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Cala Art Gallery: Group Exhibition
Zamalek’s many art galleries have recently grown in number with the opening of Cala Art Gallery. Located above La Taverna on 26th of July Street, the gallery resides on the second floor of a dark, musty building. In stark contrast to its surroundings, Cala Art Gallery is a pleasant, sunlit space whose inaugural exhibit, simply titled 'Group Exhibition', showcases the works of nearly thirty artists, in line with the gallery’s stated aim of promoting emerging Egyptian talent.
The exhibition features the work of up-and-coming Egyptian artists alongside more established members of Cairo’s art scene. With no less than twenty-eight artists showing work in this exhibit, a wide range of styles and perspectives are on display. The collection includes watercolours, oil paintings, mixed-media, textiles and sculptures - some abstract, others depicting landscapes and portraits.
With so many artists currently showing at Cala, there is plenty to appreciate in this exhibit. However, some artists’ work stand out as especially memorable including Mennatallah O’llow’s series of small relief prints of Luxor and Dalia Bahig’s ink and watercolour portraits. Marwa Ashmay showcases an impressive drawing of an Oriental music concert that commands an entire wall of the gallery. Several of Hassan Hassan’s pop-art, fashion-centric pieces offer much more for the eye than their size initially suggests, while his acrylic portrait Purple is skilfully textured and - dare we say - hauntingly beautiful.
The diversity of the works on display results in an overwhelming experience for guests, which is only partially mitigated by apparent attempts to thematically separate the work, with the more traditional sculptures and landscape paintings displayed near the front of the space with the whimsical portraits and abstract works dominating the back walls. However, in a number of cases, various pieces by a single artist are scattered throughout the space rather than being displayed cohesively, further fragmenting an already eclectic collection of art. Moreover, the gallery is debatably too small for the number of pieces included in the exhibition, with some works displayed too closely together to appreciate each individually. However, the exhibition succeeds in delivering a broad scope of impressive local artistry.
While slightly frustrating that the works displayed in this group exhibition are in such contrast, the artists featured in the exhibit seem to have been carefully selected to expose a high level of local talent, ensuring that within the melange of work, there is much to enjoy.
Most of Cairo’s art galleries are tucked away in the shady streets of Zamalek, taking sanctuary on the quieter side of town to examine the delicacies of Cairo’s visual art scene. Mashrabia Gallery, on the other hand, sits just off from the Egyptian Museum in Downtown. This month, the gallery has taken another step closer into the darkest depths of the city centre with new exhibition, ‘Journey Around my Living Room’ by Hala Elkoussy, which takes a camera lens to the gritty intricacies of Downtown.
The exhibition's creation in the spring of 2012 was an attempt to draw the world’s eyes away from the abrasive images of this city in the media, and refocus attention on the overlooked nooks of calm. Entering the exhibition, visitors will find a wardrobe with its three thick wooden doors left ajar, as if it’s just been ransacked and abandoned in a flustered hurry. Peeking inside the doors, we found a jumble of forgotten junk; stacks of newspapers, hand-written notes and sepia photos are the most discernable. This introduction to the exhibition serves to remind viewers that they are entering a personal and subjective interpretation of a city and a home.
On Elkoussy’s journeys around Downtown as a street photographer, the artist attempted to capture the area in all its ramshackle glory; although the objects pictured are often broken, they retain dignity and beauty in their serene composition. Anyone who is even a little bit familiar with the intricacies of Egyptian culture will recognise the images displayed, as most depict common domestic imagery found throughout Egypt, such as abandoned chairs, the patterned oilcloth of street café tables and stray dogs. There are also a few shots that pay homage to hidden gems of the city such as its embattled plant life or detailed embellishments on a chair frame, all signifying the dusty beauty of the area.
All the objects have an antique, almost sepia hue to them, which represents Downtown perfectly. The show makes no mention of popular spots, the booming nightlife or the many cafés that have undeniably become part of the city. The artist instead presents a version of Downtown through sentimental remembrance, eternalised in a shabby-chic faded memory; one that cannot comprehend its current modernity.
In another city, this show would pit a powerful punch to those of us prone to nostalgia, but in the very city it represents, it's a refreshing readjustment of our perception of Downtown. The exhibition reminds us that we sometimes need a different perspective to fully appreciate the city in which we live. The crux of this exhibition is its ability to put down on paper the parts of Downtown which we catch in the corner of our eye, but don't focus on amid the clatter of human life, traffic and a revolution. Cairo is near impossible to distil into a frozen image, but the attempts to do so here remind us to take a step back, and apply a keener eye to what lies below the overt commotion.