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Photopia: 'Travel Stories': Exhibition and Speaker Series
At first glance, the photos resemble stock images found on greeting cards and souvenir-shop postcards: a token snapshot of Buddhist monks in Thailand caught in mid-stride and a safari photo-opp of zebras buckling before a flock of flamingoes in Tanzania. Though the subjects are diverse and the techniques are broad - including long exposures, panoramas and macrography - thematically, the photos are conventional.
But as Photopia’s owner Marwa Abou Leila says, amateur was the goal. The exhibition marks the launch of Photopia’s gallery (or ‘photo walls’ that surround the intimate, multifunctional cafe), whose mission to promote works by amateur photographers.
“I like to call it a photographers’ hub, where beginner to professional photographers can meet and exchange ideas. For me, the most important are the talks,” says Abou Leila, who contrasts Photopia with other photography societies like the established, non-profit Contemporary Image Collective in Downtown Cairo.
In keeping with dialogue, photographers and seasoned travellers from the Sahara Safaris are giving nightly talks through the exhibition, which so far, have been promising.
On Monday, during the first instalment of ‘Travel Nights’, Mohamed Mabrouk spoke about his ‘Recent explorations in Norway,’ in which he delineated the differences between mass, commercial tourism and real, engaging travel.
“Have you ever heard of the Samis? Well, you’ve heard of the reindeer. The Sami are nomads in Norway who herd reindeer and live in tents in the snow and have legendary skills when it comes to skiing. I saw how it was for them to be a minority in a Scandinavian country and it helped me reflect on similar cases in Egypt,” the avid traveller and member of the Sahara Safaris told Cairo360. “This is what I’m trying to bring to Egypt; the real stories that travellers would see if they were to go really deep rather than going to Oxford Street in London or the Champs Elysee in Paris, and that’s all Egyptians see - the consumerism when they go abroad. They see nothing but shops.”
Aside from its lectures, gallery and cafe, Photopia attempts to cater to the hobbyist photographer, a well-needed resource in Cairo, boasting a fully-equipped studio for rent, a classroom for pre- and post-production courses including classes for children, and a bookshop and retail space vending a meager selection of digital specs, tripods, and professional gear. Prints by local amateurs are also on sale.
“We want to promote the idea in Egypt that you can buy photographs to hang instead of paintings. We’re trying to sell photography as an art form,” says Abou Leila.
But with all that jazz packed into the compartmentalized space, what’s missing are more practical needs like darkroom facilities and services for developing, printing and repair.
For now, Photopia carries much potential and is a hopeful indication for the future of photographic arts in Cairo, but it will be curious to see if photography like travelling will remain a pastime for a privileged few.
Mabrouk explained how today opportunities for non-Westerners to explore the world are gaining traction slowly, but that for Egyptians, their green passports pose a massive hurdle.
“Back then, people didn’t have to deal with passports. That’s one disadvantage for Egyptians today. And only one thing that would overcome that sadly is money”, Mabrouk says.
'Travel Nights' runs until 8 August at 9.30PM nightly and costs 30LE per session. Check the Cairo 360 events calendar for descriptions of the events including a performance by Baheya on Friday August 3rd.
While the late Inji Efflatoun has become known for her colourful paintings, Safar Khan Gallery’s current exhibition shines a light on Efflatoun’s ink-on-paper collection, ‘Freedom After Prison’. Utilising the chosen materials through different techniques, Efflatoun created a diverse collection of sketches, which depicts life in the Egyptian countryside.
In some of the paintings, Efflatoun used staccato pen strokes to form the scene. One of them is ‘Rest Time’, in which the artist drew the masses of resting workers, adding a touch of detail here and there to break the detachment of the outlines.
On the other hand, other paintings boast a flowing outline, especially the ones including palm trees and greenery. In one of the best pieces in the exhibition, Efflatoun not only studies the form of palm leaves, but she also adds a creative touch to this simple form, filling the thin outline of the element with waves of ink, using the wide tip of a black marker.
Merging between the previous two techniques, Efflatoun drew a number of scenes that portray the dwellings of the peasants. For example, in one of the paintings, the artist used a continuous outline to draw the houses, while pen strokes were used to form the shape of other details, like palm trees or straw ceilings. Where necessary, Efflatoun used the wide tip of the marker for creating shades.
Though the different shades of ink are dominant in this exhibition, the gallery shows four paintings in colour, three of which are by Efflatoun herself and the fourth is by the exhibition’s guest of honour, the late Taheya Halim.
While two of Efflatoun’s were placed in near the front desk, making it difficult for the viewer to have a close look at them under the stares of the curators, the third, which portrays the artist while working in a simple set of brush strokes, is placed amidst the other ink paintings. However, being the guest of honour, Halim’s Painting, which depicts a Nubian couple seated on a bench, is centred on the wall facing the entrance.
And whether in colours, or merely painting using ink, ‘Freedom After Prison’ is sheer proof of the artist’s brilliant ability to create animated paintings using different mediums.