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Gypsum Gallery: 'Spectral Days' Photo Exhibition by Setareh Shahbazi
Breathing life into the suffering arts and culture in Cairo, gallant pioneers continue to open up new gallery spaces in an effort to cater for the endless talent born out of the city. The newly opened Gypsum Gallery takes over a spacious, third floor apartment on Zamalek's Bahgat Ali Street.
Gypsum's debut exhibition, 'Spectral Days', is an unusual photography curation from international artist, Setareh Shahbazi. Born in Tehran in 1978 but forced into exile to Germany in 1985, Shahbazi presents a collection of her own family photographs from around this time, which have been revived and revamped through various experimental digital techniques. Exploring the remembrance of the past, captured in old photographs, there's a powerful, overarching meaning behind the exhibition.
In the immaculate, sun-lit gallery, more than forty photographs make up the colourful collection, each hinting at a deep family history, uprooted after the bloody Iranian revolution of 1979. Given Egypt's own current political situation, this particular exhibition seems fitting to the times. Other than a written explanation of the project, little information is given on the individual pieces, hindering the understanding of any underlying meanings, and neglecting to unveil the artists own memories attached to each picture.
Shahbazi has seemingly taken original photographs and transformed them into colourful masterpieces. One photograph shows a vintage car in negative colouring, stationary beneath a deep, navy sky and warm, red ground. Another eye-catching piece is that of a young child cuddling a cat. Modernised with a rainbow wash of bright colours, large black dots remind the audience of the vintage original.
Contrasted with the more abstract and colourful pieces, there are a number of family portraits; some images have been coloured, whereas some resonate an eerie, antique feel with pale, rose colour effects. In particular, a large group of several family members have been photographed, residing in a barn in the countryside. Another shows a group of children standing together; some of the figures have been duplicated and collaged, forcing a double take from the viewer.
Many of Shahbazi's photographs are captivating, with many different techniques and several layers demanding attention. The pieces could have been enhanced, however, if little more information was given on the undoubtedly interesting history behind each piece.
Also on display at the gallery are the 'Limited Editions' collection, which is made up of single pieces by local artists, available to buy. At the time of our visit, interesting pieces from Taha Belal, Mahmoud Khaled and Basim Magdy were on show; each piece tells a different story, using different media and unique printing techniques.
Gypsum Gallery itself is a fresh new addition to the art scene in Cairo, and is set to hold many more exhibitions in the future.
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.