieces are between $8,000 and $20,000. They might be relatively pricey but then again, it’s worth it. The exhibition is an absolute must see and kudos to Nadine Hamman for tackling this subject in such a brilliant way.
Egypt’s relationship with the arts is one that goes back centuries; it’s a relationship that once saw artists and artisans alike being considered important and significant members of the community. Sadly, nowadays, the art scene is limited to select enclosed circles and cliques. While it can be argued that this is not a phenomenon that is specific to Egypt, Helmi El-Touni is a figure who finds himself with exactly this problem – he’s one of many artists that have found much more recognition abroad than here.
El-Touni’s uniqueness comes through his vibrant palate and exploration of social and economic stigmas. Showing at Picasso Gallery in Zamalek, his latest exhibition, Enchantment, is rather novel in that it presents a series of stylised portraits that are inspired by and represent various Egyptian love songs.
But it’s also the choice of songs that have bred what is an interesting and engaging exhibition. The songs are simple, memorable and have come to be associated with popular Egyptian colloquialism, like Ya Helw Sabah by Mohamed Kandil. The corresponding painting depicts a woman with long, wavy hair wearing mascara. The piece shows here looking out of a window and smelling a flower, while the background engulfs her in dark beiges and tree branches. There’s a sense of peaceful seclusion about the piece, but also one of yearning, as the woman contemplates – maybe she’s even daydreaming.
The late, great Om Kolthoum is a clear inspiration for El-Touni; Kawkab El Sharq features prominently in the collection. These paintings differ, however, in that El-Touny takes on the ambitious task of drawing on Om Kolthoum’s music itself. Habibi Wafani stands out in particular, showing a younger version of the renowned singer grasping a bouquet of flowers, with the words of the song incorporated into the background.
Moving away from music, the exhibition also features two paintings that saw El-Touny take inspiration from pieces by revered Egyptian artists, Mahmoud Saeed. Banat Bahari and El Oyoon El Asalia are essentially interpretations of Saeed’s two pieces – it’s an interesting approach and one that El-Touni would do well to continue. The concept in itself is fascination; art re-imagined through the eyes of another artist.
Apart from its novelty itself, it’s the overall aesthetic tone of El-Toni’s work compliments the concept behind ‘Enchantment’ perfectly; his pieces are playful, almost cartoonish in appearance – the perfect quality for his lively interpretations.