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‘References*: Artists Activating the Archive’ at Contemporary Image Collective

Contemporary Image Collective: ‘References*’

reviewed by
Ahmed El Dahan
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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.

360 Tip

References* will remain on display until the 12th of January

Best Bit

'The Black Holocaust' and 'Drawing on a Nude Body' will leave you thinking long after you've left the exhibition.

Worst Bit

From a strictly aesthetic perspective, there's an imbalance between the different collections in the exhibition that affects the impact of the show as a whole.

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