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:

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.

“The A77A Project: On Presidents and Superheroes” opens at the Bamako Biennale for African Photography

November 1, 2011 2 comments

This year, I’ve been invited to show my 2009 work,“The A77A Project: On Presidents and Superheroes”, at the Bamako Biennale for African Photography. It opens in Mali today.
“The A77A Project” is a 3 minute single channel video, combining 2 and 3 D animation and internet extracted imagery.  It’s an ironic investigation into the ‘hybrid’ nature of the Egyptian identity and the social changes that I have personally lived through, both growing up and as an adult in Egypt.

“The A77A Project” explores the complex figure of the ‘super-hero’. From Osiris to Batman, this universal force for good has been created by all civilizations to ward off evil. In this work, two figures come to life on the surface of one of my large-scale paintings. Through cartoon animation, they leave the canvas and posses an unsuspecting passer-by (3D figure) to create Anubis, the jackal headed god of Ancient Egypt, traditionally associated with death and the afterlife.

The newly resurrected Anubis takes us on a walk through the streets of modern Cairo, witnessing paradoxical citizens and situations. These range from the chaotic and comical, to the uncomfortable, as the god strolls past mountainous heaps of refuse, protestors attacked by thugs and citizens pleading with rows of helmeted riot police. Anubis moves through these scenes of poverty and disorder with cool detachment. He is my silent narrator in this matter-of-fact documentation of the current state of the streets of Cairo and the deterioration of a city centre once described as among the most beautiful in the world.

Running as a soundtrack to the god’s journey through Cairo is a looping disco tune and the 1967 resignation speech of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Echoing over the desolate scenes of the city, his words remind us of the collapse of the Pan-Arab ideology in a modern Egypt where “the super heroes of religion” have replaced this superhero of the Arab world.

For me “The A77A Project” tackles that ‘difficult to define’ notion of Egyptian identity’ by addressing its main constituent elements: time, past and present, the superhero or the role model, the process of cultural recycling, contemporary visual imagery in their kinetic and static forms and the sacred values versus the neo-consumer values of globalization. These elements really interest me. They have shaped my video and painting work over the past fifteen years.

 In creating “The A77A project” I used images extracted from the internet; I also took my own photos using my telephone and a compact pocket camera that was ready in my canvas bag wherever I went. Most of the time I shot during daylight, as the precision of images was not as important as the overall changing cityscape. I stitched all images in linear pattern to create a single backdrop cityscape where the superheroes would dwell. To complement my work, I incorporated powerful images taken by anonymous authors, removed their backgrounds on Photoshop, and inserted them on the visual track as backdrops for my super heroes.

What intrigues me about this type of “democratized” practice, made available by anyone for everyone, is that it becomes an open source of information, beyond the reach of censorship…” Such widely sourced imagery gives the work a sense of being, not the individual account a single citizen, but a kind of shared or collective experience.

The A77A project has screened at the Artos Foundation, in Nicosia, Cyprus (2009), LUMEN_EX Digital Awards, Spain (2010) and 17th African Film Festival, New Museum, NY, USA (2010).

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