Metanoia: An Exhibition by Nermine Hammam
Sometimes, the subject of an art exhibit is
so shocking and the approach so alarming that it’s easy to get lost in feeling.
Metanoia, an exhibition by photographer and graphic designer Nermine
Hammam at the Townhouse Gallery, is one of those exhibits.
This exhibition is
her fifth at the Townhouse Gallery, and is made up of 77 digitally-altered
photographs that expose the morbid lives of disabled senior citizens in Egypt .
Metanoia, a Greek word for a self-healing transformation or a
spiritual conversion, is the first exhibition in an Egyptian fine arts space
that explores the living conditions of an Egyptian disabled community.
Naturally, with such a sensitive topic and having the privilege of being the
first to expose it, the artist has also acquired an enormous responsibility to
her subjects and her audience.
Hammam has stated that this
exhibit is the final product of three months of living in close quarters with
these patients, yet to a third party, the images feel very much like an
outsider’s perspective. The tone of the images is not multi-dimensional and
there is no evidence that the artist tried to capture some joy or sense of hope
amongst these people. One would have expected more variety or diversity of
emotions from someone who lived with the community for three months.
Many of the images further lack a sense of
intimacy with the space and people. Although this may have been an intentional
move on behalf of the artist, an undertone of desperate gloominess can’t be
shaken. As a whole, the portraits truly lack a human dimension, which does not
do the subjects justice; nor does it celebrate bringing the issue into Cairo’s consciousness.
It brings to life the destitute conditions one would expect and nothing more.
Hammam is known for mixing
photographic media with her graphic design abilities. In previous exhibits at
the Townhouse Gallery, she made her name on prints that involved graphic
layering of images and text. The effect of text and obvious layering was
recognizably absent in this exhibit, demonstrating a more sophisticated side to
the artist’s work and a true departure from earlier shows.
Still, the trained eye can see that many of
photos in Hammam’s Metanoia exhibit are heavily layered. Some images are
so altered that they actually look more like paintings. The effect is so heavy
that the integrity of the original subject and photo have arguably been
Beyond this, there is no clear injection
from the artist that would challenge the audience to bring about change.
Instead, what the exhibit ends up being is exactly what it’s not supposed to
be: a more fortunate people looking at a disabled community from a distance,
completely removed from them and the reality that they face.