Located in Zamalek, Hanager Gallery is one of the more modest art spaces on Cairo Opera Houses’ well-kept grounds. Inspired by the recent political and social changes in the country, Egyptian artist Nihal Wahby was motivated to publicly display her collection, ‘I Can Walk But I Have Wings, I Am Meant to Fly’. Cairo 360 went along to the opening night and met the artist herself.
Her exhibition focuses on individual and collective awareness of our hopes and dreams and our struggles and confusions throughout life, to reach them and inner-freedom. Wahby uses a collection of mixed media; drawings, paintings, video and installations.
Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh once said “Poetic truth lies in the darkness. Because in the light we would walk around it”. This saying was the message of two sub-collections which immediately caught our attention. One based on strong, dark backgrounds and the other uses light, uplifting colours – both showing images of groups and individual figures. Together, these paintings show a journey, from the chaos created from being in limbo and crowds torn between two higher powers or decisions, to the inner-peace and freedom found after reforming their relationship with the environment and self-realisation. The underlying use of world maps further insinuates the idea of a world in turmoil and times of change.
The last set of hanging paintings is a series of oil paintings of birds. The majority of pictures use subtle grey and blue tones, capturing the beauty of birds and creating a feeling of calm. Using these portraits, the artist set out to examine “isolation and stillness” contrasted with “engagement and movement” when painting a group of birds struggling to learn how to fly.
Next, there is a series of dark feathers collected from all over the world: ‘The Trace’, placed on white, organic paper backgrounds. Wahby has done this deliberately in order to portray a way of “flying with no boundaries…soaring to the limitless potential”, suggesting the feathers leave a trace of freedom.
The piece we found most intriguing, however, was the light-house shaped bird house at the back end of the room; ‘The Tower’. Because birds were traditionally viewed as a messenger of sorts, the idea is to write or draw your dreams and post them through one of the holes in the side, to be carried away and unleashed by the birds. Through the action of posting, symbolically, we engage with the artistic message and become aware of our hopes and visions. A video of constellations, created by every-day, physical objects is projected onto the side of the aviary, suggesting that we make our own dreams and constellations are all around us.
The theory behind the exhibition brings the art work to life and is just as, if not more, captivating than the collection itself, particularly with the recent Revolution in Egypt. Nihal Wahby hopes to be at her exhibitions most days so you might be lucky enough to get an in-depth explanation of her ideas. However, a lot can also be drawn from the pieces using your own imagination.