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Mashrabia Gallery: 'Missing Pieces' by Karim Bakry
Steps from the epicentre of the uprising, in a dark, cramped room, ‘Missing Pieces’ features a slideshow on loop of some hundred photos taken over the course of the revolution. The montage begins with portraits of optimism, in which youth pose and come together with their families under red, white and black bunting. The show then progresses, or rather regresses, into poignant images of the clashes between protesters and armed forces, tear gas, violence and curfew.
According to Bakry, ‘Missing Pieces’ represents the fragmentation of the revolution: “The spirit of the revolution ended up breaking down and as time passed the sense of unity was lost and divided into different sects.” He captures this fallout by projecting the photos onto staggered, cardboard boxes, forcing a metaphor blankly contrived.
“The boxes represent two things. First, they give a feeling of waste and consumption that exist in cities like Cairo. Also, the brown boxes when laid out together give a sense of Cairo and its brown, box-like buildings. The images projected onto the boxes are broken down by missing pieces,” Bakry explains.
Every five seconds, a new image emerges. Some pictures appear amateur and blurred; others are purposefully blotched by shadows from the boxed skyline. In one image, a bearded face is framed over a Nescafe box, and in another a woman is split by a gap between the cardboard. Below her it reads: “This Side Up.”
“That was the hard part. I had to go around to supermarkets, the huge markets like Carrefour and no one understood why I wanted old boxes. Here in Cairo, it was actually easy to just buy them. But in Gothenburg you had to be there at the right time and the right place before they recycled them,” Bakry says.
Outside the curtained room at Mashrabia Gallery are mounted images from Bakry’s Gothenburg exhibition for sale but not worth the bill. A free postcard by the entrance makes a better souvenir.
At first glance the installation looks like a haphazard stack of used boxes with a random mess of photos overlaid. And at second glance, the fact remains. But if we overlook the artist’s form, one can empathize with his statement on the aftermath of the revolution and the re-emerging protests to date. “A lot of missing pieces needed to be complete again. They made the mistake of dividing, that’s why the results now are terrible. People need to reunite again,” Bakry says.
What started off as a healthy interest in Egypt eventually led Russian born Xenia Nikolskaya to Cairo where she became obsessed with all the city’s abandoned palaces and mansions. During her explorations around these empty buildings, she always had her camera right by her side, and that is how her ‘Dust’ was born. The photography exhibition is located on the first floor of Townhouse Gallery in Downtown Cairo and carries pictures from abandoned buildings from all over the country.
Nikolskaya’s inspiration began when she entered the Serageldin Palace in Garden City and that is perhaps why it is the focus of most pictures. The Serageldin Palace is one of the few buildings that wasn’t confiscated by the government in the 50s and turned into a school. In many of the photographs we see former palaces that now have chalkboards clipped onto 19th century wallpaper. There are pictures of staircases that used to have great splendour but are now falling apart.
Nikolskaya didn’t just visit palaces though; there are also photographs of other key sites around town. Very interesting is her work in Downtown’s Radio Cinema. The theatre has recently been restored to its former glory and through Nikolskaya’s two-year old photographs, you can see why this was necessary. The best photograph is perhaps one that shows a dressing room. The lights around the vanity mirror don’t work anymore and there is an empty chair; one can imagine that many an artist and actor once rested on it before heading to the stage.
Another interesting picture is that of the Tiring Building in Ataba. What used to be one of Cairo’s most glorious department complexes is now falling apart and covered in dust. The images of the Sakakini Palace are also striking; it shows that the structure is still in good state and can perhaps be saved from further neglect and deterioration.
Apart from Cairo, Nikolskaya has also travelled to Minya, Alexandria and Esna. The photographs from these towns centre mostly on images of former hotels.
While the images overall are interesting, there is something missing from the whole exhibition. Though all the venue’s names are mentioned next to each shot, there is no background information which is a bit of a shame considering that Nikolskaya has published a book featuring these photos.
Nikolskaya has captured Cairo’s iconic buildings and has quite literally photographed the emptiness found in them; but this sad aspect of the photographs gives the exhibition depth.