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Contemporary Image Collective: 'References*'
After a weeklong workshop in 2012 that aimed to use historical research as the basis for contemporary art projects, four of the initiative's pitches have gone into creating Contemporary Image Collective's 'References* Artists Activating the Archive'; a unique exhibition that avoids treading on cliché or pastiche territory.
Amado Alfadni's 'The Black Holocaust Museum' portrays the unfortunate events of what is considered the first holocaust of the 20th century; committed by German colonists in a region of South-West Africa, now enclosed within the borders of modern day Namibia. Under the command of General Lothar von Trotha, between 80,000 and 110,000 native Herero and Nama tribes people were executed over a period of four years (1904-08). It is believed that this genocide attempt served as inspiration for Hitler's Final Solution.
The exhibition features photos in the form of postcards that show victims, prisoners and soldiers with detailed captions. Intriguingly, a large stack of logs extending to the ceiling of the gallery are placed in dedication to the Herero custom of burning the bodies; a tradition that the natives were prevented from practicing under von Trotha's vicious reign.
'You and I and Time is Long' by Nada Shalaby is a detailed exploration of the 'Tel El Yahudiya' site located near Shibin El Qanatar in the Qalubeya governorate of Egypt. Shalaby has used a collection of maps, photos, videos and texts to portray the region and its stories.
The collection is split into three parts; the first pertains to archaeological findings in the area, the second encompasses the differing opinions of residents in proximity to the mound, references in books and resources gathered from the internet, while the last is built around modern photographs.
From a historical perspective, the story of the region pertains to the accumulation of legend around a dirt mound believed to have engulfed an Ancient Jewish temple. The site is important for both its archaeological anthropological significance and controversial amongst the locals for its Jewish association.
Opening with a scene from classic Egyptian film Shi'i men El Azab in which Souad Hosny is posing to be sculpted by Yehia Shahin, 'Drawing on a Nude Body' is the collaborative effort of Mariam Elias and Marwa El Shazly. The documentary includes a series of interviews with the resident models in the Fine Arts Institute located in Zamalek. They give the details of their jobs, the controversies that surround them and the hardships that they face. Somehow, the film stays light hearted, despites the melancholic undertones.
A sad conclusion that the models touch on is that, in comparison, the older generation of artists that studied at the Institute were much more passionate and skilled than the current students; most of which are enrolled simply to earn some form of higher education.
The final part of the exhibition is Aliaa Salah's 'Lines in the Sea' which is made up of vintage replicas of the 'Al Ahram' publication filled with reports of turmoil that was stirring in the Middle East over Egypt's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as it was drawn up by the UN, but threatened by a pact between Cyprus and Israel. The collection provides an interesting insight of media coverage in Egypt.
'References*' is a perfect example of the increasingly prolific artistic output by the new generation of emerging Egyptian artists. Although having little in common, the four sections of the exhibition never fracture the exhibition as a whole, proving that taking new and fresh approaches to art invariably produces exciting and unique results.
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.