Sneak Preview: On Codes, Symbols and Stockholm Syndrome

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Opening at SafarKhan Gallery, Zamalek, Cairo tonight!

Khaled Hafez supervises hanging of Stockholm Elements,  200 X 120 cm

..Discussing art work

… and adding final touches to Stockholm Star & Goddess

Behind the Scenes

January 5, 2012 2 comments
[vimeo 34618692 w=”600″ h=”450″]

Final touches to one of two Oum Kalthoum paintings that go on show at Safarkhan next week.

To me, Oum Kalthoum represents the secular, progressive Egypt of her time. She is the symbol of that particular time and space.

On Codes, Symbols and the Stockholm Syndrome – culturally loaded symbols in a contemporary world

January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Stockholm Hathor , 120 x 80 cm

In my latest painting project, On Codes, Symbols and the Stockholm Syndrome, I use symbols that are political and social at the same time. I draw on my interest in French philosopher Jean Baudrillard who, in his seminal research of cultural specificities, wrote about simulation and simulacra, or simplistically, the fake and the authentic. Baudrillard argues that in a world where the original is always preceded by the sign, and where the simulated copy has superseded the original, reality becomes a meaningless concept. Taking this idea as my starting point, I explore notions of what is real, and what is unreal, in a contemporary culture loaded with codes and symbols of faith, ideology, wealth, subjugation and the quest for power.

My use of symbols is not new. In all my work, I attempt to discover what it means to be Egyptian. I grew up in an Egypt that was far more secular and progressive. Throughout my career, I have used media propagated symbols as a way of breaking the barrier between East and West, past and present, sacred and ephemeral. In the end, I believe that everything is ‘sellable’ and ‘package-able’ including Faith.

I generally work on symbols of male (using body-builders) and female (using fashion top models). I always build on the idea of the perfection of the human body; the idealization and the idolization of the human body. I use cutouts from magazines and digitally rework them, then manually work them into the canvas to create my narrative. Sometimes they’re very obvious, or critically speaking “literal”, at other times they’re not (and you need to take a closer look) and are more metaphoric.

I suppose what differs in this new work is the way in which I use fewer and oversized symbols on my canvases, giving them a new significance as regards to their previous appearances in other painting projects.

Two Stockholm Hathors & One Nute 250 x 200 cm

Hathor, the ancient Egyptian ‘cow’ goddess: maternal, sensual, and sometimes sexual. She symbolizes a ‘space’ that brings (holds) people together in one place – she is giving, she is even sacrificing her own flesh for people to eat and live. I refer to her as ‘she’ and not ‘it’ as she is the sacred feminine. I use a representation of the animal (in this case, a cow)  metamorphosing the form into a simulation of an ancient Egyptian idiogram or pictograph. I place the Ma’at crown on her head to symbolize justice. I use a figure of the actual animal and not the actual ancient Egyptian god to avoid clichés.

Sekhmet, the lioness and ancient Egyptian goddess of war. I use her quite a lot. She appears in many different ways in this project. She dominates her space reminding us that the sacred feminine, capable of such boundless generosity and sacrifice, is equally capable of bloodshed and war.

Eagle of Saladin (SalahEldin): this is a newly introduced symbol that occurs sometimes in newer canvases – representing the present state of the country and criticizing those currently in power.

Islamic star: it symbolizes the current prevalence of the right wing religious streams of thought.

Runners: these uniform images of human figures running insinuate the idea of flight; flight of identity, flight of power, flight from faith to agnosticism and from agnosticism to faith. The runners may also refer to the notion of forced migration, both in the physical literal and the metaphoric senses; the escape to another place/space/reality.

Stockholm Hathor Rain 200 x 120 cm

Colour dripping: the thousands of colour drips all over the canvases for me represent the diversity of people in Tahrir Square, all coming from different walks of life. The surface of the canvas is a field of expression, just like Cairo’s streets and squares, and the ‘dripping’ is the protestors and demonstrators all expressing their different lives and their intermingling narratives.

Stockholm kalsoom 250 x 90 cm

My New Project: Codes, Symbols, and Stockholm Syndrome

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment


Codes, Symbols, and Stockholm Syndrome is the title of my new painting project that goes on show on the 10th of January 2012 at the SafarKhan Gallery in Zamalek, Cairo.
In my paintings, I am consciously distancing myself from the events I lived in Tahrir Square, allowing myself the physical and mental space to contemplate and produce accurate reflections and impressions of all that I experienced.

Modern-day hieroglyphs: military images in my work

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Revolution-Snipers in the filed

For the past 16 years, I have attempted to explore aspects of the complex Egyptian identity: the physical geography of Egypt as an African state with one eighth of its surface in Asia; Egypt as a Mediterranean country that interacts with the East and the West; and Egypt as a Middle Eastern state, affected by the century-long conflict in that region. In my work, I use the basic rules of Ancient Egyptian painting – the flat graphic surfaces, with human forms striding across rigid registers – because this medium lends itself so perfectly to my message. After all, ancient Egyptian art, a bit like today’s graphic design, always had a specific function, serving to document their life and times, or as a tool for religious and political propaganda.

Sniper and 3 goddesses

I have always been struck by the similarities, and cultural continuities, between this ancient use of the painted image and the modern use of imagery in advertising and the media. Nowhere is this similarity stronger than in today’s media-propagated imagery of military conflict. When I use military element it is not a literal reference to Egypt’s military forces. On the contrary, I use the chopper, the sniper, the tank etc… to develop a generic alphabet inspired by media propagated war images, the type you see in broad cast media. These modern-day ‘hieroglyphs’ explore the stereo-typing of the Middle East as a region solely defined by, and reduced to, conflict – a region viewed through the prism of war.  Now, subsequent to Egypt’s January revolution and with events unfolding every day, I feel the military imagery I use has taken on an added dimension for my fellow Egyptians: the military symbols, refer ironically to the toppling of Egypt’s former regime, by peaceful protest, and also to the events taking place at the moment.

Sniper 2011

“Dwelling” and “11.02-2011: The Video Diaries” showing at the Yuchengco Museum, Manila, Philippines

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Two of my video projects Dwelling” (10 minutes, 2010) and “11.02-2011: The Video Diaries” (5 minutes, 2011) have been selected to show at  the Yuchengco Museum, Manila, Philippines as part of the international groups show Nothing to Declare (NTD). NTD is an international art project aiming to contribute to contemporary discussions on migration. It opened at Yuchengco Museum, 16 November and will run till 29 January 2012.

Dwelling (the path of someone who dwelled in the past): 
I originally created this work for the Manifest 8 Biennale in Spain, 2010. It is an experimental video presentation that traces in the docu-fiction genre fragments of the Spanish Arab Andalus and the scholars who originated from its valleys who dwelled through North Africa to their resting places in the East. The figure of Abul Abbas Al Murci is followed from its birth in Murcia’s Ricote Valley to its resting place in Alexandria, Egypt.

11.02-2011: the Video Diaries: This video work was produced for the Mercosul Biennale, Brazil 2011 in a three-channel presentation, and for the Havana Biennale 2012 in a single channel adaptation. The work combines video footage taken with stock footage extracted from social media and from several other sources. These are assembled to create several parallel narratives that intertwine on the three screens as the real footage of collective doing, and sometimes violence. The flux of information disseminated by the media footage, the lack of structured dialogue combined with real sounds from the Tahrir Square, where the 2011 revolution takes place, all are pasted with the sound of solo guitar music. Through this use of music, the idea of “revolution” is romanticized, adding a simulated fictitious atmosphere to the very real footage, to represent intimacy and personal nostalgia” according to the artist.

Nothing to Declare has three constituent exhibitions taking place at three different venues, each with a set of a different curators and artists – in total, 6 curators and 50 artists.

The Yuchengco Museum exhibition is curated by Claro Ramirez, Jr., Sharon Mapa Arriola, Claro Ramirez, Jr is a visual artist and artistic director for Exhibitions and New Media Projects,  Lopez Museum, and faculty, International Baccalaureate Program, Southville International School. Sharon Mapa Arriola is faculty at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts.

About Nothing to Declare:
http://www.yuchengcomuseum.org/index.html
http://nothing2declare2011.wordpress.com/

Fridays at my political studio

November 13, 2011 Leave a comment

My studio is a space where young artists, from all disciplines, can come together in a safe environment to discuss art and politics and exchange ideas with their peers. The idea came about as a small ‘mentorship’ initiative in 2008: back then, I decided to open my studio every Friday for younger peers to come exchange ideas and get help with their careers if they needed it. Two years later these Friday encounters had become so popular that sometimes we had 20 artists meeting in a 130 meters square studio space, discussing the concepts and craft of art production.  It was meant to be an informal technical and conceptual platform where knowledge, and artistic best practice, was disseminated from older to younger artists. I felt the need to offer this kind of exposure to my younger peers, as I was entirely deprived of this type of mentorship.

After the revolution, the numbers attending the open studio rose dramatically and the subjects being discussed turned from art to politics. One Friday we had 45 artists, writers, musicians, and two international TV crews, all discussing politics, and the future of the country and its cultural institutions. Someone proposed the name “Political Studio” and somehow it stuck!

The revolution brought with it a new need for active political participation. It is no longer enough to be an artist – I’ve realized that I am capable of assuming my responsibility as a citizen too. In my studio, we discuss ideas and concepts, and share thoughts on the future of the country. I must confess that I learn a lot from my younger peers. It was this younger generation of artists that led me to Tahrir Square.

Today, I think my political studio is a platform for more knowledge, more ideas, more possibilities and more creative solutions. The dynamics of each informal encounter is unique and specific to the session according to who is attending and who decided to come that morning. There are several brainstorming corners and dialogues. All without any commitment, just bringing more ideas to the table.

As time goes by, more and more people come and go, in and out, some out of curiosity and others out of commitment. The whole environment is informal, and attendance is optional; we agree on dates of work, of editing, of music rehearsals and of writing proposals; the only commitment is to have the studio open each Friday. The warm atmosphere allows for better trans-generational understanding, something I have personally missed during the 24 years of my professional career.

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