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Mashrabia Gallery: 'Journey Around My Living Room' by Hala Elkoussy
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.
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.