AN UNDERGROUND GALLERY A MAGIC SHOP AND AN OFFICE HUB EVOKE SIGNS OF CHANGE
THE CHANGING ROOM LONDON 2012
THE UNDERGROUND GALLERY DAVENPORTS MAGIC SHOP THE HUB WESTMINSTER AUGUST 15TH - SEPTEMBER 30TH, 2012 www.findingprojects.org
This event is brought to you by
The Changing Room Curator / Editor .:. Aida Eltorie “PUBLIC SCREEN” Co-Curator .:. Yara Mekawei In association with 7point9 Initiative, The Hub Westminster and The British Council / UK & MENA Office Art Direction / Graphic Design .:. Finding Projects Association Print Manager .:. Screen Technology Spaces .:. THE UNDERGROUND GALLERY Exit 9, Charing Cross Underground London WC2N 4HZ http://www.undergroundgallery.co.uk/ DAVENPORTS MAGIC SHOP Exit 9, Charing Cross Underground London WC2N 4HZ http://www.davenportsmagic.co.uk/ THE HUB WESTMINSTER First Floor, New Zealand House 80 Haymarket London SW1Y 4TE http://hubwestminster.net/ © Finding Projects Association, 2012 firstname.lastname@example.org www.findingprojects.org
Featured Artists .:. Adel Abidin, Iraq Kader Attia, Algeria Karim Al Husseini, Palestine Anas Al-Shaikh, Bahrain Sama Alshaibi, Palestine/Iraq Khaled Barakeh, Syria Hassan Hajjaj, Morocco Nermine Hammam, Egypt Ines Jerray, Tunis Ibrahim Saad, Egypt Khaled Ramadan, Lebanon Steve Sabella, Palestine Marwan Sahmarani, Lebanon Larissa Sansour, Palestine Bassem Yousri, Egypt Featured Essays .:. aladin, UK Aida Eltorie, Egypt Salma Tuqan, UK/Palestine Adania Shibli, Palestine Ilka Eickhof, Germany Sara Rossino, Italy Mariam Hamdy, Egypt Heba Elkayal, Egypt Dina Tarranissi, UK/Egypt Special thanks to aladin, Bill Roy, Marco Sassone, Patrizio Travegli, Khaled Ramadan, Perihan Abouzied, Stephen Stenning, Sean Williams, Cathy Costain and the Birtish Council team (Cairo/London), the London 2012 team, The Ministry of Culture and Department of Foreign Affairs (Cairo, Egypt), namely; Dr. Hossam Nassar, Dr. Salah El Meligy and Ms. Dalia Mostafa for their ongoing support to our project. Cover image .:. LARISSA SANSOUR Nation Estate - Jerusalem Floor, 2011 Photo. Artist’s proof. C - Print 59.4 x 42 cm / Image courtesy of the artist
A. Via Pandolfini, 46r Firenze - Italia .50122 T. +39 055 246 64 42 E. email@example.com
CONTENT / 1 FOREWORD Salma Tuqan CURATOR’S NOTE Aida Eltorie PITTA BREAD AND CIRCUSES Locating Culture at an Olympic Feast aladin
10 18 22
CONTENT / 2
The United Transport Company – Jerusalem Adania Shibli
Thoughts on the Currency of Change Ilka Eickhof ARTISTS
Scanned map from the published statements and conversations by Mufti Mohamed Amin Al Husseini on Facts about the Palestinian Case. Third Edition; Cairo 1957. Courtesy of Karim Al Husseini and Family.
– Salma Tuqan
Paternal grandparents wedding Jaffa, Palestine, 1930 Image courtesy of Salma Tuqan
12 The invitation to contribute to this evolving project brought up reflections of my own changing room, or perhaps my inherited changing room. My mother’s family fled Palestine for Libya, only to suffer a similar displaced fate under Gaddafi. My father’s side alternatively migrated to Beirut, re- routing one generation’s future. It was London however, that ended up being the vital point of convergence for my parents: London of the 60’s where in the midst of a spirit of revolution, hope and change they met, fought and got married.
solid life there. Kuwait, where a Palestinian community integrated and flourished and where my little self started out life. Despite the lure of the Gulf in the 70’s and 80’s, my parents retained London as a base, with visions of how it would play a role in our future education. In 1990 with the outbreak of the Gulf War, politics once more intervened, to move us back to what would become a default home – London, our Jerusalem.
My inherited changing room evolved once more with the immediate impact of the oil boom in the Gulf and the promise of a Maternal grandfather as Supreme Court Judge Libya, 1960’s. Image courtesy of Salma Tuqan
The real Jerusalem however, lay in conversations across the dinner table, old photographs passed on the stairwells of my home, inaccessible, safe to the imagination. Years later at my Christian boarding school, distant as it was, Jerusalem remained logged in my mind. Although an almost fictitious or alien city to my fellow classmates every week in Sunday
13 chapel, rows of uniform clad classmates recited the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ in unison. I remember feeling bewildered hearing those fervent chants. Staring down at the hymn pages I felt a mixture of confusion and resent at its words, beaconing a new Jerusalem in England, when my Jerusalem still belonged to my imagination. It was only years later that I came to know the meaning of William Blake’s words and the Jerusalem that he had rendered in those lines. The ‘Jerusalem’ Blake had cultivated in his preface to Milton a poem, referenced the legend of Jesus’ visit to England (or the Second Coming as described in the Old Testament), and the establishment of a new Jerusalem in England. In light of the Industrial Revolution, this new Jerusalem stood as a metaphor for peace and compassion. But the beauty of Blake’s words were in his spirit of activism. Blake’s voice was one of protest to state, church and a call for the return and reawakening of humanity. It was an anthem encouraging people to change the world around them and rebuild what Jerusalem stood for. Set against the backdrop of World War One, it was a message that struck a chord. The command of those lines was so enduring that they would later inspire legends like John Lennon and Jim Morrison.
What struck me when considering the massive shifts in the Arab region over the last year was how potent and relevant Blake’s message is still today. Blake’s aspirations for a new Jerusalem or a new era lie hand in hand with the hurdles undertaken and still continuing in the Arab world, in the search for a new beginning with equality, peace and humanity at its heart. The power of artists during this tumultuous period has not been just as witnesses of their time but as commentators, activists and citizens. While this state of flux and uncertainty persists, The Changing Room instigates crucial reflections as a new timeline and chapter of history waits to unfold. It offers an open platform for these artists to channel their own personal experiences, astute observations of the past and hesitant forecasts for the future. Even in its title, one is unsure how long this transition of change has taken; whether instant or a steady evolution or in fact whether the resulting change is positive or negative. Dispersed across the sprawling city of London in three unsuspecting locations; a magic shop, underground gallery and office building, these works take on a further meaning and actively seek out its audience.
Paternal grandfather with Prince Philip, Jerusalem, Palestine, during 2nd World War. Image courtesy of Salma Tuqan
16 The Changing Room’s short-term stay in London marks an important statement; a reminder of the importance of the city’s relationship with millions of Arabs since the late 19th century to the present.
citizens have enriched London’s famed diversity and imprinted their identity onto the fabric of the city.
During the 20th century there have been waves of Arab migration instigated by politics, commerce and the hope of stability. Weighed by its government’s somewhat intrusive role in the region, London has acted as instigator and safe haven at the same time.
veloped through the cross fertilisation of ideas and which continues as generations of Arabs plant their roots in its soil.
These waves of Arab migrants and later
A relationship begun through trade, de-
In its London residence, may The Changing Room evolve once more.
Image on Left: Wedding of maternal grandmother & father Jaffa, Palestine, 1942. Image courtesy of Salma Tuqan
Image Above: The Tuqan family in Kuwait. Image courtesy of Salma Tuqan
â€“ Aida Eltorie
CURATORâ€™S NOTE The Changing Room project arrives in London, taking on an alternative premise to the changes that have occurred in and around the Arab region today. Realized in Italy (2011), The Changing Room project formulates a contemporary compendium of histories, addressed and documented by groundbreaking artists who either live in exile, emigration, or continue to have a full physical presence in their region or nation. Active participants contribute both their histories and their current realities, allowing us to pose a question to any new environment we are welcomed into: What is changing? It is here, we welcomed stories by Writers who have proven the value of their histories by addressing the current endorsements they personally lived and witnessed. Highlighting the importance of personal journeys, the author has presented an autobiographical account,
while the Artist has opened his and her visual accounts onto a platform of Citizenship. Be it citizens of change, citizens of knowledge, citizens of visual statements that narrate the stories of our past, or better yet, narrate the stories untold. The Changing Room is a project designed to observe and interpret a series of photo, video and installation projects specifically addressing the desire towards a significant accountability of change. Whether anticipated or already happening, the rabid political change also implies a change in the cultural dynamics. Appearing for the first time in an underground gallery and a magic shop, both prominent locations found below the earthâ€™s surface; then rise above into one of the most powerful squares of the city: Trafalgar. It is here, we are faced by our main sponsors in the Spring Gardens, The British Council located beside the Ministry of
Defense, and then The Hub Westminster, an eloquent power structure located one block away from the National Gallery and only a few streets away from Prince Charles’ home. What exists beneath will rise above uniting the different issues addressed by these three spaces in this crucial collective, who each, whether displaced or found, are identifying their understanding of ‘home’. The Changing Room will reflect sociocultural experiences happening through the artists, with a central focus to document, negotiate and reflect reoccurring events that have happened through the artists who all carry international recognition towards their cause and will design a specific atmosphere to share that vital information. One of the project’s central visual statements is to bring Palestine’s Jerusalem
into the heart of London, as it is the heart of the Arab World, though the visit is brief and only reminiscent to what was once there. Other works focus more on the occupation of space, whether in the form of a Moroccan dress designed to unite the Arab countries into native wear, or a collection of the region’s Greatest Hits, where every war title had an objected meaning. Rendering literal language visual, we witness moving images, paintings and manipulated photographs that reaffirm an unspoken truth. It is here that we reach the society of our spectators. A society in London that has changed from its colonialist years to where it is today. A city that has grown and sheltered many who have been displaced from their homes and a diversity that has enacted its past, its present and its future through the generations, only to resolve itself into a melting pot of action.
20 Characteristically, The Changing Room project nourishes the will of the many artists involved while containing the quality of an editorial space. The “room” will not function as a classical exhibition space. It will rather be a knowledge production space shared amongst social entrepreneurs and an affluent magic shop customer, in order to expose audio-visual information provided by different artists in this process of ‘display’. Our team will process the informative artworks and the visual information received from our colleagues in the ‘Arab world’ and transform them into a suitable aesthetic presentation to be seen by art audiences visiting this grand moment in London. As the statements are related to current developments, the “room” is not a news media room but a space where we reassemble constructed media, collected from highly respected intellectuals, Arab artists and art activists. The “room” will provide an informative aesthetic experience from the floors to the walls, collectively put together to provide the audience with alternative images of events and stories they don’t seem to know much about. The room will be a place where artists explore the Arab dream, the Arab world as a Utopia, and the haven of realizing the eminence of Jerusalem’s Palestine in the heart of the Arab World to that of the heart of London. Even though it is not rare to see artists experimenting
with Arabia as a Utopian place or even a myth, The Changing Room will be a platform for such visions and we will be looking into how this collective thinks freely towards it. Within this framework we will arrange changeable, weightful installations, and arrange discussions and documentary film screenings from our collateral programs offered by Khaled Ramadan’s DOCULOGIA collection from the Chamber of Public Secrets Archive, and Yara Mekawei’s PUBLIC SCREEN provided under the auspices of the Maraya Video Archive. Offered by our colleague aladin who was kind enough to pull together the territories we are able to engage with during this 6 week period. Naturally anticipating to build on a Manifesto, and feed into the understanding of our unconventional guests, do we look forward to welcoming you in.
PITTA BREAD AND CIRCUSES: LOCATING CULTURE AT AN OLYMPIC FEAST – aladin
Photo of aladin / Andrew Atkinson Mughal Magician Image courtesy of Author
.:. Aladin in early years / 1960s Image courtesy of Author .:.
The Changing Room 2012 takes place in my home town of London in the midst of the “Greatest Show on Earth”: the Olympic Games, with a record of two hundred nations participating, hosted for the third occasion by a metropolis which is the world’s most culturally diverse. I and my family are part of that diversity and my relationship with the project is consequently not easy to fix – no less than any concept of what is a North African or Middle Eastern (MENA) perspective. The geo-political backdrop to the conception and realisation of Changing Room project is important to keep in frame and I will briefly restate what I touched on in my piece for our 2011 catalogue. The opportunity for the endeavour arose from the post 2011 ‘uprisings’ across the MENA region and the emergence of an impulse (including strongly occidental) to engage with and platform the creative works springing from the region. Catalytic was our own experience of ‘failures’ in East-West cultural entente. The scope and civic standing of ‘contem-
porary art’ in MENA is no less complex than the equivalent dynamic further north, in ‘the West’. There is of course an awkward interdependence across these axes for despite outward rhetoric there is a great deal of co-dependency on the other in establishing status and legitimacy. For example, crudely speaking we have at one remove the ‘suspicious-ofWestern-intent’ MENA practitioner who is however ambitious about planting her/his flag North and at the other we may note the apparently powerful if not always ‘empowered’ Western interest in ‘engaged art arising from oppression’. It is a position shot through with the ironies and critical reality of the West being seen as responsible for sowing the seeds of the current global crisis. In the art world as perhaps elsewhere death and destruction or its prospect are jet-fuel and candy to the discourse. My collaborator in Changing Room, Aida Eltorie knows all too well this particular dirty truth: Ahmed Basiony’s martyrdom on Tahrir Square finally gave up the work and perhaps the very reason for the Egyp-
.:. “Hommage to Abul Fateh” (b.1924-d.2010 – aladin’s late father) from series “Nightwalk”, 2012. Image by Niccolo Fano in collaboration with aladin .:.
tian Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2011. We have sought to moderate collusion with power elites and ‘mafias’ and at this second iteration of Changing Room we are ever conscious of the inexorable tendency of culture to become instrumentalised by the communications machinery of an established order under siege; as Juvenal put it, we are at the dawn of a new age of ‘bread and circuses’. After all, Changing Room is in the programme of the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad. While we may see Changing Room as an extraordinary catalogue of witness to momentous transitions across our societies, we do recognise that in London Changing Room is ‘officially’ positioned as part of the extraordinary Olympic feast. An era ago one who is our natural fellow traveller speaks to our concerns: “Any bird that has learned how to grub up a good living without being compelled to use its wings will soon renounce the privilege of flight and remain forever grounded. Something analogous is true
of human beings. If the bread is supplied regularly and copiously three times a day, many of them will be perfectly content to live by bread alone – or at least by bread and circuses alone.” – Aldous Huxley, ‘Brave New World Revisited’, 1958. I feel keenly about the right of an artwork and its author/s to be able to represent themselves and have ownership over their identity – which in the case of the history and recent diplomacy of MENA is highly contentious but is an acute preoccupation for those of us who have been custodians of the Changing Room flame. Relevant to this is my relationship with the U.K. and its capital city – they gave me safe haven in childhood and following that the space and permission to find and express my own identity as a resident and citizen. More recently, in adulthood I have been profoundly influenced by the working processes of the interdisciplinary artist and director Rebecca Swift; she has developed a significant, heterodox and fundamentally radical body of work, some of it within a long-standing association with the community-based cultural
organisation Entelechy Arts. Rebecca’s practice is almost an unspoken dissertation on art’s role and scope in relation to identity and its re-assemblage; I feel in relation to Changing Room that I carry a similar sensibility and act by reference to equivalent principles. Fatherhood too has brought me to a more intimate understanding of the sanctity of ‘identity’ in its more prosaic, quotidian, emotional, down to earth aspects. My daughter Roxana identifies herself as “a Londoner and a human being, thank you very much!”; hailing from the city in which both sides of her family found safe haven, rather than having affinity with any particular nationality, culture or religion. Among her ancestor are those who are Muslim, Jewish and Christian and her gene pool extends to Syria, India, Bangladesh, Austria, Czech Republic, Georgia, Ireland and the United Kingdom. I have several nationalities and although I was born in the United States my passports include those of Muslim as well as other Christian countries. My daughter Roxana’s mother is partly of Jewish as well as
Christian origin and like myself has lived across continents and cultures. Roxana is resolute in her right to being able to define and redefine herself (so far she has shown inclusionist tendencies). It’s not an identity easily intelligible to others. Where we stand affects our perspective. When we change where we stand – what occurs may be challenging to others more than it is to us. I was reminded of this when I was considering an image of one of my ancestral homes with my mother and we were both startled to notice the presence of a pale blue relief of a hexagram, a six-pointed figure of a geometric star, above the main entrance. It was a feature we had never noticed before but which my mother now recalled would have been present from the time of her grandfather; she now remembered that in her childhood it was a very common decorative motif in Muslim houses. I know that were it not for the fact that Roxana’s mother has Jewish ancestry I would have been oblivious to the symbol – which however carries resonance in both Islam and Judaism. Suddenly my mother and I have
revised or relationship with and reading of our pasts. In this spirit of cloudy truth, Changing Room too recognises the heterogeneity and natural plasticity of meaning and chooses not to use formula to sniff out ethnocentricity or political correctness. Indeed, the Changing Room’s passage has not been uncontroversial which itself was not unexpected. However, as its prime movers Aida and myself have not felt burdened by a duty to be morally neutral arbiters. Instead, we accept that we are no less judgemental than the next person yet do not allow this to prevent us from delivering an exposition which honours the intentions of our artists while permitting and valuing the range of responses their work may elicit. We have not set a measure for ‘success’. Legend has it that when Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was asked for his thoughts about the consequences of the French Revolution (in reality he was asked about the 1968 Paris protests) he replied: “Too early to tell.” This is also the position Aida and I must take – the value and significance of The
Changing Room can only be determined in long hindsight. I do though have a strong sense of the place of culture at the civic table; as earlier MENA (Biblical era) references remind us: “Man does not live by bread alone”. It was a line my father Abul Fateh - a Sufi and a global pioneer of post-Second World War diplomacy - deployed to good effect when arguing for greater Western foreign aid during Congressional hearings in the United States in the mid-1950s. Now as then we need culture to be allowed to illuminate and uncover; it should be seen as much a staple as pitta bread – over which no one faction need have dominion. Images from left to right: .:. “Me”, July 2012, by aladin’s daughter Roxana. .:. “Dhubri Bari” aladin’s ancestral maternal home, 19060s. .:. aladin with Mahfuza Banu at the Versailles, Paris. Early1970s. .:. Abul Fateh Sufi Statesman / Diplomat. Born 1924. Was Ambassador for Bangladesh and before that for Pakistan / d. 2010. / All images courtesy of Author .:.
THE THE THE
ROOM FLAG INTERVIEW
30 80 96
Adel Abidin, Iraq 30 Karim Al Husseini, Palestine 32 80 Anas Al-Shaikh, Bahrain 38 Sama Alshaibi, Palestine/Iraq 44 82 Kader Attia, Algeria 46 Khaled Barakeh, Syria 48 84 Hassan Hajjaj, Morocco 86 Nermine Hammam, Egypt 52 Ines Jerray, Tunis 90 Khaled Ramadan, Lebanon 56 Ibrahim Saad, Egypt 58 Steve Sabella, Palestine 62 94 Marwan Sahmarani, Lebanon 66 92 Larissa Sansour, Palestine 70 Bassem Yousri, Egypt 74
96 98 106 114 126 132 144 150 154 164 168 172
30 Adel Abidin Bread of Life
In some cultures bread is thought of as being the source of life and so treated as a holy object, as something to be respected and not joked about. As I visited a restaurant in Cairo, I received this bread that to me seemed more suitable for playing music with than to be eaten – it was so hard it made a pleasant sound, like an instrument.
execute more comprehensive representations of my views and ideas – when making paintings in the past it frustrated me not to be able to present moving images and larger scales of view. New media art allows me to show my ideas as they come to me, which at the same time presents the viewer with the possibility to interact fully with what I want to say.
I gathered together four rhythmic musicians who earn their living by playing music for belly dancers in nightclubs. I approached them with this ironic idea to play with bread – the source of life.
I think that the new ways of creating work -through live action, video, and animation -can begin to transcend what is unknowable, whether it is hard to reach because it is in a child’s imagined world, or because the truth of that world is so far from comprehension. The “play” I often use in my work is my own attempt to get even closer to difficult or hard to reach experiences. I am constantly toying with ways and mediums to communicate this.
Since 2004, my main practice in art has been based on videos, video installations and interactive installations. Most recently I have started working with photography. I work with video in order to
Bread of Life, 2008 Video still, 6:34 mins Image courtesy of the Artist
32 Karim Al Husseini
Husseini presents us with a new star from the Nirvanty collection. “North Nirvanty,” the fourth sequel from In Search of Eden series. Addressing what he defines is his paradise: Nirvanty – or My Nirvana, Husseini compliments the 2012 London Olympics with a series made out of Glitter Coca Cola bottles dominated by the color red. Reminiscent to Dorothy’s red shoes, and in her search of returning home, does this selection of glimmering bottles, occupy the Hub Westminster at London’s New Zealand House. Continuing with the direction that occupied Husseini’s military past, and childhood dreams, his accomplishments have been acknowledged through honorable medals for his distinguished achievements. A sense shared with what the Olympic Athletes are achieving at this moment and thus gave birth to the Northern star. Arranged in the shape of an eight-pointed Islamic star, which by symbol is the seal of the Prophet (pbuh), and represents the sacred Ka’ba in Mecca and Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem,
shown as two square structures laying on top of each other. Husseini implements his religious history, with that of a contemporary secularism visible through a choice of glimmering colors, symbolizing the achievements sought from sparkling dreams. Without crowding and redefining the space it lays upon, the patch of bottles sit innocuously on the ground, rising and revealing his perception of wordly achievement. His Nirvana witnesses the blend of irony that this artist is subject to. He is not only a descent to the Prophet, or a Palestinian displaced by a superimposed exile, but a Palestinian born in Libya, who carried Jordanian citizenship in which he never lived, was brought up in Egypt, and became an American at the age of 26. With such a composite identity, Husseini has a drive to show the world where he comes from, and maybe, just maybe if he clicked those red glistening bottles three times, will he open his eyes and find himself back on the lands of his fathers.
Illustrations of soda bottle installation. North West Nirvanty, South and South East Nirvanty
North West Nirvanty Turino (Italy) September, 2011
South Nirvanty Cairo (Egypt) November, 2011
South East Nirvanty Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) November, 2011
35 North Nirvanty London (UK) August, 2012
.:. Size of installation: 1.5 m diameter 8-pointed Islamic star with glitter. Number of bottles vary.
36 Karim Al Husseini The Black Box
الصندوق األسود Documented by Khaled Ramadan
THE BLACK BOX came to life at 5:00 am on June 22nd 2012, whilst Karim Al Husseini and Documentarist Khaled Ramadan had decided to welcome statements towards the elections in Egypt on the brink of a new presidency after 30 years of static presence. THE BLACK BOX is a reference to the actual box found usually in airplanes, a flight data recording system where it is usually used for accident investigations. Fifteen minutes prior to a plane crash, would it identify what had happened if there was nothing but debris left to witness the collapse of a system. It is here, Karim Al Husseini, a Palestinian brought up and residing in Cairo the majority of his life, wanted to re-identify a presence whilst in the square where his voice is unnecessary since it is the Egyptian people’s voice that needed to be broadcast, and actually heard without
any rigging or manipulation done onto them whilst following a puppeteer authority. When they went down to Tahrir Square, on June 22nd at 5:00 pm, 12 hours since the birth of this new idea, were they first welcomed and attracted to the people who were occupying the square, each picking up a colored cansen card of their choice, and on it they wrote how they felt about the events that had brought them to the square. Without any commitment but to express themselves freely, without any outside control, without even writing their names - were they asked to express their thoughts; how they felt and what they wanted. The experience then lead to something suspicious, since the artist was being
Sample translations / transliterations – Cards read from left to right, top to bottom:
filmed by his Lebanese colleague who appeared as Press, they suddenly became unaccepted as an “art project” and was then Husseini arrested by a team who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood who were also actively the square’s authorities. They were not convinced that these two artists were there to welcome people’s thoughts on the turn of events, and were present to document this changing moment in their history. Changing from the desired freedom of freely expressing their comments on a colored card and throwing them into a BLACK BOX that was meant to safekeep their anonymous opinions, became an attack against the safety, security and assumed authority.
No. 33 / I want peace all over the world, especially in Egypt. No more military intervention in our local things; No. 22 / All unite under one hand. We’re ready to die for the sake of raising our hands in our country in millions. – signed; Alexandria; No. 28 / Please protect Egypt, the Military ruling let us down and robbed our revolution; No. 24 / • Down with the military to the betrayers of the revolution and those who sold it • The Muslim Brotherhood are the beginning of the revolution • Hazem Salah Abou Ismail is a righteous force, and everything he says is right • The Elections High Court are traitors • The Constitutional Judiciary is false • The parliamentary elections for the people is Egypt’s only hope; No. 21 / Morsi is the President of Egypt [two days prior to the worldwide announcement] 6/22. – Ahmed Tarek.
The Black Box will be present inside the Charing Cross metro station, at The Underground Gallery, welcoming new voices to leave a record of their comments behind.
38 Anas Al-Shaikh Con/temporary God
In Gulf region, because mainly depending on oil industry, we became very consuming and passive societies comparing with the wealthy and advanced nations for several reasons (political, economical, historical and cultural). And because oil is still the main resource for generating energy in all around the world at least for the coming 100 years, and because the other alternatives are still not very satisfactory, and commercially high cost, so we try to not admit that the oil as an depleted natural wealth, will run out in one day. This disregarding of the actual future, created delusive believes that oil will remain as long as the life is existed, so we only have to depend on it as livelong savior and as “God” who distributing his blessing, love and mercy on his creatures. This kind of feeling, let our regimes and many of our people believe that we don’t need to spend any effort to let our soci-
eties be developed and advanced, by depending on ourselves and by working on converting them from consumers to producers in many vital fields. But as soon as we find that oil “the temporary savior” is run out, any pilgrimage, ritual of vows and praying around oil’s founts for reviving them to get its natural wealths, will be useless, and we will realize that time we destroyed ourselves and desertized our future by our hands, and we will discover how much the reality is painful, and all delusive hopes in ability to regain the lost natural wealths will gone with the winds.
Con/temporary God, video stills, 2:41 mins (2008) Images courtesy of the Artist
40 Anas Al-Shaikh Gulf of Phantasmagorias
I believe that Arab countries in the Gulf region are not built by the will of our societies, but constructed and guided by the interestsâ€™ alliance, between our regimes and western powers. Our people feel that they are subjected to the leadersâ€™ political and economical interests, and have to accept this situation either by complacence or by force without having any rights to speak loudly. The royal families still deals with our societies by patriarchal and hierarchal mentality, and always want our people accepting the idea that the rulers have always the right and legitimacy to own the authority, wealth and bequest our countries to their sons. Although our societies became more aware about their rights, but most of them still not have the ability or the courage to talk, ask and fight peacefully to get their legitimate rights, because there are many contradictive powers inside and outside our region (pro-regimes groups, antidemocracy groups, sectarian groups and
Western policy). All of them are ready to fight against any changes can affect their interests and hegemony, and at the same time our regimes want from us obeying and accepting their different autocratic decisions, without questioning to where this subjection will lead us.
Gulf of Phantasmagorias, audio image, 5 mins (2010) Image courtesy of the Artist
42 Sama Alshaibi Sweep
Sweep from the project â€œThe Pessimistsâ€? invites contemplation of the anonymous forces that police human behavior and enforces control. The female protagonist cycles through a futile performance of sweeping her footsteps in the endless desert. Her interpersonal conflict is performed over the sand dunes because it functions as a paradoxical landscape; its shape constantly shifts from the wind, but changes are only cosmetic. The desert is void of living activity that would create meaningful changes, as suggested in her endless and futile attempt to erase her mark.
Video Courtesy of the Artist and Selma Feriani Gallery (London)
Passing through the movement of a soft breeze in a deserted landscape, enters a female heroine reserved by a black dress; decoratively overlaid, socially underexposed, and camouflaged by the contrast of her veil in a magnificent drapery of light barren land combined with a fertile form of darkened puberty. She enters from the right side of the feathered framed image, sweeping away the markings left behind. Her footsteps are her traits, her traces are her history, and her sweepings are her fortunes. The feminine disguise suggesting an ethnologic identity, a social conformity to possibly a region, a people, a belonging of sorts that resolve the markings of territory; an authority of boundary, a sandscape with endless peripheries that seem to occupy a mass but not a magnitude of land. Sama Alshaibi once again presents us with that frequent solitude of a common
presence. Brushing away her forwarding movements, along with those that precede her initial markings, she could not have established a more fundamental wealth to the existence of mankind; without exposing all of man, without devouring all of manâ€™s land, without occupying all of his nothingness only to realize that history was being deleted only for its repetition and not for its significance of veracity. She was sweeping away her past, and journeying over the deleted traces with a brush of unfulfilled promises. Sweep is seen through a black box, a window of surveillance, overlooking and overseeing a trying authority over the motions of obliteration. Observing a motioning body, through a steady land, there comes a realization that nothing really grows; nothing really changes, but only the removal of a stamp, a resignation of direction, a remarking of moments
gone by and then forgotten. Forgotten by choice and by desire. The past lays quiet, unresolved, and the heroine departs through the same way she entered.
Published on www.Nadour.Org â€“ Aida Eltorie
44 Sama Alshaibi Thowra
Thowra (revolution) was produced in the winter of 2011 – the winter of uprising in the Middle East and North Africa. The predictable cycling of seasons was interrupted by remarkable courage, unimaginable synchronization and the spilled blood of martyrs. That same winter, marked the worldwide observations of black birds falling from the sky, an eclipse, and the blowing away of corruption, stagnation and tyranny. Sama Alshaibi’s video is both a commemoration and a pointed reminder of the sacrifice of so many. Graced in the colors of revolution, the perfect storm of this winter noted in Thowra serves as a reminder of what was sacrificed for this season of change. “I started to shoot this video without a project in mind around November. This is a bit how my art works, when I travel or know certain special events or locations that should be captured, I always
shoot video and photograph them. I’m not always shooting for specific projects, but work from intuition of what I feel should be captured. Sometimes this footage finds its way into my art. I was in Jordan and Tunisia this winter, just before the uprising started. The scene of the woman in the water was shot in the Dead Sea (Jordanian side), the second scene with the sunset is in the salt lakes near Djerba in Tunisia. Then I shot the eclipse -- all those three first elements were made without knowing the revolution would soon start. Because of my many recent trips to Tunisia, and all my good friends who live there, I was paying very strong attention to the first protests happening in Tunisia before it caught international attention. At the same time, I was fascinated by reports after New Years about a huge amount of black birds falling from the sky. At first people thought it was a single, rare event, but suddenly, over the Internet, people
started to report all over the world that black birds were falling from the sky. The question to me was then, was this highly improbable, high-impact first event an awaking to the masses, who suddenly started to pay attention to the possibility of other similar (and possibly related) events? Were they indeed unique, or do they assume a grander role, which could form a grander possibility if we only we connect the dots? Does the “clustering” of unlikely singular events then create a wildfire, troubling or inspiring those in deep hibernation? These unique high-impact events happening in this particular winter, in this particular era where social media interconnectedness could create a clustering of possibility, could form a new vision. This doesn’t take away from all the other unique events (facts on the ground, history, timing, etc), but acts simply as a trigger. A ground ripe for change has its catalyst. This led me to research the Black
Swan Theory (the role of high-impact, hard to predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance and technology) and Clustering Theory or clustering possibilities. I then found myself making a project that mimics the experience of the unique events of this winter (in symbolic form), and the introduction of clustering the unique events and deaths of the martyrs (who are represented by the black birds who have fell from the sky). So the performance/meditation of me wrapping the birds, and then hanging in the tree (no longer alive and flying, but none the less, hovering above us in reminder of their sacred sacrifice), gives new possibilities in the burnt and hibernating forest.”
Video Courtesy of the Artist and Selma Feriani Gallery (London)
46 Kader Attia History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock
Abraaj Prize Winner 2010, History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock is a miniature sculpture comprised of three golden brass bolts assembled with two silver nuts of different sizes. Filmed from a tight vantage point, the sculpture is projected onto a large white canvas increasing it to many times its actual size. Once projected to this monumental scale the very small assemblage evokes an architectural representation of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (Al Quds in Arabic). This work creates a space for interpreting our contemporary global culture where pieces of information ebb and flow; where meaning is diluted and the true value of things can be lost. History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock is courtesy of Abraaj Capital Prize.
48 Khaled Barakeh Greatest Hits Greatest Hits is a project created out of real military operation titles. Khaled Barakeh discovered descriptive associations given to the words when naming a conflict between Arabian and Israeli forces, and found in each title did a visual article come to life. The titles were also commonly granted by Israeli, European or American governments and/or media, leaving the question on what exactly was the purpose of titling an event: The Rainbow War, in any way associated to the conflict itself. Digressing his interests towards this particular series of conflicts, gave answers to approximately 250 events, all named, and all archived by the artist, who then designs an ongoing project plan across the names he objects into realization.
Objects are but a few examples of the whole installation sequence. Site-specific. ACROSS, from left to right: Wooden Leg 1985; The Gift 1968; Six-Day War 1967; Grapes of Wrath 1996. ABOVE, from left to right: Rainbow 2004; Locked Garden 2006; Front Shield 2004; Personal Suit 2008; Knight of the Night 2002; Dust 2006; Defensive Shield 2002; The Bill 2002.
50 Khaled Barakeh Visit Us! VISIT US! is a work of confrontation. Constructed out of an actual life jacket, embroidered with the Palestinian kuffiyeh, popularly known as an international icon to the national dress and in return, Palestineâ€™s humanity conflicts, it is here we witness this work as a dark truth to the reality less people wish to identify with. Since the making of this work, Barakeh had offered this functional piece to the British Airlines, to be placed below the seat and incase of an emergency be pulled out to just possibly save a life. But the dark irony was discomforting for the airline, and hence rejected for use. Through the emblem of what this life jacket [re]presents; saving an anonymous life at a time of a plane crash, yet not saving a life when it is within reach to empower peace that is inevitably not in the interest of prejudice over land. The irony exists from within the object that lies in solitude on the wall, and the truth is inevitably present.
VISIT US! / 2009 Cotton fabric, embriodery, life jacket including accessories, 70 x 35 cm Image courtesy of the Artist
52 Nermine Hammam Upekkha
At the end of January, when rumors were spreading, whispered across Egypt about the imminent arrival of the army, most of us pictured mythological-like creatures; heros that could possibly save us form the repressor, but that equally, could wipe us out. We all felt apprehension and anxiety, wondering if Tahrir might turn into another Tiananmen Square. Which side they would take? What would it be like to be ruled by a military force and under military rule? Could this possibly still be a revolution if the military took over? When the army finally arrived, on the evening of January 28, they looked overwhelmed, and somewhat tame. The media broadcast images of babies being kissed atop tanks, children dancing with the berets, the population feeding the soldiers popcorn and koshari. With every bite, in our eyes, they were increasingly humanized. These soldiers that we once thought of as super-heros appeared
to have been thrust into a revolution that they weren’t equipped to handle: the army, after all, was trained for war. I spent the 15 days of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square, and as one day unfolded into another, and as the presence of the army became familiar, I couldn’t help but notice their youth. Their wideeyes, their tiny frames – they were so different from the usual security forces—the police—that we were familiar with. They were different, as well, to the images of western armies that had become familiar during the war on Iraq. These soldiers, the Egyptian armed forces, were just the sons of anxious parents, toting their guns like accessories of which they knew not the true burden. They stood awkwardly on street corners, simply because they were told to. They squinted at the cacophony of Cairo – the big city – clearly aching for the quietude from which they had come. They didn’t want to be there
with their tanks and guns, waiting for orders, yet, they also blended in so well with their newfound urban environment -- they were, in so many ways, just like us. By the end of February, like many of us, exhaustion hung on these young soldier’s faces. They were growing weary as the tension between the people and now ruling military council escalated, holding onto their guns with regret. They didn’t want to fight, but what if they had to? In this work, Upekkha, I use the departure point of images of young soldiers in Tahrir to speak to the matrix of world order and the roles imposed on us. Juxtaposing the portraits of soldiers with backgrounds of places they might take solace in; sunny beaches, snowy mountains, and the landscapes of nature. I make out of the images of the soldiers from Tahrir, postcard images – Kodak
moments – of where they would prefer to be. In doing so, the intention is to push back on imposed Western readings of Tahrir, of Egypt, of the army. It is an attempt, through a series of pieces, to use the most potent symbol of the manly – war – to expose military tenderness, virile coquetterie, and masculine frailty. It is a desire to document the other, the hidden; the more often neglected aspect of war -- fragility.
Upekkha, Digital Photogaphy, lambda prints, series of three plus two artistâ€™s proofs Images courtesy of the Artist
Upekkha, Digital Photogaphy, lambda prints, series of three plus two artistâ€™s proofs Images courtesy of the Artist
58 Khaled Ramadan DocuLogia
The documentary film collection constituting the DOCULOGIA archive is the result of several years of video activism and archivism carried out by producers related to the cultural collective, Chamber of Public Secrets. DOCULOGIA forms a visual review of social and political encounters. It is an audiovisual information platform where video activism meets realism and journalism. DOCULOGIA is also an archive intended to document different aspects of our reality without adding hidden modifications or heavily editorializing the content of the footage presented. DOCULOGIA examines the role of contemporary media and its consequences in society, analyzes how culture and politics interact, and records the unknown and the neglected stories. A series of screenings will take place during the 6 week exhibition. Information will be posted on the Finding Projects website: www.findingprojects.org.
60 Ibrahim Saad Welcome Back
The land is yours, for it rejoice by your feet touching, the land is yours so sanctify the freedom, the land is yours and you are the road, the land is yours and you are the road. – Jubran Khalil Gibran I’m trying to search for my home. It might be near, it might be far, but I could not find where my home is. Maybe I could discover the real beauty of it in something else, and maybe it will be different from what it once was. So I then search for our home, and in it maybe we will find enough pride to the place we once belonged to. Welcome Back project is an important journey in my artistic life, as I started to search for myself from within a time and place within myself, to get a better understanding of my identity. Welcome Back project started in Alexandria on the 10th of April, 2011 at the Garage Gallery in the Jesuit cultural centre in Alexandria. The second performance was on May 1st, in Mahmoud Basiony St. in Downtown Cairo. From there I was invited to
the Youth Salon in November 14th, 2011. The last show I had was in the Egyptian Academy of Art in Rome. All the photographs used were taken from Ramses Square, on the Friday of Rage on January 28th, 2011 which was the third day of demonstrations in Cairo. To all those who were in Ramses Square, they did not get the chance to reach to Tahrir Square, they had ascended towards the heavens on that day. Many were killed that day, while in search of their freedom, their rights on their land. Maybe I’m there right now or maybe I didn’t find it yet. But I am searching so if it was there, I could return to it. In this journey, I believe that people have their own basic needs, such as the right to live, to love and the right to have a beautiful life and be useful to not only them-
selves, but more importantly to others. In that sought desire, must we become 100% loyal to the practice of art because through it we learn secrets of life. My art became my life and my life is my art and that’s the real motive behind this work. Perhaps this project is the homeland I’m searching for, and if I don’t find it, that will be the cause for continuation; to be in search for an imaginary reality. I’m inviting everyone to come and search for this homeland with me. Be it on the walls of your neighborhood, the tarmac of your streets, the landscapes of our terrains, or the cityscapes of our towns. I search in order to return. In my artwork I have always used abstract and multimedia images with hand drawn movements that refer to the na-
ture of the context the works are found in. I seek to engage with issues that are relevant to society. I don’t know where the frequency and tension are taking me, as I do not know the result or the final destination to where it is we’re going. I’m comfortable to know that it is just a game until we get there. In this experiment, I would like to focus on the discarded, forgotten and neglected, to show my work in very small areas on the surface. I’m inviting the recipient to imagine or compliment those white spaces that are eager and waiting for an optical response. I am looking for my home, and my home is looking for me.
Welcome Back project started in Alexandria, April 2011. The sentence: “Put the word “Angels” in a sentence” was the artist’s first exploration to what this project could offer his return to a collective identity. Back image: hand sketch study for multimedia mural.
64 Steve Sabella Euphoria and Beyond
Steve Sabella’s oeuvre unfolds like a book. Its chapters chronicle the artist’s journey towards visual and intellectual maturation and bravely investigate his shifting psychological states, narrating a deeply personal individuation process. Christa Paula In Exile artwork (2008) was about the state of mind of living in permanent mental exile. It was about fragmentation, disorientation, confusion and dislocation. I tried to give a visual form to my life as exile and alienation are at the core of my life and accordingly my art. It seems that I have been managing to slowly glue my fragments so that they appear complete in a healthier way. Before, they were torn apart in every direction, where now they make some form of a unity. Hence, ‘I am more stable’. I think at this stage of my life, I managed to ‘transcend temporarily’ the exile state
of mind. Just like my journey to penetrate my psyche to give a visual form to my fragmented state of mind, it occurred to me that I should journey to the beautiful side of my brain and unlock the aesthetic and beauty buried there and give these a visual form. I feel I am in transition - in a new state of mind – euphoria. Steve Sabella Light shines through the branches of trees, caught in floating movements, ephemeral and fragile like the first rays of morning light after a long and dark night. Here, a cautious hope enters Sabella’s universe, a hope that gains in momentum in “Euphoria”, a triptych celebrating the euphoric deliverance from the mental bonds of anxiety in what might be called a “mental heterotopia”. Through the use of a similar technique of multi-angled photomontages as in “In Exile”, each of the three single pieces shows a kaleido-
scope of up-rooted trees. But their uprootedness does not make them appear doomed, rather they seem to stretch out their branches, circling around each other in a light-hearted dance. Charlotte Bank In contrast, the Euphoria triptych is a joyous retinal explosion. Cut and assembled from hundreds of fragments of trees, like those shown In Transition, the resulting image of organic fluidity signifies cathartic relief, emanating a sense of the ecstatic and the sublime. Anthropomorphised shapes dance against the softly pattered background forming ever-new aesthetic possibilities in the promise of limitless expansion. Christa Paula “...These contorted passageways through his own psyche led the artist to the roots of his wounds and gave him an inkling
of the possibility of healing. While the destructiveness of being uprooted was at the center of In Exile, Sabella’s newest works move, release and liberation into the foreground. Euphoria (2010) alludes to the blissful feeling of being freed of mental fetters. This feeling – possibly short-lived, as the artist himself concedes – is expressed in playful-seeming, uprooted trees...” Charlotte Bank There are two voices that have penetrated and shook me during the creation of Beyond Euphoria. Both are Tunisian and have become iconic. The first one is the voice of the man who went in a dramatic scene shouting in the street the moment he heard that Ben Ali ‘fled away’ (Ben Ali Hrab). The other is the voice of an older man with white hair (Harimna, Harimna), who was speaking with a voice, which like the first voice condensed one hundred years of Arab history. Both of their voices recapitulated the agony, the
Beyond Euphoria, 2011 205 / 117 cm, lambda print + diasec mount Limited edition of 6 + 2 AP
pain, the anticipation, the frustration, the joy, the sadness, the revelation and the euphoria of how every Arab felt. In Paris, I had the utmost honor of having dinner in the most astonishing and unforeseen manner with the first voice. His name is Abdennaceur Aouini. My state of transition and Euphoria preceded the Arab revolts. My journey of interrogation and introspection has been leading me to liberation. To achieve it, I had to confront myself, journey to my core and question my ‘beliefs’ and everything in my ‘reality’. The journey starts from within and once it starts change is inevitable. It is possible that this is what people in many different countries realized. Beyond Euphoria was created at a time when I was absorbing the dramatic changes in the Arab World. The unfolding events influenced this artwork and shifted it from its original conception. Steve Sabella It is also relevant that the production period of Sabella’s first post-Euphoria
works coincided with the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt. Beyond Euphoria relishes in a freedom never seen before in Sabella’s oeuvre, a freedom where possibilities are limitless and new fictional spaces beckon to be explored. Christa Paula This newfound freedom is further explored in Beyond Euphoria, the series Sabella was working on when demonstrations erupted in Tunisia and Egypt. Beyond Euphoria invites the viewer into multi-layered landscapes, indefinable, yet attractive, stretching toward a far horizon. Charlotte Bank His new photographs and photomontages … offer a more joyful, vigorous viewpoint - challenging by pure coincidence the region’s new energy engendered by what has become as the Arab Spring. The National Newspaper
Euphoria, 2010 155 / 127 cm lambda print + diasec mount Limited edition of 6 + 2 AP
68 Marwan Sahmarani The Dictators â€“ Studies For a Monument
Marwan Sahmarani is an artist deeply rooted and linked to his Middle Eastern origins. His oil paintings, drawings, ceramics and performative work are a reflection upon the mediums themselves and their support in the face of sociopolitical problems. His work is a prophetic and timely reminder of the cyclic histories of violence in a region where invasion is a constant self-perpetuating reality. He surfs between his Western cultural education and his oriental identity. Islamic and Mesopotamian art with its iconography and history mixes in with a Greco roman influence as well as the paintings of the great masters including Uccello, Rubens, and Picasso. He sources from art history the themes that remain timeless and that reflect current issues. His starting point is usually fictional and is often a story inspired by his reality and placed in the light of art history. His works are about politics, sociology, war, and sexuality. The content of his
paintings and drawings bathes in a surrealist mood where the limit between dream, fiction and reality disappears. In the series The Dictators: Studies for a Monument, Sahmarani resorts to a single format and theme, yet the result is an infinite palette of expressions, emotions and forms, almost within the same 230 x 70cm space. He composes, decomposes, wounds, even tortures his subjects, to the point of extracting their souls and splashing them across paper, where whiteness represents a void; the loneliness known only to the powerful. These works express manâ€™s quest for power over one another, the universe and God. Man has known such dictators throughout his history: the men of religion, the speech makers and givers, the demagogues. Sahmarani lays them down in their bare truth (demented, perverted, repressed), displayed like hunting trophies, reminding us that despite evolving times, history is bound to repeat itself.
The Dictators - Studies For a Monument (2008), oil on canvas, 200 x 90 cm each. Images courtesy of the Artist and Lawrie Shabibi Gallery.
72 Larissa Sansour Nation Estate
Scheduled for production during spring and summer 2012, Nation Estate is a joint video and photo project conceived in the wake of the Palestinian bid for membership at the UN. With Israeli settlements leaving very little land for a future Palestine, Sansourâ€™s project explores a vertical solution to statehood. In Nation Estate, Palestinians have their state in the form of a skyscraper. A single colossal highrise houses the entire Palestinian population â€“ now finally living the high life. Each city has its own floor: Jerusalem, third floor; Ramallah, fourth floor. Intercity trips previously marred by checkpoints are now made by elevator. Aiming for a sense of belonging, the lobby of each floor reenacts iconic squares and landmarks. Built just outside the actual city of Jerusalem, the building has views of the original Dome of the Rock from the top floors. The project consists of three large-format photographs which will be on view, while an elaborate five-minute sci-fi short is still in production.
Nation Estate - Olive Tree, 2011 Photo. Artistâ€™s proof. C - Print 59.4 x 42 cm Image courtesy of the artist
The Lacoste Controversy In late 2011, before the project was completed, Nation Estate became the center of a major international controversy. Officially nominated for the prestigious Lacoste Elysée Prize, Sansour developed three preliminary Nation Estate photos especially for the prize. In December, the corporate sponsor, French fashion giant Lacoste, decided to revoke her nomination and censor her project, labeling it ‘too pro-Palestinian’ for the brand to support. This development soon caught the attention of mainstream newspapers, bloggers, activists and other supporters worldwide. As a result of the public outcry against censorship, Swiss Musée de l’Elysée decided to cancel the prize.
Nation Estate - Jerusalem Floor, 2011 Photo. Artistâ€™s proof. C - Print 59.4 x 42 cm Image courtesy of the artist
76 Bassem Yousri Site-specific project at Davenports Magic Shop
Ancient Egyptians used to create groups of figurines to put with the deceased in his/her tomb. They are called Ushabti and they were usually put in groups on the ground around the sarcophagus. They functioned as a substitute for the deceased in case he/she would get called upon to perform manual labor in the afterlife. Inspired by the multidisciplinary character and the narrative quality of such installations in Ancient Egyptian tombs, I create spaces where different disciplines, dimensions, and narratives intersect. “Post Revolution” Egypt is a country that is in a state of constant evolvement. Everyday could bring new surprises as well mixed feelings of hope and despair. My pieces are often influenced by the current events and they create narratives commenting on the social and political situation in today’s Egypt while touching upon broader topics such as cultural stereotypes, and the human condition. In the Changing Room Project, my work
occupies the window of Davenport’s magic shop. While I didn’t voluntarily choose the location, I find the coincidence quite relevant to my current practice. Magic, for me, is the art of manipulating an audience. I see the magician’s performance as a very convincing illusion. It is a very strong and coherent construction. This notion, in my opinion, is strongly related to visual artists’ work. In my work, I constantly investigate the relationship between art and audience. I reject the manipulation of the viewer emotionally and, consequently, intellectually by means of visual seduction reinforcing stereotypes. Thus, I try to achieve what Susan Sontag calls “the consciousness of form”1 which leads the viewer, in my opinion, to a more critical stance to what they look at. Additionally, Jacques Ranciere’s investigation of the position of the spectator in contemporary life has been part of my personal exploration. Ranciere rejects a relationship between spectator and a work of art that is based on a pedagogical paradigm. Emancipation, for him, is “the process of verification of the equality
of intelligence”2. Although I owe a lot of respect to that notion I try to invite the viewer to reexamine the work of art as a constructed image. I try to invite the spectator to become more aware of their physical and intellectual relationship to the image facing them.
Against interpretation and Other Essays by Susan Sontag, 1966. 2 The Emancipated Spectator by Jacques Ranciere, 2008. 1
“Homage”, The Changing Room project, Spazio Qubi, Turino (Italy). September 2011.
The Parliament of the Revolution Part of “Shift Delete 30” Exhibition, January 2012, Saad Zaghloull Cultural Centre, Cairo, Egypt.
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG
Karim Al Husseini, September 2011
I would like to march my way to my land with this flag in order to liberate it from furthering political turmoil. And I would do the same under any banner that would allow me to do so.
So I considered the Unification of all Arab countries, under one flag. Breaking the borders, between Arabs and brothers, to resolve my case: Palestine.
When I was asked to design a flag the only thing that came to mind was â€˜What kind of a banner would I carry to lead, or follow?â€™
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG
Sama Alshaibi, August 2011
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG
Khaled Barakeh, July 2012
Facebook: “Sin” is for Syrian? KB: Kind of... “Sin” is for Syrian Superman.
A / FRONT
Hassan Hajjaj, July 2012
ONE LOVE in ARABIC
A / BACK
B / FRONT
Hassan Hajjaj, July 2012
ONE LOVE in ARABIC
B / BACK
Ines Jerray, August 2011
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG
90 I have a flag of Tunisia that a close friend of mine, a Tunisian artist, gave me after the recent events. I hung it up on the open window of my room, intending to capture with photography and video, images of the shades of color and movements of the flag, induced by air and sunlight passing through its fabric. The photographic still images did not give me what I wanted. I then thought to draw it, imagining that the patterns of the flag were superimposed on the stars they actually symbolize in the real sky (crescent moon and big single star). I could then open the white circle that included the stars. That way, it allowed me to figure a greater openness on the outside of the window, and so to refer to a larger common space beyond all nationalism.
Marwan Sahmarani, July 2011
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG
Therefore we see the disappearing of the concept of a country, replaced by the ideas of a chief of state, therefore showing the ideological and individual empowerment of a president over its nation in profit of a state that should embrace all politic pluralism far from all community clashes, and in the goal of building a state that is grounded on the idea of a nation, as the flag was conceived originally.
This study on paper of the Lebanese flag shows the fading out of the cedar, which represents the icon of the country, in favor of a portrait of the republicâ€™s president.
The President and His Flag, 2004 Oil stick on paper, 75 x 50 cm
Steve Sabella, July 2011
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG
Adel Abidin in conversation with Mariam Hamdy MH: Did you foresee the events in the Middle East? AA: If we are talking about arts, any activity and event in any part of the world is good for the scene. In the Middle East, events were always happening, but they never had the chance to be as promoted as they are now. This exposure and positive buzz is good not just for Middle Eastern artists, but for the arts in general, as venues become more international, more integrated and not framed as isolated scenes. MH: In your video installation “Bread of Life”, you understand that bread in our cultures is equated with life itself- it is not to be joked about and is vital for our day to day lives. Yet your commentary on how hard the bread is- hard enough to use a tabla/drum- and make music out of can appear that you’re mocking its importance. How can you avoid such an understanding by those who view your installation? AA: Once my work is on display for the viewers, any authority I had for interpretation or understanding no longer exists. I create open-ended arguments and do not give answers or conclusions. And I am happy to hear the many various inter-
pretations of my work. MH: If bread is life and it’s rock hard, then life today can be terribly difficult to endure. What do you feel needs to change in our psyche in this region in order to move ourselves and our societies to greener pastures within our lifetimes? AA: I believe in the timeless answer, for any society or individual to develop, it needs to consider the others around it. We need to consider and feel empathy for the other, to embrace it but not imitate it. MH: How do you feel you contribute to profound change as an artist through your work? AA: I do not have a specific change or an agenda I would like to achieve, but I seek to develop my arguments and present them to the viewers. To create with the intention to change is a naïve way of looking at art. MH: Could you have seen your self living in an autocratic regime (even if not your own) for another 5, 10, 15 years? How would you have reacted against it? AA: Any autocratic regime is not a healthy environment to live in, but I al-
ways seen it as a starting point for beautiful change. It as a double-edged sword, rich with possibility for positive change, but its negative weight delays societyâ€™s development. MH: If there was an element that the people of our always-tumultuous region can be saved from- what do feel that is? AA: After the recent uprisings in the region, I think we already found that out and are working to change it. We just need to believe that we still can dream and achieve our dreams. MH: If you were a superhero, what power would you have, and how would you use it during this transition? AA: I am a realist, I never used to dream of making things or processing things when I knew I couldnâ€™t do them. I am not a superhero yet, but I promise you when I become one, I will update you on all my new powers and what I would do with them. MH: As Artist Citizen, understanding that this is the time for change. What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in willing to do for your community?
AA: A bright future for any nation lies within the hands of its own children. Many children are suffering under stifling and inadequate forms of learning, which erases their potential and identity. I believe in raising a new generation with the best education possible will create a better future. MH: As Artist Citizen: What is your principle obsession/project/drive that leads your practice? Is that likely to change under the current circumstances? AA: I search for inner balance. I dream to have my work shown everywhere I wish. MH: Being an artist in exile, do you feel that commenting on matters in Iraq from the view looking from the outside in, benefits your perspective and allows others to relate to the matters at hand more? AA: A correction, I am not in exile. I am here by my own will. Seeking to know the other and understand it adds a greater and more meaningful impact on my practice. But it helps to look at issues from afar; it makes your vision clearer.
Karim Al Husseini in conversation with Aida Eltorie KH: Are you recording? AE: Yes, just incase you say something important. Let’s start with what would be your choice of super power if you had a chance to choose? KH: Too many. AE: Well, brainstorm, what specifically would you like to have if you only had one, or two, or five. KH: I’ll tell you one for sure I would like to have, and that is the power to ray in pain into somebody’s heart, so they can feel the pain they are inflicting. If they can bear that pain, the pain right in their heart, only then will it be alright for them to inflict it. There’s also a difference from you being the one giving the order, than being the one from actually executing it: It’s easy to order somebody to kill, being the one who gives the order, or even the one who executes it, but in either case I would inflict the same pain on the commander and his executor. And the question will be whether you can bear the pain of it inflicting back on you. Another example is what if you’re in battle, and you are killing for something you believe in, it’s only at that point, if
the cause was righteous, would the killing be worth it. But on the condition that the killing is wrongful or immoral, so he who causes that sort of pain, will have to also bear it upon himself. The question is: Can you handle that pain? Do you know what you are causing? I also would like to have the power of building a super wall, an invisible one, the kind you need for protection. Protect you by going towards you and protecting you. AE: Did you get these ideas in the army? KH: No, not necessarily, these are childhood thoughts. I mean, when there is no limitation, then why not? AE: But you also used to play a role “to serve and protect,” its almost like in your life you have already fulfilled a superhero role, where you take a primary desire to make it happen. KH: It doesn’t mean that I know how to do it, that I necessarily will. It doesn’t mean that I know how to protect the neighbors that I will be able to protect the neighbors at all times. I am protecting those around
me, those within my reach. AE: Yes, but you look at it from a humanity aspect, right? KH: Yes, if I see someone who needs help I will help him or her for sure, decision made. I don’t question that. A lot of places for example, that state it’s against the law, or not necessarily against the law, but if you help a person, you are then responsible or held accountable for the events that have happened to that person, even as a suspect, it can reach difficult heights. But I don’t care, if that’s my destiny then God knows what I will do if I was put in that situation, and if its meant to happen then it will happen. AE: So in reference to question 1, did you foresee the events in the Middle East? KH: I can’t say I did, but at the same time it was so clear to me that we could not go forward unless there is change. I traveled a lot, to different places, lived under various conditions. And when I keep coming back to Cairo, looking back at our conditions, our status, there is just no other way but for us to change, one way or another, somehow we have to change if we
wanted to survive the conditions we were placed in. I made some music for a sound piece about a year, a year and a half before the revolution. It’s a song but without lyrics, it’s a dialogue with a rhythm called “Change is Needed.” When I realized that change is inevitable, I was in search for something and this piece happened to find me. Within the speech, I found words that I have been in search for, or rather it found me and I knew the meaning of the piece and I had to share it to do my part to show people that change is needed, and here is the outcome of what I believe needs to be said: – (“Change is Needed” audio played) Imagination, and the use of creativity. Imagination, and the use of creativity, And the use of brains to think of new ideas, We don’t want to do things the same old way, We suspect the same old way, Therefore, as you come here, I hope you come with an attitude that would change a way of life form. We would not do things tomorrow the way you are doing them today, And if you do, we would feel that some
way or another the momentum that has taken years and years to build up, Is perhaps slowing down, And I assure you that we will bend every effort we know how to keep it from slowing down. Therefore, we are seeking people who are willing to accept risk, Who are willing to try new ideas, Who have new ideas of their own, Who are not afraid to change what they are doing from one day to the next, Or one year to the next, Who welcome new challenges, Who welcome new people, Who welcome new positions, Who welcome new challenges. Imagination, and the use of creativity. AE: What drove you to make that music piece? What was your intention? KH: Well my intention is it was a concern for me. I can reach so many people, by talking to them, and appreciate them for having the time to listen to what I have to say. To hear me when talking about things like change, that they wonâ€™t necessarily have to, but itâ€™s a way to express, to reach more people out there. AE: Did you see yourself living in a conquering regime?
KH: The answer to that is definitely. AE: You saw yourself living under the same conditions you have been living in for years in Egypt? KH: For sure. AE: Why? KH: I come from a generation that did not necessarily see war, excluding myself and compared with the domestic majority – we have not witnessed war. We being Egyptians. We were not brought up on a revolution, and what happened was actually huge, it was huge for a generation that did not witness something like that and to see it happen to become a better state is always welcoming, for it was needed and still is. Our fathers who had to deal with quite a bit of conflict during their teen years, burning fuel, witnessing rage, war, disturbance and everything that echoed from that. They have seen things our generation never saw. They were there during King Farouk, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat’s reign. So we were brought up to accept that this is life, this is how things should be and not be chal-
lenged from within our household and the government succeeded in making the people trust the government. In fact, who were the ones telling us not to provoke the government? It was the older generation who had seen what happened in their history – they were the ones telling us ‘No.’ And it’s the youth who made this revolution happen, and they realized that Yes, change is needed. So, if some of us did not listen to our parents, and went down to stand against the government, probably the majority would not had gone down because we were told not to question, but to obey. That being said I would have easily seen ourselves living under this regime for another 5 or 10 years. AE: How about a regime, not the one that just changed, not Egypt, but the regime you experienced its change in Iraq, and the regime that forced to change, Palestine? KH: You see the thing is I am not a politician, but I was a soldier. I don’t like politics, politicians, lawyers and regimes. The way I see it is that it’s a matter of luck in life.
102 INTERVIEWS So, to live under another regime, we are all living under a regiment. But, you also can’t confine people under political control, and if its not called a regime, then it’s called something else. Another term will be created for it, just to justify its authority over a people. There are politics, and there is a system. The regime has to be broken down to a local council, a governorate or even a town hall - something that involves the collective. A regime is there, but it’s not needed, and again that brings us back to whether it’s a good one or a bad one. You choose. Some people choose a bad one, because its serves them best. While there are ones who create a regime that makes everything look nice and dandy, very colorful, and they might serve a very good regime, but others will claim that its bad. So it’s very relative. Not to mention how the media determines what defines beneficial to the state, and what doesn’t. We live in biases, and the biases are all around us. A regime is a political system, a system of a government. And we should have the choice to either abide, or choose not to. So it depends on which party or which regime we are talking about, and how are you part of that system. What role do you play? AE: Would you say that the Egyptians for the first time all agree to the same system? KH: I wouldn’t say that they all agree.
AE: Or that the strong ones agree, the ones who managed to overthrow a dominating power? KH: No, I would say that it went to the point in the pipeline that everyone was put in the same consumed position, whether families, employment markets, medical, government, the whole political stance controls the job market, health and land. People found this whole thing working against them. Why? The fact that the government was bullying their citizens with police, the factor that is meant to serve and protect them and it completely deceives and fails to. AE: So going back to what power would you have and how would you choose to use it, especially during this transition. How would you use your powers? KH: Another one is that I would really love to have the power of seeing the truth in a person and projecting it. Not just seeing it, since there is no good for me to be the only one knowing it. AE: So it’s like a lie detector? KH: Yes, a human lie detector, but the kind that you can project and people can see it in real-time. AE: I like that. KH: And maybe I can be the only one who lies in it, the only one who can control the
103 lies [laughter].
Yes, so that and the ability to project the pain we cause on others back to ourselves. And hit a particular muscle in the body.
AE: What is your principle obsession, inspiration or drive that leads your practice, and is that likely to change under the current circumstances? What is the real reason behind what it is you do, as an Artist Citizen, a man who is doing something for his community, and will that change because of what’s happening now?
AE: Which muscle? KH: The Heart… AE: As Artist Citizen, understanding that this is the time for change. What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in willing to do for your community? KH: Well, for my community, I will answer this question in two ways: towards the Palestinian matter and the other half of the question is towards the community I am in. Towards the community I am in, I would like to put my efforts towards the Palestinian case by educating people on the truth of the conflicts of my land, and hope to reach as many as I can. Towards my community in Palestine, which would be a dream for me, is to show the younger generation, that there is something else out there. Other colors, other flavors, other sounds, other scents, that there is still good out there and a greater cause for their being. I would like to see Palestinians liberated.
KH: Well, of course everything changes. For example, the two things I am focusing on right now, is first projecting human emotion and beauty, visually. While the second is in music, which is originally where I first started. I always seek to drive a certain emotion with my music. For example, in an image, I might see something very gory, but does that mean I feel the pain in it? That sharpness of pain is not necessarily felt but can be seen. When I look at an image, I would like to be transported there visually. Feel as if I was there. Transform the space. AE: Well, for what I see in your work, you are playing with this childlike story, with this very simple image that could take a person back to a memory of childhood. Even if that memory doesn’t exist, it’s the one you created. KH: Well, it’s true. In some of my work I would like to go back to that point. Because it’s just in the principle of the immaturity of a child, I find myself trans-
104 INTERVIEWS lating something like an image of a ship and break it down to the smallest form (a boat) because it’s the only way I can express. I see the simplicities, while some others seek the complexities. And my work has certainly changed since before the revolution. If a mountain changes every thousand years, or a rock that has been in the middle of the desert and changes in a thousand or two thousand years it would definitely change in shape. Everything changes. The drive is to make people aware of the situations I am personally surrounded by. My stronger drive is towards Palestine, to get people aware about the case. AE: Does this sort of continue your grandfather’s legacy [Amin Al Husseini]? KH: What my grandfather did was more of being a regular human being. Acting in his daily practices of life, protecting his country and family like any other man would by his own means. His actions were translated into being a hero to the Palestinian cause. He did not accept to betray and sell the country. Defending the principles of our country was strong with our families, not just the Husseini’s, but those who are married into our family. AE: And that quality is very eastern, ‘the
family.’ KH: Yes, families and generations. Growing up as a family, there are strengths of staying together. We have the fathers and mothers, the grandfathers and grandmothers, sisters and brothers, and those who are married into them, or are associated to as friends. And then you have the cousins. It’s almost like our own little mafia; not crime-wise, but in the sense of a structure of respect. Something which the military uses almost the same structure as well. AE: So is that the drive, the reason why you are producing this? KH: No, the drive is the awareness towards the Palestinian cause. To provoke people to ask questions. While the other aspect of my art is the projector of emotions and thoughts so my audience can have a sense of how I feel and see things and wish for others to experience. AE: Can we say that the drive is the same as the obsession, same as the project? KH: Yes. AE: And can we actually comment about your project in The Changing Room? KH: The project in The Changing Room is “Nirvanty” and it’s an eight-pointed Islamic star, installed out of glass soda bottles and paper flowers. I am trying to
105 show my understanding of what mght become my heaven, or what I would hope to see there. In Islam, I was brought up to believe if you go to heaven part of the deal is that we shall receive everything good we could imagine, and could not imagine. It will all be presented to us, and we will get pleasures you always hoped for and things you have never imagined. So someone for example lived in the 18th century, and never knew about the presence of soda drinks like Cocacola and Sprite, so they simply will have it offered to them in heaven. The idea is that choices will be available even to the things you were unaware of their existence. I would like to see part of my heaven with flowers of crazy colors and I want to break the codes of nature, by making an endless palette. No discrimination, no barriers and everything is there. If I were to go to heaven Insh’Allah, this is what I would like to see. It’s about having the mundane soda bottle, a consumption, and the endless beauty of flowers. So there will be eight of these stars. And they are all part of the In Search of Eden series. AE: Why did you decide on eight? Is there significance in number? KH: Well, yes – it’s the bearings of a compass, and the idea is to look in all di-
rections, a circle – an endless possibility without boundaries. You are in the center, and in my center I have my Jerusalem. AE: What is the association of the flowers to be made in paper and inserted in the bottles? KH: Part of the beauty of the paper is that it will not change. The flower will not transform. It will remain still and formed the way I place it. Almost like its frozen in time. It does not mean I am against change. I actually love the element of change. But in this particular work, since we are talking about a divine belonging, I want heaven to look just the same. It’s part of my everyday beauty towards life. While the soda bottles plays off of a universal culture of consumption, it’s also part of my childhood. It’s my drink of choice, cold, popping with some chiseled ice. Heaven is all about what you like, what do you want to have – and getting it.
106 INTERVIEWS Anas Al-Shaikh in conversation with Mariam Hamdy MH: Did you foresee the events in the Middle East? AAS: Actually no, what happened was out of our expectations. In Arab world we always believe that the political opponents and ideological political parties, whether liberal or Islamic, which work inside their countries or in exile and have long history, are able to make the changes by leading and motivating the masses to struggle and fight peacefully for getting their different rights. But what we saw was a great shock and impressive surprise. That an ordinary person in Tunisia- because he felt that his dignity hurt and insulted by police and by some officials- decided to commit suicide by burning himself. This action fired the first spark of new kind of revolution in Arab world not made by politicians or activists but by the masses, some of which have succeeded such as in Tunisia and Egypt, others still not completed. But these successful revolutions are still not settled because there are many powers that still want to exploit them and steal them from the masses.
Although all of this is worrying, I think that the masses are quite aware of these crucial historical events, and I hope that they won’t let any powers or individuals to present themselves as saviors or leaders or as symbols of the nation. No more idolizing people in the Arab world...that’s what I hope for. MH: You believe that in our region, people act as spectators rather than get together to articulate change themselves. Why do you believe that that’s the case? Is it an innate weakness of work ethic in our peoples or has our sense of duty waned? AAS: I think there are several reasons that make people act as spectators. One of these reasons is the strong relationship that has been constructed for centuries between the ruler and various religious powers. These “Ruler-preachers” are then created, and use their authority to not steer the people by the Islamic canon, but rather by the ruler’s wishes. Leaders have used religious dispositions in their own interests to legitimatize their ruling as long as they are alive.
What’s more is that most of the leaders in the Arab world are not where they are through by votes of the masses, but by overturning on other civic, monarchal or military rulers, or by forging elections altogether. Regardless of method, the masses had to obey these rulers blindly even if they oppressed them or misused nation’s wealth- the people had no any rights to object or questioning their leaders. Even in parliament in some Arab countries, which is supposed to be the house of the nation, the nation’s deputies have no right to discuss decisions being made, because most of them are used as a kind of decorative facade in order to allow the leaders to portray a democratic image to the rest of the world. In the Arab world, the regimes don’t assume that the wealth and incomes of a country are the nation’s possessions but rather the rulers’, and that any spending of that wealth towards the people is due to the leaders generosity, not their duty. The overall feeling is the no one can question those in charge- instead, they can only show appreciation to their rulers’ sympathies towards them. This lends to them not being able to ask for their legal
rights, but rather beg for it- they work in these leader’s farms as peasants and their job is to serve and cater to their wishes. Along with the aforementioned reasons, there are huge clashes and contradictions inside the society in terms of beliefs, ideologies and interests of different groupsthis makes the society unable to unite their goals and demands. So we find that civil societies are not strong enough but have to struggle on three fronts: the first against the regimes, the second, against opposite ideology and interests inside the society and the third, to face the hegemony of other powers, particularly western policies and their paradoxical attitude towards different issues in the Arab region (for example how they are against some autocratic regimes but at the same time supporting others). These weaknesses of the people within their societies allowed the regimes to easily use the differences between liberals, religious and nationalists as well as clashes between different religious groups against each other to their benefit. The scene then becomes shattered and difficult to allow for compromise so that the society could focus on facing the oppressive regimes.
108 INTERVIEWS All this tension exhausted the masses and made their leaders forget their demand to live in dignity in their own countries- resulting in explosive revolutions and the removal of all powers who have been promising changes them for too long without any tangible results. MH: How do you feel you contribute to profound change as an artist through your work? AAS: In general, I do not think we as visual artists can make any profound changes. In the Arab world there are many artists, literati and intellectuals, but I think the fruits of their productions are not sufficient or effective enough to push our societies and masses to be motivated towards changing their lives, culture and conditions. We, as artists involved in contemporary art practices, have to admit that we are not able to make any effective changes in our societies by our productions: we cannot stop the corruption or create effective challenges in the face of any dominant official institutions or have ability to stop crisis in Arab world (First Gulf war, war on Iraq, war on Lebanon and war on Gaza as examples). What kind of changes can we make in the face of autocratic regimes, Western interests in dominating our region and brutal wars? I very much believe in what the French theorist Paul Virilio said, in that the vi-
sual arts has failed to bring art to the people and to change the world, and how the Art world wants to cover these failures by commercial success. MH: Could you have seen your self living in an autocratic regime (even if not your own) for another 5, 10, 15 years? Probably within the next 10 years there will be dramatic changes in the most of the Arab region, but I donâ€™t think that using a democratic system will allow our countries to be settled or have an economical and cultural boom. A successful democracy depends on the agreement of all members of the society on civil constitution and legislations, but this may not be the case. Some Islamic groups and Islamic sectarians insist that their countries be ruled by the Islamic canonassuming that is the demand of majority- so in that time the democracy will be threatened and affect the unity of the country passively, particularly in some countries which have number of Islamic sects or different religions. I think the extremists of some Islamic sectarians will not accept that their country be ruled by civil legislations or even by other Islamic sects. This may lead to this long awaited transformation to not be as romantic or beneficial as we thought, because our societies are unable to practice real democracy and find difficulty to accept othersâ€™ opinions, especially if that opinion is opposed to Islamic beliefs. I think we will need at least half a century
109 to be able to accept the real concept of democracy, and only if the majority agrees to be ruled by democratic values and civil legislations that depend on citizenship and competency, not on race, sect, beliefs and kinship. Otherwise, Arab world will be a place for civil wars and conflicted interests for long time.
These issues make us, as a nation, feel that as though we are living on our land as strangers and guests, and that’s because our regimes want us to feel useless and worthless. They’d like to replace us by foreigners and by external powers who have many interests in our region to do our supposed duties instead of us.
MH: Your audio piece “Gulf of phantasmagorias” sounds like the ramblings of the mind of someone suffering a severe fever a nightmare. Listening to it is quite disturbing, I feel as though I’m being pulled on a leash with no will of my own. What was going through your mind as you created it and what do you hope people will walk away with? AAS: I was trying through this audio piece- which I produced it before the Arab spring revolution- to express feelings of incapability, surrendering to chaos and disappointment towards our inability to change our situation and ourselves.
MH: In your work, “Con/temporary God”, you are commenting on the delusional savior of the people in our region, that being oil. Are you optimistic that people of this region will see your point of view and change their generally relaxed attitude towards creation and production?
It is noticeable that every decade a crisis happens in this region, with people from both sides of Gulf region becoming victims of all the bloody and dirty games, and unfortunately we’ve surrendered to these crisis and allowed external powers to fight and defend our region instead in our name! We have to admit that we’ve always had a shameful attitude towards what’s happening in our region- without learning our lessons.
AAS: I think the people in the Gulf region are more aware now of their rights, particularly in Bahrain, and many of them are holding high qualifications, are efficient and able to contribute effectively to build the future of the region- but many of them may not get a chance to prove their abilities. Because of disappointment, some of them by their own will while others by force, will accept to live on the margin of the society and watching the foreigners get the benefits and wealth of their countries. At the same time, citizens of this region are facing big challenges in the face of pro-regime powers, because they have effective authorities and ready to fight against any changes that can be happened by using religion and sectarian means, as I’ve previously explained.
110 INTERVIEWS Many of pro-regime authorities pretend to have loyalty to their leaders but in fact are just trying to save and protect their interests and status in their own country. These hypocrites know very well that their eyes and ears must be always open against any political or social groups or activists that want to threaten their interests at any time, otherwise, they lose all acquisitions and facilities they are getting it from current regime. Regimes and people in our region must learn from what is going on of changes around them, and they must learn how many societies became advanced nations, how to be productive societies able to contribute effectively in all fields, otherwise we will live forever in the far corner of this global village as reactionary societies and out of the history. MH: Speaking of saviors, if you were a superhero, what power would you have, and how would you use it during this transition? We should refuse the concept of a superhero. The time is passing quickly so we must motivate and encourage people to use their rights and wills to make effective changes. We should refuse the autocracy, oligarchy, patriarchy and hierarchy dogmas, and instead of that, we have to heighten justice, equality and multiplicity values. People cannot endure any more the belief that was persistent in our history: that our nation must be ruled
and guided by single hero, without any objections toward his conduct and decisions. During our history many political and religious powers have used religion along with their authorities to make us directly and indirectly feel that we are group of canailles, coming from inferior origins and races, with no right and ability to lead the nation. So a superhero must be found- someone who’s superior with extraordinary mentality and who knows better than us as he has knows how to be the nation’s savior and protector. MH: As Artist Citizen, understanding that this is the time for change. What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in willing to do for your community? AAS: Unfortunately, I do not have much hope in the belief that visual artists have the ability to make any effective changes through their productions- at least in the Arab world. I believe that garbage men for example are of more importance and value for the society than artists, because they are literally saving people’s lives physically and psychologically, as well as protecting the environment from pollution and diseases. They also don’t ask for any particular appreciation or special status for their great services toward the society. I know that many artists oppose my opinion, but I don’t think they prove their
111 beliefs, though I wish they could. I hope that one day visual art can contribute effectively in changing some of passivity in our society, but I think we have to learn first from our garbage men how to give without waiting any feedback. Maybe it is utopian idea- or maybe not. Many post-modernist artists in the Arab region are criticizing the aesthetic values of modern art and the isolation of its artists from societal issues because they prefer to live in ivory towers. But actually we are as Arab post-modern artists act and pretend that we are closer to our societies and global issues- many of us pretended that we’re able to fill the gap between art, society and life by allying with masses and their issues, either by criticizing and fighting bourgeois institutions in the favour of the masses, or by rejecting the commoditizing of art by producing ephemeral works that cannot sold. But in truth, we are living in a higher ivory tower than modern artists: we live isolated from our people, living in small communities that have their own language and terms. We even prefer to speak foreign languages than our Arabic, which is the language of our people- perhaps because we want to be perceived by them that we are society’s elite. As an obvious example, we prefer issuing and promoting magazines about art in the Arab region in foreign languages without considering how we can heighten the awareness of our artists and people- especially the younger genera-
tion who may not be able to read foreign languages- and how we can feel some responsibility towards them. The real world for Arab post-modern artists is not with the people, not on public roads and spaces, but rather isolated places such as art fairs, biennials, galleries, museums, auctions and private events, dominated and directed by officials, some bourgeois groups, art directors, curators and collectors, who through them artists can get recognition, money and fame. MH: As Artist Citizen: What is your principle obsession/project/drive that leads your practice? Is that likely to change under the current circumstances? I do not have much obsession toward many things as before, but I can tell you about my humble project which is concerned with contemporary art practices, through which I hope to contribute to opening a new path in the art scene in Bahrain. After my first solo exhibition “Memory of Memories” in 2001, I felt that I have a responsibility towards encouraging Bahraini artists- especially the young generation- to be more involved in contemporary art practices. So in 2002, I had to enter the world of curating, not because I am interested in it but because there wasn’t any appreciation or interest toward contemporary practices in art, and the definition of curator or curating was not understood well during that time in Bahrain.
112 INTERVIEWS Despite financial difficulties, I was able during nine years of curating and financing five projects with small budgets (The first project in 2002 we were four artists and by the fifth project in 2010 we became seventeen), to increase the awareness of some young and old generations towards contemporary art practices as well as towards different issues discussed through their works and interventions. But what I tried to do of some humble efforts was completely not enough to make any small changes in the society and to motivate its awareness, or to solve peopleâ€™s problems and their demands or feeding their needs, psychologically and culturally. Although of passing more than 50 years of establishing and practicing modern and contemporary art in our region especially in Bahrain, we couldnâ€™t in this region create a history for art, for several reasons, related to political, cultural, social, economical and historical conditions. So the history that we have it in our region - even in Arab world - is a history of places and not history of art, because we still not able to contribute by anything could be different, equalled, effective and exceeded to what is done in modern and post-modern Western societies in art and culture theoretically and practically.
114 INTERVIEWS Sama Alshaibi in conversation with Aida Eltorie Aida Eltorie: First, I wanted to get your general feedback about this concept of The Changing Room, before we dive into those five questions. Sama Alshaibi: Well, when you first told me about the concept of the show, I was first taken by the title itself, because a ‘changing room’ space to me is kind of a space of fantasy where you can physically go into and literally be thinking about a space that you would be changing your clothes and trying out new possibilities and new things. Imagining yourself in these new clothes, in this new way, and how it would be in your life. Yet you are looking at yourself during that moment in the mirror, but you’re also looking out into the future. Projecting into the future. Right, so you would try on new things, maybe put on outfits that you would maybe never consider yourself into, or maybe you would just put on something that is comfortable. The idea of The Changing Room when it becomes an exhibition, of a bunch of
artists showing together, and making a work that is, let’s say, commissioned for example, it allows them to consider re-inventing themselves as artists, or maybe think about the times that we live in and it allows them to have something new and different to say. And if its an artist like me, that I am showing something that I made recently and not commissioned, but which the project itself is about change, about revolution, about the cycle coming in and out of something, I still think it has a different way of existing. The work will hang in a space with a different time and a different context, with a different group of people, being next to works that are challenging this kind of space that we are in. Yes, so that’s my basic thoughts on it right now. AE: Brilliant, it’s a beautiful start into the piece. The first question asks: Did you foresee the events in the Middle East happening, since your work sort of anticipated some kind of motion, whether
environmental or otherwise. Did you foresee that this would really hit? SA: I have a sort of outsider perspective, since I come and go to the Middle East, and live in the West, and then when I come to the Middle East, I am not there for vacation, I am there to work. So I am there in an extremely tuned in time in my life. Every time I am go, it is about that. I am shooting, I am interviewing, I am reporting, I am watching, I am listening and I am observing in a very heightened state of alertness. Even social events that I go to all become a way for me to try very quickly and in a very condensed amount of time, to work and understand more. Because I can only come for a week or a few months, I must use ever moment for researching and gathering what I need to know. At the same time, for me as an artist, a lot of the preliminary production of my work, I can’t explain; it comes intuitively. It comes through visions. So then, these two components couple with each other.
So when you asked me, did I foresee the events, I can say that starting last year, way before anything happened in Tunisia, I had started to work on a project called The Pessimists. I came to this project because I was deeply observing the frustration that all my friends and family were experiencing with our political situation, and I’m not just talking about Iraq, but in Egypt, and Lebanon, Syria and all these places. The way that people kept feeling that nothing will ever change, and these were the sorts of things that they would keep saying, but it’s not in my nature to believe that things can’t change. Maybe its because I am a creative person, to me everything is a possibility. Since anything can be created, nothing is impossible. That means even politically, things can change. And actually, for all the times I would hear the negativity, and would be observing the frustrations, I observed that we always point outwards when we wanted to state the problem (to blame an outward entity), but we never want to look inwards. And that’s when change is impossible, because you are
116 INTERVIEWS unable to have courage yourself to participate in change, to want change, to believe that change is possible, that nothing is impossible. The Pessimists is where I started when looking at this region, feeling so much still can be done, if only with us internally. Maybe we can’t have change overnight, we can’t turn off the empire of the US, while there is their control and domination because of their military, but there are so many tangible things we could still do. We could think collectively. Start with our own self and then move to the collective. So when the first events of Tunisia happened, I was very attuned to it because I had just been there, I was just working on a project there, and when you are so far away but remembering a place that was just deeply entrenched and experienced, your eyes become very attuned and the realities just float to the top. The immediate thing that ran through my mind (when the revolution just started) was that I want to make sure that I can disseminate the information, put it out there as much as I can. Get other people to pay attention to it, that these events were not just another moment in time, just not another little thing that happened. Many of us realized that we could help lift this to something, be inspired, and give the backing and support.
But all through out history, moments like the first protests have happened, many acts of courage throughout the Middle East and North Africa over the last three decades, that just gets stifled because people don’t know the whole story. Especially because of the censorship in the region. So the masses observe more of the consequences of being courageous rather than the possibilities courage creates. It’s because of the severity of the consequences that many people want to justify their inactions, and that was how I began my project. There was this rapid fire happening so quickly. And though I was working on other art projects, I just stopped working on them, and just focused on Thowra – it was more important. I am not sure that I was foreseeing, or I just wanted to honor what was happening, and give in my small way as an artist; my intentions, my convictions that this could be something significant, and that it deserves it. It was about paying attention, and stopping the banality of life, from all of the distractions that we surround ourselves with, and get behind it in anyway possible. Taking a risk. So that was the becoming of Thowra. AE: So, can we say it was an emotional expectation, an emotional hope for something not definitive, but definitely there? A definition as to what it meant to
117 come from the inside, or what it meant to change. SA: Exactly, and that’s what so difficult sometimes, when you’re making art, especially with Arab art. We’re so caught up in the past and our history as artists, It’s already been so contextualized, and we keep rewriting the contexts, of course, as artists in a critical way. But when something is unfolding, and you don’t know what it is yet, and you can’t even imagine what it could be, it is hard. I was making it [Thowra] while it was happening, day by day, the whole period from November and ended the project in March, a week before Art Dubai. Even I thought, “My God, what a risk. We don’t even know what this is and you’re making a work, you’re making a comment.” So that’s why I gravitated to the natural world in the project. I took a look at the elements of the natural world, of seasons, of earthly change, because I think if we observe the earth, we can see possibility and important lessons all the time. We can see cycles, and we can see change, we can see expectations, and we can see destruction and rebirth, and for me those are the elements that can fit in this context of a thowra, for sure. Of course there are things I can easily talk about in an art project, like they are the martyrs, they are the people that put themselves out there, with their courage. But that wasn’t
enough to make an artwork from alone. So, I went to the natural earth, because all of these things can also be observed on our planet, on land, around us. So those two elements together came for me when I saw the black birds on news, that the natural world too is full of shocking but also, contradictions, when it comes to altering events. Actually it wasn’t easy, because every minute I was making this work, I was very anxious that I was making a comment too soon, and what was it going to be at the end? I was producing with no end in sight. I didn’t want to romanticize and glorify something arbitrarily. I wanted to make sure. Yes, the commemoration of the martyrs was very easy to do, but if I am going to be putting a statement out there, and it’s tied to something significant, I can’t have it just be me getting on the bandwagon of making a comment about the revolution. I mean, just because I am an artist and there is a revolution going on, that within itself is not reason enough. AE: So could you have seen yourself living in a conquering regime, even if not your own regime? Since the region has reached a state of statelessness, could you have lived in that for another 5, 10, 15 years? SA: Well yes, for the last two years I have been trying to find a way for me to move to Tunisia. This is a question that goes
118 INTERVIEWS back and forth with my husband, because what we would have to give up to do so. The best part of living in the US is living under our constitution, and our freedom. And that is probably why I have never been able to leave. It’s not anything else but that [my freedom]. Knowing that it’s there every single day, knowing that it’s there to protect you in a way, and that there is an ability to be free, to have your point of view and to put it out there. Especially when you’re someone like me, who is extremely critical of authority and the abuse of power, those kinds of rights are not something someone could take lightly. Freedom is something you know you carry inside and it allows your consciousness to be extremely expansive, and naturally allows you to be active and participate in things that are meaningful to you. This is the thing I tell my students all the time, that you know you have the greatest luxuries of the world; you can participate in the system and criticize it. But many of them don’t. And this is something difficult to reconcile with. I mean, I understand what freedom is because I didn’t always have it, even here in the USA. I was illegal in the USA for many years and did not have the constitution to protect me, and I had to be very, very quiet. I could not protest. I could not do those things without risking deportation. And deportation for
me would mean being deported back to Iraq, which we would mean I would have been killed because we were blacklisted. So it’s not simple to believe that you can give that up. I know what is the mentality of freedom, that I have this ability to go to the Middle East, travel, come back and say what I want to say and do what I want to do. I never feel anymore that I must control my behavior, my attitude, my viewpoints… anything in my mind. I don’t ever have to worry about what other people think. Even whether some of my actions do create security issues for me in the USA or abroad, the freedom that exists in my mind always means I am willing to risk it. There is nothing more important than to have courage, it is the trait I treasure most, and I don’t believe there is anything else more important in life. Perhaps that sort of way of thinking came from living in a democratic, free society. Perhaps because I’m an artist raised by an artist. But I do not know what would happen if I were living my life in a place of censorship – self-censorship constantly happening because of the fear of regime. I think I would probably wind up in prison, because I cannot live in a prison in my mind, and believe it is in my duty as a human being to fight for justice, and criticize oppression. Even with family and friends, I would not hold back my thoughts, and verbally say what comes to mind, sometimes expressions of real love, sometimes things that are difficult
119 to hear. It’s extremely important to say what you believe, and according to the words of Martin Luther King, I just want to ‘live a committed life’ and whatever many happen when living a committed life, then that’s my fate.
AE: I like the way you answer the questions actually lead us into the next one, being, if you were a superhero, what power would you have and how would you use it during this transition? Speaking of that community, of that protection.
I could live in a regime that is oppressive but don’t think I would wind up in a very good place afterwards. When I go to Jordan, working with illegal Iraqi refugees, I find all kinds of ways to keep them safe, keep their identity hidden, but for me, when you go online, all of my information is out there. My viewpoints and actions are very public. And I know that when I go back, I would be considered a risk, and not just in Israel, but in a lot of other places too. Even when I come back to the USA. But that’s just how the apples fall, when you know the truth. It’s not worth closing your mouth and allowing oppression and injustice to continue to occur when you know the truth. If you are someone who has a platform, you must use it. Even if you are not someone huge, you can still make waves. It doesn’t matter whether you are famous or not. It’s about the ability of being able to speak about it. So if you have that platform, that pathway to open people’s minds and show them things that you are able to witness and disseminate with your own ability to do so, just doing it is enough. You are contributing your part to the world.
SA: Ever since I saw that question, I have been thinking about it, and there is no right answer and there are so many powers I would love to have. It’s such a fantasy that I have anyway, to be able to do good in the world. I always have been obsessed with the idea of the superhero that can save the world. So I thought about root strength, that something that could overcome the impossible. That’s why in my solo show I am going to have that boxing match, maybe because its some sort of a fantasy but also it’s because I am a woman, wanting to be physically stronger for once than what is in front of me. But then after that I thought about it for a while, brute strength is just the concept of ‘an eye for an eye’, which I don’t believe in. And even though I am fascinated with the idea of the David and Goliath – the little guy that can overcome the big guy, I don’t think in the end it is the most important power. You realize, that in this world, you meet something with might and strength, and overcome the physical brute strength, it will only reignite and keep the tension there. The limitations of one party will eventually dissipate, and revenge or pay back will always remain.
120 INTERVIEWS I think the most important power is knowledge. I think when knowledge is there, it fosters and grows, and changes minds. So I would like to be the superhero that can be invisible, so that I can go anywhere I want, and witness anything I want, and be there, capturing it, and then bringing it back to the people. Then collectively, by OUR will, things will change. Not just my idea of change, but ours. AE: And as Artist Citizen, not forgetting that you are a very creative being and you have a role and a place in your community, and understanding that this is a time for change, what is the wish you would hope, wish, and put effort into doing for your community? And, Sama, it’s up to you to define ‘community’. SA: What’s the artist’s role or what’s my role? AE: Well now you are playing both. Because of the beauty from what I saw with the revolution in Egypt, was that we were looking for the artist in that square. Who were the artists, who were making the artwork, and we realized that it was the citizens the ones making the artwork. The artists actually had gone silent. They couldn’t focus on the making of a work of art because they were so taken by that role of being a citizen, very few felt like they could play a creative role – creating
any kind of eccentric statement artistically. While the general public, the people, the non-artists were the ones going out on the streets, painting on the walls, and taking so many photographs, making so many videos, pushing their ideas further. It was a very funny change of roles, and the artists actually started to speak, artistically and in production much later almost towards a month and a month and a half after the whole experience happened. It took time for them to absorb their ‘now.’ SA: That’s why it was so difficult for me to make Thowra, as it was happening, that’s not usually the space we work within as artists. There is a process of internalizing when you approach a subject or idea, and it has to mix with everything you are about as an artist and human being. Making Thowra changed me as an artist. I am now making work in areas where so little research has been done. The artwork becomes the research, as much as any book. The idea of art as ground-breaking research is not new, for sure, but when the subject is shifting moment to moment (like the revolution), it is extremely difficult to make artistic and conceptual decisions. Anything you do shifts meaning the next day when you read the news or hear from your friends. Whereas the citizen is much more free, because he or she is not participating in a space where they are conscious of their creative prac-
121 tice or how different audiences can read it later. For them, it is simply an outpour of rage or an emotion, whatever it may be to participate in that way. But really, artists historically have been on the frontline, always the ones who are prosecuted by the authority, by the regime. Risking everything to be critical, the first to be outspoken against tyranny. I believe it’s because of something that is in that creative mind, that in order to be an artist you have to be mentally free, so we readily reject oppression. We can sense it anywhere. But something changed over the last few decades. What has changed is the market, and too many are concerned with ruining their ‘product’ as an artist. Not wanting to be in a place where they are too controversial
– controversy is good, but only to a certain degree – and it has created a different kind of artist. But I’m not speaking about Egypt in this conversation. This is a global issue, and many artists in Egypt were so brave, as you know Aida. AE: So what would be that change you would hope for, and be willing to become part of? What would you be doing and how would you achieve it, and as an artist citizen, you play a critical role, and you exhibit your ideas of change, your ideas of motioning through a betterment. So what sort of ideas would you enforce? SA: It’s a hard question for me to answer because I have been a political artist all this time, and I have shrugged off the rules a long time ago. When people say to
122 INTERVIEWS me this could be censored, or this should be subverted, normally I would think “They can censor me, in the end I refuse to censor myself.” If I want to say this in my work, I will. But I also think that if I am speaking to my community as an artist, to the artists’ community, I would say that we should all be pouring our creative talents to show what’s happening and also to keep things alive and present, in the consciousness of the people. Everybody is just waiting for the dust to settle, everyone is waiting for normalcy to occur, but normalcy should not happen too quickly. We should allow people to feel comfortable in a space of flux, in that in between state of what was the past, and what is possible for the future. I mean we do not need all of these revolutions to happen for nothing, if it could just repeat what used to be, but with a few new rules, and a new different authority on the land that isn’t of the people. We shouldn’t run towards normalcy if it will just create the same old situation. So I do believe we all need to remain extremely engaged. You as an artist, carry a role to do something that matters, have a cause, have a reason, far beyond your status. What is art about? It’s about ideas, concepts, and all that, but engage in the world you live in and choose the cause, whatever it is. It doesn’t always have to be about the regime, but there are so many things, so many injustices occurring every sin-
gle day. Socially, politically, related to gender, poverty, famine etc. There is always a way to invest in your community. Whether on the local level or the international level, but if this revolution gave you the power to say, yes I stand up for what I believe, like the people standing in the square, keep that spirit alive when you go into that studio. This is when you do have a platform. A month and a half ago I was chased by border police in Arizona (USA) and all kinds of negative things happened. Everyone’s advice to me was to go sue border police. Why would I waste my time in some logistical process that will amount to nothing and for nobody else? I have a much more powerful platform to create works and bring attention to what happens to people who aren’t able to voice easily. I could have some personal revenge, or get some cash settlement, but who cares? There’s a much more real cause at stake. Civil liberties are being threatened now in the US states, and how we are slipping into a police state. Let me use my mind and my body and my intellect and my platform to bring attention, and ignite the rule of the people to create change collectively. To not change the space by myself, but I can be a voice, and bring attention. Let me help people find their resources, how they can help and how they can see how things can be different.
123 AE: So again as artist citizen what would be your principle obsession, your drive your practice, and would that likely change under the current circumstances? SA: Well this has been happening to me for a while anyway. My personal drive, in the beginning as a younger artist was the occupation of Palestine and the war in Iraq, and the American foreign policy; it was the driving force during the first 5 or 10 years of being an artist, maybe even as much as 15 years. I mean having come from two generations of displacement from my country, my mother’s country, Palestine, and from my father’s country where I was born, Iraq. Two generations of exile were the issues always at the forefront of my practice. But what I saw in the revolution, that to criticize something so external and so huge, so powerful, which we should do, you start to seem like the little ant beating up a whale. You can’t even touch it. What this revolution taught me was these personal acts of courage, people putting their lives on the frontline, the farmers, taxi drivers, and grocery store workers, mothers and children saying I can do something. I can reach into my heart and into my mind and I am going to call my friends, and tell everybody that we should do this together. Let us not be complacent. And so that is how I feel as an artist right now, that there is a way of course into a larger structure, but
let’s talk about all these small issues, the little things that encompass civil rights that could make significant change. That’s why it is uncanny that I am doing something that looks at the scale of being critical from the patriarchy of an empire all the way down to relationship between the mother and son in my new work, vs. Him. That’s the most essential aspect of being alive as a woman. That spectrum of feeling the power of bringing attention to all of the work, and by exposing and being critical, I don’t feel like that the ant beating the whale anymore. The ability for me to talk to you as one woman to another, to talk about building a better world for our daughters, our mothers, how we can bring them possibilities, of how we should think about what our roles are as women, it has very much to do with our freedoms, our everyday lives, how we raise our children, what is going to be possible for them because of the way we raise them. Its about ensuring that betterment of the future, and we are so caught up in the ramifications of the now, and when you are in Tahrir square, the now can be that. It is the need to make sure that the regime change will not amount to the same old thing happening again. But the reason that life will go on 10 years from now, is that we all have roles to play
124 INTERVIEWS in the future by the way we raise our children today, and the way we teach our students, and the way we live our lives, and that possibility of what we learned in Tahrir square, that if we were part of it together, we can accomplish so much. We must teach our children and reminding ourselves that to live in fear is to live in a prison. You don’t have to live in a prison, to be a caged animal. It’s the way you think and the rules you set on yourself, and its your inaction, and its your distraction, your living of banality and perception of your needs for personal pleasure. It’s a complicated role with a lot of work to do to live that committed life everyday forward. AE: And I am seeing from your work and this discussion that you are doing what you would hope to do. SA: Sure, and there is always more to do. Including myself, from being caught up in my own self-deception, where sometimes I think I am doing enough. Because there is always more to do, and there is always ways to go back to yourself and evaluate whether this is helping or hurting. Are you getting caught up in what is necessary? Complacency, and personal
satisfaction, the ego, you can be completely selfish and manipulative in what you are doing. That’s why it is so important to self-reflect. There are so many things around you and within you that has to be re-evaluated. To contradict your self is ok and being willing to say I made a mistake, and now it changed, all of this is courageous.
Photograph Image (1 of 99 variations) of “vs. the Son,” from vs. Him, solo exhibition by Sama Alshaibi, 2011 On view at Lawrie Shabibi Gallery, 19 September - 20 October, 2011 Image copyrighted to the Artist www.lawrieshabibi.com
126 INTERVIEWS Dina Taranissi in conversation with Khaled Barakeh DT: How did you become an artist? KB: I used to draw like all kids without having any special attention from my teachers or my parents, simply because no one cares about art in the suburb where I grew up; but my first professional relationship to drawing was developed through Arabic calligraphy where I was schooled by a local calligrapher in my neighborhood. Since then my relationship with pictures was always based on lines. A color to me is not a spot of color; it’s a colored line or a collection of colored lines. When I finished the high school, I was planning to study business not art because I thought art is something you do in everyday life not something you learn; plus it’s a hard way of living life. On my way to the university to deliver my application I ran into someone I knew from school. He asked what I was applying for. When I told him he said, he remembered that I used to draw very well in school. When our homework was related to art, I would do mine and pretty much
everyone else’s too. He asked me why I wasn’t studying art and I realized then that it had never occurred to me before. So I swapped the preferences around on my application and put Fine Arts at the top. I was accepted and that was that. DT: So you have started your career as a painter, right? KB: When I was nineteen, I joined the army, which is mandatory for Syrian males. They found out there about my talent for drawing and every day I had to write the slogans and propaganda for the [ruling] Baath Party on the white walls around the base. As well portraits of [then president] Hafez al-Assad. It was weird just painting over and over again this dictator that I was against. But of course I didn’t have a choice. Actually I ended up in military jail about nine times because I had no place refusing what the military considered to be my duty. Once I was sent to jail because a portrait came out a bit disfigured, and once I forgot the dot on one of the letters in his name and was sent away for that as well. Sometimes
there was no reason. But in the army this is considered as a part of training methods, a way to turn you into a man! But, despite everything, it helped me to develop my skills in drawing during those three years But your work changed to be more conceptual since a good while. A few years after I graduated from the Painting and Drawing Department at the Art Academy in Damascus, I moved to Denmark then Germany where I continued my studies; along with these changes in education and general surroundings, my practice has come to reflect these changes by exploring completely new directions that have opened up. DT: Have you done any work relating to the Middle East uprisings? KB: It depends on what do you mean by â€œworkâ€? I guess. During this period the limits of creativity have been broadened due to necessity of survival for many Syrians. As the
suppression expands and the causalities of the revolution rise severely, the role of the responsible artist automatically expands as well. The role of the artist, the journalist and the activist merge and one is forced to communicate through new and creative ways to be able to successfully change the narratives that have been told by the suppressors. At the moment Iâ€™m a part of many civil groups in trying to help the victims. We are voluntarily working to preserve the peaceful nature of the revolution and to temper the severity of anger or desire for revenge in order to avoid any future civil war. We can clearly see how armed resistances have destroyed their countries in other similar situations, while at the same time we have to maintain the right for Syrian people to put up a resistance against their oppressive dictatorship. DT: And what about artworks? KB: I have done one [revolution-related] artwork but it was about the concept of dictatorships in general.
128 INTERVIEWS There was this one great photo of a young Egyptian who jumped onto a portrait of Mubarak and tore it down so the only image left was Mubarak’s eyes. I found it so affecting. I’d also seen a video on YouTube of a man in hospital who had his feet cut off for tearing down a statue of Hafez al-Assad. This had a quite an effect on me for a while, and I felt the need to do something about it. I made the same light box that Mubarak’s portrait was mounted on, but I didn’t put a picture on it. It’s blank. In the beginning it was covered and all the lights were functioning but then I destroyed it. It was like a performance. The piece is called ‘Voodoo – Untitled Anonymous Monument’ because the punishment for disrespecting or destroying a statue is high. So most activists who destroy these monuments make sure to cover up their faces. The observer is neither meant to know who did it or whom it has been done to. The voodoo part is related to the action of destroying a portrait and it reminds me of the tradition of black magic and voodoo dolls. There’s no picture of Bashar al-Assad or Hosni Mubarak or any leader on the box because at the time I was still afraid of expressing my feelings so I decided to exhibit the fear that is preventing my desire. It presents my fear of destroying the president’s picture. Even though I’m here in Frankfurt and the exhibition was
in Frankfurt. This is the only revolutionrelated art piece I’ve done so far, and this was just after Mubarak’s fall in Egypt. For a while, I felt that making artwork about Syria was not right or at least questionable. I couldn’t find the emotional or temporal distance from the events that would allow me to produce something. Because of my personal involvement, I felt that no matter what I’d produce it could never cover the distance of that divide between my day to day in Frankfurt and the actual events happening on the ground in Syria. Maybe some people have the ability to separate the emotional and the vocational from the personal but I don’t believe this is possible. People at the moment are primed to receive anything about the revolutions, so there’s no question about the artistic value of the work, and maybe that shouldn’t be a priority. There are lots of good pieces coming out, but I was uncomfortable with the feeling that I would be personally benefitting from other people’s catastrophes. Lately, though, the situation is a bit different and doing something now related to the Syrian revolution occupies my mind. My relationship with the events has changed a little bit. The initial emotional shock is no longer there. There are still emotional shocks every day of course, but they’re lighter. My mind is
Voodoo - Untitled anonymous monument. 2011 Mixed media, 369 x 266 cm Image courtesy of the Artist
130 INTERVIEWS now working on some ideas where I was hesitant before. I now feel I want to do something. DT: What do you think of the term ‘Arab Spring’? KB: The first time I heard it I quite liked the idea of using a season. Seasons are recurring events, so they imply a cycle that will be completed. We were stuck in a long dry winter of dictatorships in a way. But it also points to something taking root and its growth with time; it’s also about new life. Regardless of its current success or failure, there will always be an Arab Spring, if not now then later. I feel so lucky to be able to witness the Arab Spring; it’s like seeing Haley’s Comet, maybe once in your life, except it’s even more rare. There was a lot of discussion about whether these uprisings were conspiracies or genuinely populist uprising, but I don’t care, because what’s important is the change itself. Change is what life is all about. DT: What’s the idea behind the project of ‘Greatest Hits’? KB: When I first had the idea, I was reading an article with the very abstract headline “Oil Spill Meets Molten Lead”, which turned out to be the names of military operations by Hamas and Israel [respectively]. The absurdity of it made me start researching how military operations are named in the first place. I looked at a lot of things, including the methods govern-
ments use to name their wars. Are they targeting their own people or the enemy, for example? The reason I am looking in particular at Israeli operations in the Arab region is because most of the names I found in my research were of Israeli operations. Even the Americans didn’t have as many and Israel has only been a state for 64 years. Usually I make an artwork and then I name it once it’s done, but this topic dragged my interest into the idea of creating art on the other way around: Is it possible for a war title to suggest an art work? So I’ve started to visualize these titles but with adding more layers or references to them so not to be illustrative only. I believe that history is full of gaps and holes, and I try to fill these gaps by using museums or galleries as alternative platforms to create an alternative history. Those in power always write history in the way they want it to be but not the way it is. Imagine if [Hosni Mubarak’s son] Gamal Mubarak was the president now, what might have been written about the Egyptian Revolution for example. The same exact history would be completely changed to another story. Though I do not believe that the practice of art can change social societies. But I do believe that creativity can inspire new ways of approaching old issues. My main method or focus is be to observe, involve and discuss, and through creativity support and empower social changes. It’s
131 about creating a new space where the settings invite people to reconnect with there own conflicts. Itâ€™s about questioning and re-questioning more than finding the answers.
GREATEST HITS. 2010 / Ongoing Project Visualizing the names of wars and military operations into art pieces.
132 INTERVIEWS Nermine Hammam in conversation with Heba Elkayal HK: Did you expect this revolution to happen? NH: Yes and no. I expected something to happen because it was becoming impossible to live here. You cannot live in such an oppressive society, a society in which some people are so rich and others can’t manage to feed themselves. We are also under a sort of siege; to be able to move from point A to B within the city of Cairo you hours in traffic. There were many points where there was a lot of pressure, the additional point of pressure recently was that some of the politicians were so blatantly corrupt and their actions visible to the average man on the street. I thought that Egypt was going to explode at any moment. I didn’t expect the denouement to be that quickly, and I didn’t expect it to be then. I went down on the day of the 25th of January from midnight to about two a.m. and was taking matters quite lightly until a man standing next to me
was shot, then I realized that this was getting serious. You could feel the anger of the people but what really touched me was that people took care of one another during the protests and it was something that I felt transported me back in time: to the time I spent as a child growing up in downtown Cairo when people would take care of one another. Today, people in Cairo are fragmented. From rage driving to pushing people aside on the sidewalk. During the protests everyone was holding on to one another against a single enemy. I went home and thought to myself that something was going to happen because people were bonding together against a single enemy. HK: If the revolution hadn’t succeeded, would you have been able to live here for another 5, 10, or 15 years? NH: Let’s define terms. People ousted Mubarak - that does not equate to a revolution. We have to define the term “revolution”. Yes the man was ousted and it
A school of though in Islam whereby people ascribed to an orthodox approach to Islam. Since then, is has evolved to reflect a more dogmatic and approach to religious practice, and is associated with a more fundamental school of thought. Various degrees of Salafism are present in every country where Islam is practiced. 1
gave power to the people but now Egyptian society is defiantly standing up in a show of power, trying to prove to each other that it is not castrated, and if everyone stands together something can be accomplished. But I hadn’t previously recognized the extent of the fragmentation in our society: the Sufi, the Salafi1, the Copt, the Buddhist, the Liberal, the Socialist-Liberal… and none of them accept the other? They were all in hiding and now they all came out. I don’t know what the exact definition of a revolution is, but I don’t think it really happened because if it really happened…I think had this revolution taken place in Japan it would have resulted in the same series of actions that happened after the earthquake and tsunami they experienced. They went out to help one another, started working together immediately and worked like mad. They have a system ingrained in them. We had a major act of fragmentation taking place amongst us because we
have been de-politicized for thirty years. We have been repeatedly told that each one of us is worthless and now people are experiencing the shock of supposed “freedom” and so people are now living in a state of hysteria. I think if people calm down then the actual revolution as change will happen but for now, what has changed? We’ve removed the man, and it’s been replaced by the word “army”, ‘A-R-M-Y’ and it’s now even more abstract in concept as a word than previously as an image. HK: On the topic of the coverage of Western media on the revolution… NH: Don’t get me started on their coverage of western media! I had an exhibition in Paris on the 2nd of February and was there for a week. I watched TV5, Iranian TV, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera. They all wanted to create this idea of a democratic revolution in their image.
134 INTERVIEWS They’re creating us in their image and that is another form of Orientalism and we fell into that hole. So we have Tahrir Square. But let’s give the Devil its due. What is there really in downtown Cairo? I grew up in downtown Cairo from the age of 6 until I was 13. I don’t know what it means. It’s a self-imposed and fake identity this habit of identifying one’s self to being from downtown. I find it a rootless tree. HK: What do you think of all the art that is being produced in downtown and celebrated for being in downtown right now? NH: I’ve seen images of the graffiti being done downtown on Facebook but I haven’t seen anything live. My problem with all this art is how can you produce art after the revolution by a week? How could you digest all the events? All the galleries produced shows with art inspired by the revolution so soon afterwards. A Spanish journalist asked me “How are people producing art so quickly to be sold and hung in houses?” If you want to create revolutionary art it has to be done in the street. The irony is that art produced in the
2 Manshiet Nasser and Duweqa are two shanty towns located on the fringes of Cairo. Neither suburbs nor directly in the city, Manshiet Nasser and Duweqa are impoverished neighborhoods whose residents suffer from poor living conditions. Those employed make wages well below the standard necessary to ensure steady meals, let alone health care and schooling.
street in Egypt was erased the day after it was put up. Why was the graffiti erased? People did it to “clean the streets” they said. To ‘cleanse’ the streets perhaps? This purge is very symbolic; to purge what was done because we feel guilty? Because we killed the father? Or do we want to clean up after the regime? All these questions take years to digest and therefore you find what in my opinion can be referred to as ‘war lords.’ Individuals who similarly to people during WWII would sell food they could produce for such high prices, and these galleries are the same. I haven’t seen all the artwork to be honest, but I passed by in front of one gallery and thought to myself what a calamity! It was a sham. You need to digest it, feel it, and take time to see what’s happening and to have a critical view. We cannot continue to romanticize Egypt. While we’re perpetuating these romantic notions we won’t get anywhere. I haven’t seen any form of criticism and everyone is proud to claim that they were the first ones to have produced or shown revolutionary art. “I produced, I showed, I made,” they keep ranting. Is it a question of “I” the individual or of “us,” collectively? The revolution clarified a lot of things for me. All the people with slogans are the
“Alchemy” (2011), is a series of over 100 prints made by Hammam exploring the notion of personal reality. By manipulating iconic images, paintings and prints, superimposing her face onto different figures, Hammam sought to create identities of herself and for herself with her playing of photography and print.
biggest hypocrites. We are all corrupt. We are all part of the system. You cannot point the finger at other people. We all, to survive, had to be part of the ‘system.’ When I pay my office boy a low wage, I am part of the system and part of that corruption and I will be the first to admit it. I don’t want to spend hours in a line waiting to get through bureaucratic errands, so I’ll pay a bribe. I’ll pay a bribe because I can afford it, because I want to get done with my errand and you pay a bribe because this man makes so little because the system is corrupt. People have criticized me, but this is how I feel. The day you live in a city, which has shantytowns like Manshiet Nasser and Duweqa2, then you’re part of the system. HK: If you were a superhero, what power would you have, and how would you use it during this transition? NH: I don’t believe in superheroes. HK: But the idea of your portraits3 in your previous work isn’t that really the idea of superheroes? Do you not wish to believe in superheroes because of your sense of frustration with what is happening? NH: The frustration has always been there for many years. One of the things that absolutely kills me is that we are spoiling the topography of the land.
135 We’re spoiling our buildings and our streets. I experience a sadness whenever I walk in the streets of Cairo. I think the streets are a reflection of what’s inside. I believe that the chaos of Cairo, and the visual appearance of the city are related. I think someone should do a piece on the architecture of New York, London, Paris, Rome and Cairo. I think architecture is symbolic of what’s inside. I don’t like to leave the house too often anymore; I don’t want to see trash in the streets or crumbling buildings, we’re living in a concrete jungle. Take for instance the ubiquitous appearance of air- conditioning units that are obstructing the façade of a building dripping water onto the street level below. I have taken a lot of pictures in which the army is in the middle of the scene of houses and buildings. When you view these pictures you think that you’re looking at a war scene because the buildings are cracked and you initially assume that the tank is the reason for the visible destruction but no, it’s not the case. I want to show how the city is cracked and broken to such a degree that when the tanks came in, it became part of the architecture, almost appearing as if it was a war scene but it’s really an internal war. We are breaking ourselves structur-
136 INTERVIEWS ally, therefore mentally and physically. HK: So as a superhero would you sandblast each building by hand and clean up all the buildings? NH: No as a superhero I would go back in time - I would restructure the city, I would have this nice big dial and turn it back. Rewrite history. I feel it’s a lost cause but I would do it to avoid all the mistakes that have been made in this city. HK: Do you think the physical façade of Cairo had such direct influence on the events? Had Cairo maintained it’s earlier beautiful 19th century and Art Deco topography and we were a manicured city like Paris, could it have affected people’s psyche? NH: A hundred per cent. As a graphic designer I have had many people work for me on various projects and I have always tried to get people to stop producing chaotic art. When you are visually bombarded with chaos and noise subconsciously you will produce chaotic noise. If you go to a desert, after a while you will produce work that is soft, resembling the hues of the desert. A person walking in Cairo will certainly have his work affected. I keep telling my staff to downplay or mute their colors, that the work contains too many
elements. I keep trying to emphasize minimalism. There is a phenomenon taking place in shoe stores in Egypt: a thousand shoes are displayed by hanging them on fishing string in shop windows; how could anybody buying browse or admire an individual pair of shoes amongst all these shoes? So of course everybody is influenced. I know how one’s visual environment can affect one’s work. For example when I was studying in New York where the buildings are closely built to one another, I would spend months in the city before driving off to the beach for a few hours and I would feel like I could breathe more easily because I could see the sky. Coming back to the city, your work would be different because you had seen space. HK: How do you maintain the integrity of your work without compromising it due to the visual bombardment one experiences in Egypt? NH: To be frank, I’m fortunate because I travel often. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it. I’m human, whatever one sees becomes internalized and reflects whatever work one produces. It is an accumulative affect, and one that one can become numb to its effects.
137 HK: As Artist Citizen, understanding that this is the time for change. What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in willing to do for your community? NH: These are very difficult questions. I think what is happening right now is normal and to be expected after years of oppression. I hope things would settle after a while, and by while I just hope this ‘while’ would be shorter rather than longer. The task I could do would be to record this for future generations, record it for us so that we may look at it later and reflect on it and further analyze the situation when things are calm once again to serve as a reminder that we do not allow the same mistakes to happen again. HK: As Artist Citizen, what sort of responsibility do you feel you have towards the Citizen? NH: The answer is simply a two way street. I will not infantilize the citizen. The citizen has a responsibility to the artist as much as the artist has a responsibility to the citizen. I am not bigger than the citizen, I am an artist citizen but not bigger than the other. This is not a child. Would you ask this question of an artist who lives in London? That question in itself is very local because it comes with a lot of background
knowledge when you say that the Egyptian citizen is infantilized so I have a responsibility towards him. I have a great responsibility towards my artwork but not the Citizen because we should be considered on equal footing. Maybe I have a responsibility towards those that are less fortunate, but not as a citizen. Can you see how that question is very loaded? I am not Mahatma Ghandi. I am just a person who colors, who has a vision and fulfills it. What responsibilities are there? To show that things are acceptable? To show them that things are palatable? Or to teach them? Or to be holier than thou? Who am I to do that? HK: Do you think that in Egypt we look towards our artists as gods? Do you think we’ve gotten ourselves stuck in a trap because of our social history that is permeated with classicist behavior in our society that we now view our artists from a scholarly angle as historians or social leaders? NH: I think it’s mental masturbation. Only artists and the people who write about them talk about themselves. Who talks about artists in Egypt anyways? We have a few galleries downtown, in Zamalek and one in a new suburban development and an art foundation in Ard El
Upekkha series (2011), lambda print, 90 x 60 cm Limited edition of 3 + 2 AP Image courtesy of the Artist
140 INTERVIEWS Lewa, an area with low-income housing. Where does all this art, trickle down to? We have 80 million Egyptians. How many of these Egyptians do you think have ever viewed art? If you look at the bigger picture it doesn’t reach a wide audience. Our art is also constrained within categorizations as ‘African art’ or ‘Middle Eastern art’ and we’re compartmentalized. We haven’t had a fair chance in the global art market. Sotheby’s and Christies come and tell you that a painting by the Egyptian master XYZ is valued at $5 million so that an Arab would buy it. Where is John Davis and other recognized art collectors? It’s a small circle of collectors and painters who are ululating to one another. There are forms of infantilization within the art scene. Arab art exhibits are organized and foreigners come to look and think it’s very interesting what “the Arabs do”, but I would like to see Arab art within world art. Picasso is not viewed within the context of Spanish art per say. HK: Tell us about the artwork that you produced during and as a result of the revolution. NH: Where to start? Well I have 17,000 images of the revolution. I didn’t know
what I was picturing; I was just taking pictures of anything in my way. And then, the army came in and I started observing that they were united with the people, amongst the citizens, “The Army and the citizens are one front,” was one slogan that we kept hearing. We were then told not to take pictures of the tanks because they’re a military secret, which was laughable, not only due to the fact that they were very old and had probably been around since 1956. They argued that they didn’t want the license plate of the tank to be recorded. Who were they kidding? The whole world had their pictures taken with the tanks! I myself had a picture taken with that very same tank in 1974 on Kasr El Nil bridge, my fighter pilot uncle had taken the picture of me resting on it. I started then comparing them to American tanks which had mechanisms and buttons to emit Coke bottles, buttons to pull out a bed, a button to get the moon to come out. Let’s look at it from another angle; let’s look at the shoes worn by the army. They’re cheap and poorly made. These are boys; young men aged 18 years old. They could have been my sons. Those poor boys had been put through tremendous pressure during those 18 days with people clamoring on the tanks that they
141 were supposed to be guarding. I took pictures of them looking so frustrated, nervous and severely agitated and I felt that I wanted to take them, transport these boys somewhere else. So I started taking pictures of them, and stopped taking these romanticized images of the protestors and the revolution. I didn’t want to take those pictures anymore; I wanted to observe these boys. I sometimes collect turn of the century hand painted postcards and they are so beautiful because they are hand painted. You’re taking reality yet a step further by further beautifying it. They were, in a sense, endearing, and a thought occurred to me that I wanted to take them elsewhere, transport them. These images weren’t images of army men who were hyper masculine with big buff bodies. No, these were young boys whom you wanted to hug and pat and tell them “Honey all will be well.” I love Star Trek, I’ve watched every episode. I felt like these boys were saying “Beam me out of here.” Had these been my sons, I would have gone into Tahrir Square and beaten my way through the crowds and taken them home with me. I thought to myself I want to take them out of time and out of year, move them away from Tahrir and take them out on
excursions. I thought to myself I’ll take them to Paris, to the Swiss Alps (clearly inspired by the painted postcards of course). This type of work I’m doing now relates itself to my previous body of work of the series of self-portraits. It’s about this whole virtual world, that one can transport reality, that one could somewhat create reality and believe it. Yet it is related to the idea of virtual reality: just as I was a super hero in my previous work, there’s a link to this work too. I want to take them out of time. I don’t think this work would have happened had it not been for the previous work. As much as I was mitigating myself, and transforming myself into different people I was transporting these boys to different places. I feel also with the Internet something really changed in our psyche. We can reinvent ourselves, have different identities, live in virtual worlds. We can be happy or sad. HK: Do you ever feel that you can defend your work and say that it is not intended to be a negative portrayal of the army? NH: I can defend my work to a person who listens, but how can I defend my work to a person who is insecure about their image to start off with? If you were to come in to me with preconceived ideas
142 INTERVIEWS how can I convince you otherwise? I’ve called all friends who are lawyers and asked them if anything happens please do something. It is a risk, and freedom of speech or freedom of anything is not there. You have freedom if it won’t impinge on anything serious. Previously, for example, we couldn’t talk about Mubarak, now we can’t talk about the army. I think it’s still ingrained in our society that we have to have this father figure as our leader. We removed the father figure, a single figure, and now we have a figure which has no face -which is even scarier because it’s an institution; it’s Big Brother and reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. Now we have an abstract idea, the word “army” and not even a face. Hypothetically speaking let’s assume that today the army comes out and says we are defending these boys. It begs the question: are they really defending these boys? No. Had they defended these boys they wouldn’t look like this. There are terrible double standards. To me, I don’t care about anything, whether it’s my business, artwork or the army. My priority is my children; I’m not willing to spend three years not seeing my children because I have to go to jail because someone doesn’t like it.
HK: What are your reflections when you look at these works now when the significance and meaning of certain political events have changed and Egyptian society is no longer positive or hopeful since the initial celebration of February 11? NH: I never look back on my work when I’m done with it. I hate it. Sometimes I feel the work is so personal and that I’ve overcome that hurdle that I want to proceed with the next work. The work is so personal and it’s a sort of exorcism. I’ve finished the exorcism. Now what will I do? I don’t think its particularly fantastic work but it has a very particular relationship to me because it is a psychological state. I exorcised this psychological state and I move on. I don’t have a piece of my own artwork in my house. I don’t know if I would have ever bought any of my own pieces if I stepped into an art gallery. I’m not so sure. It is so personal that I do something to extract these feelings and then I don’t look back on it. I don’t have nostalgia towards it. I don’t feel anything. HK: Do you feel it’s a completed project? NH: The project is complete, maybe I can add pieces but I don’t feel the desire to add pieces. I finished the psychological duty I have to myself. I don’t think my work has this political element. I find this
143 work very tender. I neither have political slogans or anything. It’s a very maternal series of work. I don’t like to glorify these things. HK: Did you feel as compelled to photograph the Central Security Forces’ boys? There was a point when they were villainised for attacking protesters and it was the army boys who were struggling with the revolution. NH: The reality of the Central Security Forces is that they’re taught to automatically obey orders. I don’t want to villianise anyone either. I had started taking pictures in December of these boys and strangely enough, the body of work was building up to end with the army boys during the revolution. I have lots of pictures of them holding flags with arms outright looking like subjects in a JacquesLouis David painting but revolutions at the end of the day are not about slogans, it’s about people who create these revolutions and the people caught in the middle. HK: How do you think your artwork will be perceived abroad? Do you think art produced in Egypt comes from a particular bank of information and emotional connection and understanding? NH: How it will be perceived abroad? I don’t know. I have yet to present the
work to the public. Don’t forget that art is a question of validity through time and to a certain degree Egypt and the revolution is en vogue. Whether this work will stand time or not is another question. I like what I do but I’m not attached to it. It doesn’t matter; it doesn’t define me. HK: And what is the purpose of doing what you do? NH: I really enjoy the process, taking the pictures, coming back and working on it here. I don’t take it too seriously. HK: How does your family react to your work? NH: “Oh shit, again Minou?”
144 INTERVIEWS Khaled Ramadan in conversation with Heba Elkayal Heba Elkayal: Did you foresee the events in the Middle East? Khaled Ramadan: Let me start by expressing some happiness with your questions, because they seem to go in the direction of normal coffee table talk without being too academic or theoretical. Heba Elkayal: Well I have to tell you that it was Aida who came up with these questions. Khaled Ramadan: Well they’re not typical of Aida, but I think that sometimes this format of art talk is needed to focus on the substance and not only on being critical for the sake of criticism itself. Back to your question; most people across the Arab world were convinced that some sort of event was about to happen, but no one could put words to it. I love talking to taxi drivers when I am in cities like Cairo, Dubai, Damascus, Beirut or Amman- it’s my hobby. I remember that almost every taxi driver across the region felt that something was about to happen. It was in the air, it was predictable. But no one expected that the masses were able to topple governments, it was a big surprise. They expected some sort of social anarchy and so did I, I didn’t expect it that way but it was [palpable], felt in the air.
HK: The experience must have been so different for you considering that Egyptian politics is so different from Lebanese politics. Politically the 18 days were very different from, what I understand, how the Lebanese people carried themselves throughout the years of the civil war, and the artwork that came out of Lebanon after the war. Do you see any relationship or possible grounds for comparison between Lebanon’s civil war and Egypt’s revolution? I don’t mean to force this question but do you think one could predict how art in Egypt might develop based on what happened in Lebanon? KR: Look, you had your 18 days and we had our 17 years, which is how you could summarize it. The tempo was different but you can’t really compare the constellation of Lebanese politics and the social structure we have in Lebanon to Egyptian politics. We have two completely different situations on all levels. Socio-politically, economically, geographically. Yet, we do have one thing in common: when Egypt and Lebanon established themselves as states, both also established art academies and cultural institutionsthat’s a sort of similarity. They are not identical, but there is a marriage between the Egyptian and Lebanese art scene. HK: Could you have seen yourself living
in an overcome regime (even if not your own) for another 5, 10, 15 years? Did you feel forced to leave your hometown of Beirut, Lebanon? KR: As artist Rasheed Araeen once said: “Visual art sometimes followed its prescribed route, other times it revolted against its rationality.” That is how I feel when I am in the Arab world. The reason why I remain in my self-chosen exile, despite the cold climate in Northern Europe which I hate, and decided not to return fully to the Arab world but stay in-between, is because I can’t keep silent. This is my problem. I am not silent in Europe either. There is enough hypocrisy and control there as well. I feel I can do more when I collect material and ideas from the Arab world, process it in Europe and market it globally. That’s how I feel I better serve the Arab causes.
In Cairo, Damascus and even in Dubai for that matter, I was not comfortable with the extreme control these regimes impose on their citizens. I might be Lebanese but I am ‘Arab’ in an all-inclusive fashion. I cannot disconnect myself from the fact that I too am from Cairo, Damascus and Dubai. When I am in Cairo or Dubai, I feel I am in my second home, Beirut being my first home of course because I was born there and because my childhood was spent there. I always felt that I was in personal confrontation with the leaders of these regimes and had to face them, and so I did in my own antagonistic way, it was done in a more abstract way and with a humble approach; feeling that you are breaking the law of these regimes is a different joy. You have to keep in mind that they are presenting their own laws, so although they represent ‘the law’, they are actually
146 INTERVIEWS representing ‘outlaw’ regimes. I felt so good every time I said something or antagonized them somehow. HK: You mention political consciousness and putting up a political fight for the Middle East although you are away from it. What are the sort of do you regularly do or have done by being in Europe to raise awareness for the cause for the Middle East by being in Europe? KR: It’s a simple matter and there are many ways, one of them is being a filmmaker or video maker. Be it as an artist or a curator, you try to address mainstream media and even academia in Europe (that are not really aware about the Middle East). You try to open their eyes and have them consider alternative sources of information and artistic production because these are not very well established or visible here. We try to bring what is not recognized about the Middle East to Europe, whether it’s film production or introducing an artist whose work isn’t mainstream, to give them the possibility to have their say. Regardless of the freedom of expression, or expression of media in the west, I remember that a critic once said, “In the United States, there is no state media,” but she would love to study how media outlets in the United States serve the political class. HK: How long have you been away from Lebanon? KR: That’s a difficult question because
when you are born Lebanese, you die Lebanese. I never really left as such, because I’m always traveling back and forth because I have work and friendships to take care of. But from the mid-80s my address became Northern Europe, you could put it that way. HK: What keeps pulling you back to Beirut? KR: I was invited to be part of a festival called ‘Born in Beirut’ and every year since it started eight years ago, my work has been part of their selection. I enjoy participating, but I also enjoy producing works on Lebanon. However, I’m not particularly working on Lebanon. I’m working on Arab history, “Arabism”, the Arab causes. Although I’ve never been to Gaza, I produced a film about Gaza. So even from a distance, I work that way. Also my work for The Changing Room Project is not about Lebanon but about Egypt. HK: Could one label your artwork by using a broad label as ‘Pan-Arab art’? Seeing as it is an attempt to embody the idea of pan-Arabism in one piece? KR: Working across the Middle East and Europe, I suppose I can see how one would be categorized as an artist who works across the world, but I don’t mind being categorized as an artist whose work is pan-Arab. As evidenced in my collective repertoire of work, I have done and I am still doing and will keep doing my duty towards the Arab world, which is basically to make visible and bring forward new issues and new artists.
147 When I curate, I don’t have to produce work that has already been produced by another artist so long as ideologically it is in line. Perhaps this is a more aesthetical question than a practical one because when you look at artists from Egypt to Lebanon, there are patterns between the Egyptian, Palestinian and Lebanese artists and lots of similarities in what we do (at least in my generation) when it comes to emphasizing the period of fiction and extreme realism. These are patterns that I can see from a distance that we share. There is a common characteristic in Arab artists in my generation that can’t be denied. HK: If you were a superhero, what power would you have, and how would you use it as you watch the events in the Middle East unfold during this transition and as things remain relatively unstable in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt? KR: When the Mubarak regime fell, it took us about twelve hours to put together a public event in Copenhagen and the Arabs came from all over Denmark to celebrate. This is a thing we share together as Arabs. Whereas others think we are limited to our respective state boundaries and flags, I don’t think that is the case with many Arab intellectuals; they find and form a bond between themselves. In regards to super heroism, every man or woman with a video camera in hand is a superhero. But until we liberate mainstream TV and radio stations from the hands of people like Rupert Murdoch,
Berlusconi and Walid Bin Talal, people with cameras will remain homeless superheroes. Mainstream media needs a de-industrialization process – and if I was a superhero I would do only this: I would use my supernatural power to make media capable only of telling the truth. I think then I would be jobless right after! I wouldn’t have to work at all after that. HK: As Artist Citizen, understanding that this is the time for change. What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in and are willing to do for your community? KR: I think you put it beautifully as “Artist” and then “Citizen.” This implies that artists should regard themselves as responsible citizens. This means that as intellectuals and cultural activists our role is no longer to form entertaining imaginary and utopian realities, but to present new ways of living and models of action within our societies and social reality. We’re living in a world that is changing all the time at super sonic speeds. In a constantly changing world, adjustments are imperative to accumulate better societies and we shall as artists present a sincere art to cater better for these societies. In this regard, the effectiveness and maneuverability of artists is measured by his or her ability to accommodate in real time. For many years, unfortunately, the majority of artists only managed to reflect and interact with what is recognized on the global art scene (the market), exer-
148 INTERVIEWS cising limited interest in new edgy experiences because some people don’t want to risk producing work that is not recognized. As you can see, this position takes us back to what Araeen said earlier about how art sometimes followed its prescribed route, other times it revolted against its rationality, and this is what I would like to see: that art keeps revolting against its own rationality. HK: As Artist Citizen: What is your principle obsession/ project/ drive that leads your practice? Is that likely to change under the current circumstances of the Middle East, of perhaps Lebanon in particular? KR: Starting with the last part of your question, my answer is “No”. One can’t have a principle, obsession or project and change it because the environment is changing. Principles don’t change; they may expand, but not change. On the other hand, change in attitude is legitimate; you can change your attitude but not your principle, although it should only affect tactical matters. As observers and cultural activists we shall keep the critical attitude even towards the new power structure. Even if they are our friends, even if we may know them, we shall confront them. We should be mirrors to their criticism in order to help them cater for and serve our society in a better way. I like to use the term ‘expansion’ rather than change. Exchanging political regimes in the Arab world does
not move the Arab societies from their Arab context. They will remain Arabs. The process of overthrowing political regimes actually brings back Arab societies to their roots and originality as tolerant and open societies. We are changing regimes, but we are not changing ourselves. We will always remain Arabs, the same people with the same social attitude etc. When it comes to my own personal activities, I like to use the term “artivism” - a combination between art, archiving and activism - as the driving force in what I do. Artivism is so when we apply the usage of information in an aesthetical way but not for aesthetical reasons only. And since information is the basic ingredient in what I do as an artivist, I suppose it is difficult to squeeze most of my practices and processes under the category of art and aesthetics. What I am trying to say is that we need to experiment with new designations and find much larger physical and theoretical spaces that will allow us to include the informative experience and strengthen its social application. That is what is driving me now, second only to my dream in life to become a full time fisherman soon. HK: Why is that? KR: It’s the only time when I can get inspired and gather new ideas.
WHAT I SAID TO PRESIDENT MUBARAK, 2011, 33 mins (Video)
During the recent popular uprising and demands for basic human rights and democratic representation and governance in the Middle East (Tunisia, Egypt & elsewhere), we are often presented with a bi-polar picture of the intricate political spectrum from that region. Correspondents and pundits offer us a reductionist scenario of either pragmatically living with and accepting dictatorship, which is more than able to suppress any democratic aspirations. The documentary film tries to break free from this straight-jacket by meeting and discussing politics with the Neo-Nasserite Hamdeen Sabahi, whose struggle to form a political party in Egypt echoes similar struggles throughout the country and the surrounding regions. Sabahi participated as a Deputy in the Peopleâ€™s Assembly for the district of Burullus in elections in both 2000 and 2005. As a deputy at the Peopleâ€™s Assembly, during his electoral battles people of his constituency sacrificed themselves and even had to die to be able to reach the election boxes and express their rights to vote in the village of Balteem. In 2009, Khaled Ramadan followed Hamdeen Sabahi and did several interviews with him about his role in the Egyptian opposition and as a member of the parliament who was jailed several times for his political opinion.
150 INTERVIEWS Ibrahim Saad in conversation with Heba Elkayal Heba Elkayal: Did you foresee the events in the Middle East? Ibrahim Saad: Generally I think that during these particular moments, before something happened, that this was a dream and I never thought this would happen. We had reached a point at which people were feeling repressed and suffocated more so than ever, the only thing that I could breathe through was through my art, through my work, my projects, and talking to my friends who were close to such matters. I worked on something experimental before the revolution called “Without a Cover” and this experiment discussed how I shot some scenes of people when we were beaten by Algeria in a World Cup qualifying match in early 2010. All the youth were quite upset, and they took to the streets distraught that we had been beaten. Some of them climbed onto a statue of the writer Naguib Mahfouz and they behaved strangely. One boy started
hitting the status with his shoe, some put cigarettes in the statue’s mouth. This was the last work I was working on which was shown at Cairo Documenta before the revolution. In it, I was saying that people were upset because of a really inconsequential matter as opposed to more troubling issues such as fair wages, or concern over social pension. These were all topics that I was talking about that I said people would one day wake up to and realize the gravity of their personal situation. It was a feeling, but closer to a dream when people who were ordinary [middle class] folks mobilized soon after to protest, and not people who were struggling. On the morning of Friday the 28th, the Day of Rage, I was pleased to have started protesting from the foundation associated with the Jesuit school which I do a lot of work for and I admire as an institution. We marched towards Tahrir Square and
with us were young boys, elderly people, and families with their children. I saw a grandfather with his son and grandchildren. All of these were people who took to the streets were calling for change. For a cross section of society to mobilize was a big dream for me. While in the midst of all these people, throughout the battles that were waged as we tried to move, when I think back to the physical effort we made and the chants we chanted, I have shivers run through my body. These are some of the most important moments in Egyptian history: you have segments of the population who never cared for politics move and take to the streets. Heba Elkayal: Could you have seen your self living in an overcome regime (even if not your own) for another 5, 10, 15 years? Ibrahim Saad: I did two residencies outside of Egypt, and every time they would tell me to stay. In China they suggested if I didn’t want to teach, that I could stay and study. In Holland as well, I worked on an exhibit called Model Uncitizen.
Yes both on occasions I refused because I think that Egypt needs loyal patriotic citizens to stay. I could go abroad for a month or two, learn something or else give others a good impression of Egypt and Egyptians and return back home to my country, my family, my people. Despite my love for exhibits and showing my work, being able to work with a child here in Egypt and showing him how to doodle or draw is something that I consider more important than any other work I could do elsewhere. HK: How do you regard your relationship with Egypt? Is it so important that you physically have to be here as often as possible? IS: Let me share a short poem with you from from the novel “The Unfortunate Lovers,” by Ibrahim Al-Koni: I will not go back to my home, which I exiled from Goodbye to all and less emotion to all horses and vehicles and the race barriers
Goodbye to Selevion and his papers and to his strange syrup I could articulate it differently with excerpt from an essay that accompanied one of my shows entitled “Without Cover.” It reads: I’m trying to search for home, maybe it is near me, away from me, beside me but I cannot feel myself. Probably I can discover the real beauty of it or something less than what it was. Let us search for our home, maybe we have enough honor because we are searching for it. In my opinion the project is an important journey in my artistic life. Recently I have started to search for myself in time, in place, inside myself, to get a better understanding of my identity. Maybe I’m there right now or maybe I didn’t find my identity until this moment. I think that my love for experimentation and respect for the other is away from color, language or political ideology. I believe that people have their own basic needs, such as the right to live, to love and the right to live a beautiful life and
be useful to himself and to others and to be 100% loyal to art. My art became my life and my life is my art and that’s the real motive behind this work. Perhaps this project is the homeland that I’m searching for but if I did not find it, that will be the reason for the continuation of my work to look for an imaginary reality. I’m inviting everyone to come and search for it. In my artwork I have always used abstract images and movement that refer to nature and that are open for interpretation. Now I’m broadening my horizons and I want to engage with issues that are relevant to society. I don’t know where the frequency and tension are taking me, as I do not know the result or the final explanation. I’m comfortable to know that it is a game. In this experiment, I would like to focus on the discarded, forgotten and neglected, to show my work in very small areas on the surface. I’m inviting the recipient to imagine or complement those white spaces that are eager and waiting for an optical response. Perhaps I wait for spontaneous sounds and automatic hands.
I think that this experience, the vision, the people now needs to be considered. I am looking for a home and my home is looking for me. I do not know where, when or how we will meet. I waited long enough for action to occur. I can already hear the dialogue between my home and myself. HK: If you were a superhero, what power would you have, and how would you use it during this transition? IS: Every person has a superhero inside of him and the mantra I keep urging people to believe in is the belief in themselves, and to search for the superhero within themselves to fulfill the dreams that they have. I think that some people believe our actualized dream (which is the revolution), some others still can’t believe it, and some people are merely walking alongside it unable to recognize it. I think the hero is the person who lives on this wavelength of belief. There are people who work and those who talk a lot and work. I think if there’s a lag between the excessive talk and the work, then that person is not really practical. If
the time lag decreased, then they’re practical and work hard. I think that in Egypt, if the time between peoples’ talking and work decreases, then Egypt could be on the road to recovery. HK: As Artist Citizen, understanding that this is the time for change. What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in willing to do for your community? IS: I think that with my artistic abilities and my work, it’s a message to people in the world. I’m searching for myself in this work. I see that in addition to building my repertoire of work, bit by bit, I see my efforts being directed towards outreach initiatives, perhaps some political activism as well but I see all these potential activities and efforts equally important to my artwork. It’s really important fro me when I hold workshops for young children, some of whom have yet to go to school, if at all, that I consider how to teach the child how to view, dream and draw Egypt better and even more beautiful.
154 INTERVIEWS Steve Sabella in conversation with Sara Rossino
SR: Steve, I know you are a careful observer of the reality both inside and outside of yourself. Did you foresee or somehow expect the recent events in the Middle East? What was your reaction when you realized what was happening? Was there a specific event or image that made you realize that something really shaking was happening? SS: There was a state of mental stagnation present in the Arab countries that was clearly felt in the last decade. It seemed that people gave in and felt powerless. I did not, and I guess many people did not foresee the current events. The Tunisian revolution created two iconic voices that have entered history. These two voices have penetrated and shook me during the creation of Beyond Euphoria (2011). The first one is the voice of the man who went in a dramatic scene shouting in the
street the moment he heard that Ben Ali ‘fled away’ (Ben Ali Hrab). The other is the voice of an older man with white hair (Harimna, Harimna), who was speaking with a voice that, like the first one, condensed one hundred years of Arab history. Both of their voices recapitulated the agony, the pain, the anticipation, the frustration, the joy, the sadness, the revelation and the euphoria of how every Arab felt. In Paris, I had the utmost honor of having dinner in the most astonishing and unforeseen manner with the first voice. His name is Abdennaceur Aouini. My state of transition and euphoria preceded the Arab revolts. My journey of interrogation and introspection has been leading me to self-liberation. To achieve it, I had to confront myself, journey to my core and question my ‘beliefs’ and everything in my ‘reality’. The journey starts
from within and once it starts, change is inevitable. It is possible, that this is what people in many different countries realized. Beyond Euphoria was created at a time when I was absorbing the dramatic changes in the Arab World. The unfolding events influenced this artwork and shifted it from its original conception. SR: I noticed an important change both from a formal and conceptual point of view in your production after the recent events. You used to be very self-oriented in your analysis and your works were always visually hooked to external reality because of the use of recognizable photographic details. Now I can see an inversion of this tendency: your Beyond Euphoria body of works became much more abstract and they shifted to a new visual form that reminds one much more of abstract painting than photography.
It seems that your works reflect on the external reality you see around yourself. How much aware of this change have you been while it was happening? SS: Even though Euphoria (2010) and Beyond Euphoria (2011) share a similar collage technique with In Exile (2008), the visual appearance is very much different. In Exile, was constructed of windows which shaped my immediate London cityscape. It was about the state of mind of living in permanent mental exile â€“ in a state of fragmentation, disorientation, confusion and dislocation. I tried to give a visual form to my life as exile and alienation are at the core of my life and accordingly my art. It seems that I have been managing to slowly glue my fragments so that they appear complete in a healthier way. Before, they were torn apart in every direction, where now they
156 INTERVIEWS make some form of a unity. Hence, I feel more stable. I think at this stage of my life, I managed to transcend that state of mind. Just like my journey to penetrate my psyche to give a visual form to my fragmented state of mind, it occurred to me that I should journey to the beautiful side of my brain and unlock the aesthetic and beauty buried there and give these a visual form. This is when I broke my bones and changed my skin. Blood was flowing again in my veins; a spark hit me, ignition and a rebirth. This is when the euphoric explosion occurred and which was followed by the sprinkle of stars - I am free. Hence, with Euphoria, the form had to change and shift. Instead of solid windows, I looked for something more organic – trees; a form that gives a feeling of movement, change, and revival. I was uprooting myself. While working on Euphoria I felt that there was something beyond, and this is when Beyond Euphoria came to light. The form had to look more abstract. The work might resemble paintings but this was never the goal. In fact, what makes it stand out is probably when people realize that the collage is made up of photographic images. That is, the work resorts to photography to achieve its effect. Photography has that unique artistic quality
that can create an immediate connection with the viewer. It has to do with the image that has an uncanny resemblance with the world. After years of working with the photographic medium, it seems that my images lost that uncanny resemblance and are now pushing for a newer understanding of the exhausted photographic image. My images are constructions of a fictional world or space. They are starting to obtain their power from the adjacent cut fragments that are giving them a new form and identity. Yet, if you have a general look at my work from the mid 1990s, you are bound to notice that my photography has a painterly quality. I paint using my camera. SR: In the Beyond Euphoria works I thought to see the emerging of a new kind of aesthetics in your production, or one that was already present but in a less visible way. The shapes and movements of the images you created in this body of works look very “Arab”, they sometimes remind one of the Islamic calligraphic tradition and others recalls the colors of the Arab kefiyyah. Do you think your aesthetic taste was influenced by the “Arab” character of the recent revolutions? SS: To say they look ‘Arab’ is a wide statement. What does Arab mean these days in art? However, I have become more aware of Arabesque patterns in my work, espe-
157 cially in Beyond Euphoria even though one could see a beginning of this in the formation of In Exile. Unlike traditional Arabesque, the rhythms I create fluctuate and are not consistent or uniform. This is in my attempt to make the work much more dynamic. SR: Well, I agree with you when you say it is difficult to define what the word or concept of “Arab” means or represents today. But I think that each cultural and historical context brings with it a kind of aesthetical coherence; let’s call it “flavor”, and I think that it is sometimes unconscious and unaware for those who were born in that context. Or it is simply the way the others perceive and look to that context from outside that gives it this character. I think I can see a tendency which is not only visual, but goes deep to the wider and bigger sense of what aesthetics means. I’m talking of music, litterature, art, decoration, architecture, and I could define this tendency with the latin expression horror vacui, summed up as the tendency of filling space, both physical and virtual, dividing it in smaller portions, with elements that get more and more complex and articulated the smaller they are. But I may be wrong... I have noticed that In Exile (2008), adopts a square format, Euphoria (2010) is more a rectangle, and Beyond Euphoria (2011) looks panoramic. How do you
decide the size and shape? What are your motives? SS: Given that In Exile had a square format and was formed from solid static windows, it was natural that in my liberation I use something organic - trees, something that grows and changes. The format had to get wider - no more a square but a rectangle. I needed more space, to create a form that is more fluid I needed enough space to ignite the core. Beyond Euphoria had to go even beyond the rectangle! It required more space and the breaking of the square concept that entrapped me for years. A square like the square segments of Cecile Elise Sabella artwork (2008) clothes did not leave much room for my breathing. Beyond Euphoria went out of earth, to a new galaxy - the form had to be even more fluid than Euphoria and its components were mainly from clouds, skies, grass and trees. The geometry of In Exile was solid, stuck in its own space, euphoria was circular, and beyond had to be scattered, spread, hundreds of small details, stories, scattered in the open galaxy where I reside now. There these fragments embarked on a new odyssey. Since then, I have been out of earth and will try to remain there until my DISTURBIA visits me again. SR: Talking about odysseys, you left Jerusalem because you felt it was and is a city in exile, as you once said, “to escape
158 INTERVIEWS the rapid changes in it and its transformation into a city which is foreign to its own inhabitants”. Could you imagine yourself living in a condition of limited or conditioned freedom again? If you lived in Egypt, or Tunis, or Libya, could you have seen yourself living in an overcome regime for another 5, 10, 15 years? SS: The question of where to locate myself is constantly on my mind. Living currently in Berlin, I sometimes truly wonder when will be the day of my breaking point. Limited or conditioned freedom, as you refer to it, is a condition that exists in every country in different shapes and forms. The question is what one is willing to live with! On the other hand, I guess I am becoming ‘English’ or ‘German’ as I want to live in somewhere warm! Who knows where the journey of my life might take me. I might end up living where my ancestors came from, in Sicily, Italy. It might be that everything I have been going through was life’s mission to entice me to return there. Kamal Boullata once wrote: “The city [Jerusalem] considered a bridge between heaven and earth may be absent in Sabella’s photographs, but everything in these frames indicates the manner by which this native photographer has rebuilt his own Jerusalem. And yet, it is in Sabella’s conscious avoidance of photo-
graphing Jerusalem that the visual artist has managed to recreate the universality of a place with which he identifies. In that respect, his search for his true self may be likened to those monks who, drawn by Jerusalem, came from distant lands only to spend the rest of their lives in bare and desolate landscapes. Only there could Sabella find a Jerusalem where he might breathe fresh air”. Maybe I have been marching back. In these desolate landscapes, I lost my identity and I freed myself from what has been forced upon me. I cleansed my skin, defied mental dictatorships and uprooted myself to reach a new level of the realization of the self. My imagination refused to be colonized since I was a very young child. I wrote in 1997: “I created myself a New World, My World”. Today, I feel more like I have created myself a New Self. In Jerusalem, I never breathed fresh air. I had to exit to the skies to survive, but one sky was not enough. I needed to journey to the galaxies. There, I found Euphoria and Beyond Euphoria. For the first time in my life, I feel I have a break and I can breath some fresh air. SR: Do you think that this important transformation going on in the Middle East will reach Palestine as well? What do you think will happen in Israel after
159 this widespread shaking? SS: I am now more convinced that if liberation is to hit Palestine change needs to happen in the Israeli society. As a reminder, the first Intifada in 1987, which lasted six years, was bullet free – that is the Palestinians revolted through mainly non-violent demonstrations. This led to the Oslo Peace process where Palestinians are suffering from its catastrophic effects. To liberate Palestine, Israelis need to move to the streets in their masses and demand an end to this horrific occupation. True change only comes from within. They need to exert pressure on their government. However as you may know the Israeli society has become so indifferent about the occupation that it is hard to see change coming to the Palestinian reality in the foreseeable future. I also believe that Palestinians (by large the Arabs and this already started happening) need to free their imagination first. Israel has not only colonized the land, but also the mind and imagination. I have never experienced how people felt self-defeated more than in the last years. The self-defeat extended to the rest of the Arab World. But it seems the long anticipated change has finally set in. SR: Let’s make a funny experiment.
Let your “ego” free to expand itself and imagine you as a superhero (remember it is just game...). What power would you have or would you like to have and how would you use it during this transition? SS: I want to have the ability of speedreading, where I can finish and understand a book in minutes (preferably seconds!)! Knowledge and the ability to transform that knowledge into practice would be a major asset in any transition. SR: As an Artist Citizen, do you feel you have a responsibility towards the rest of the world? What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in willing to do for the world you live in? SS: As far as I remember, even as a child, I always questioned the essence of being or life. It was inevitable that art becomes an inseparable part of my life. I do not think I have a responsibility towards the rest of the world; I do what I do because I feel I have to. I mean, when I make an artwork, I do not think it is targeted towards anyone except myself. I do not remember once creating art to satisfy the needs of anyone or in support of anyone. I create art because I always feel a need to create and this need ‘gets pregnant in me’ and it suddenly explodes. That is why it is important to have art historians, critics and even curators who
Euphoria (no.3), 2010 155 / 127 cm lambda print + diasec mount Limited edition of 6 + 2 AP
Image courtesy of the Artist
162 INTERVIEWS try to put things in context, as artists are often acting as mirrors of bigger concepts or as interrogators of concepts. The artistic individual journey is not really an individual one, especially when the artwork is exposed to the public which starts to have a life of its own and becomes prone to endless interpretations and contexts that many of them were not in the artistâ€™s intention. The world is entrapped in its own image. Any change that any country, nation wishes to undergo has to start with the nature of that image. That is, people need to understand image formation and the mechanisms that manage to change global perception. At a time where conquering the world physically is no more considered a viable option, it seems that conquering the image of the world is becoming or has become the New World Order. In other words what we are witnessing is the conquering and or the â€˜Colonization of the Imaginationâ€™. What I wish is for people to understand how to liberate themselves from that colonization. Furthermore, if I would perceive art as a mechanism to communicate messages, I would not have engaged myself in it. I perceive art as a mechanism of discharge first and second as a tool of self-liberation.
SR: As an artist, what is the principle obsession that leads your practice? Do you think it changed in your artistic development? Is it likely to change under the current circumstances? SS: My life is what leads my practice. All my artworks since the mid 1990s are like a narrative and it is enough to go through the titles to develop a picture of my life. Since that time, I have been going through endless stages of self-introspections. Notice the title of my first major artwork in 1997 was Search, then Identity (2002), End of Days (2003), Till the End (2004), Jerusalem in Exile (2005), Exit (2006), In Exile (2008), Settlement Six Israelis & One Palestinian (2008), In Transition (2010), Euphoria (2010), and Beyond Euphoria (2011), to name a few. Any reader would notice that there is a narrative unfolding which is personal, and in many ways my work acts like a visual novel. SR: What are your projects for the future, or, if you like, the next chapters of the novel? Are you working on something new? SS: I am collaborating with artist Jeanno Gaussi who originally comes from Kabul and lives in Berlin. She deals with found objects where she tries to construct hybrid space, and I deal with collage where I try to express my state of mind of living
163 in exile and its consequences. Knowing her in person, we both deal with similar issues but in different forms. The work we intend to create is basically two large glass installations. Jeanno and I would collect from many houses in the Old City of Jerusalem loose or falling wall plaster that comes in many colors and various shapes. These fragile fragments would then be sandwiched between thin glass plates and placed in an installation. As you can imagine, the work has many cultural, political and personal aspects. RESIDUE Having voluntarily left Jerusalem ‘for good’ in 2007, especially after I conceived that my city of birth disappeared and went into exile (jerusalem in exile 2005), I find in collecting wall fragments an opportunity for me to re-discover the place, as it directly implies entering many houses there including my birth place in the Old City. I feel there is still much residue in me that I have to deal with, especially after dealing for many years with the consequences of alienation. The collage itself will resemble in many ways my process of creation, especially my collage works, and my efforts to re-construct myself, yet, the difference being that the collage is formed of tangible residue and not a mental state created by photographic im-
ages. It seems, it is inevitable that I have to visit the capital of my imagination again – Jerusalem. SR: Thank you Steve, it was a pleasure, as usual. SS: Thanks for taking the time and next time we should fly to ‘Jerusalem’ and for once experience what we discuss in practice!
164 INTERVIEWS Marwan Sahmarani in conversation with Mariam Hamdy
MH: Did you foresee the events in the Middle East? MS: No. And I am just an artist with limited power. MH: Many of your portraits present old men in tarbouches. Are you nostalgic for a time that was- or is that a commentary of sorts on our history? MS: Unconsciously I may probably be nostalgic of another era, but the time of the tarbouche in the middle east was not very idealistic- the dictator was of a different kind- and so the recent events are the result of this past. If it is nostalgia, it is more related to the nostalgia of painting as a practice. In this series every portrait represents an artist living in Lebanon around the XIX and XX century, who had as a passion and a love for painting. What they convey with their singularity is that the act of painting is the essence of an artist. Of course this is my humble point of view as I am a painter after all. But on the other hand, it is true that art
history and more particularly painting in the Middle east has been as colonized as everything else at that time, hence the representation of the tarbouche on each artist portrait. MH: Could you have seen yourself living in an autocratic regime (even if not your own) for another 5, 10, 15 years? MS: Who would wish to live in that sort of regime for even one year? I hope we are in the process of change in the near future. However I am not really living in this sort of regime, but I don’t know what I would have done if it was the case. Like everyone else right now, I suppose. MH: A change has occurred in your style in 2006- your brushstrokes have become more skilled, depicting flesh as though it’s melting off faces and bodies. Humans have morphed into semi-dead creatures; ugly but with a soul one can relate to, primarily through their eyes. Your ‘stories’ have evolved- a narrative has started to present itself in the way Renaissance art-
ists depicted biblical events on church walls and ceilings. What lent you to this particular development? Clearly you were influenced by the oppressions that surround you- but was there a event in particular that pushed you? MS: Yes it is interesting to know why and when a change occurred in my painting but without falling in a sort of simplistic schematization. With time and by simplifying a little bit, I think that the invasion of Lebanon in 2006 by Israel with all the destruction that occurred is what pushed my painting to a new form of esthetic. But I prefer not to give an easy and grotesque explanation of the why and how it happened. In every artist’s life, there are some triggers, and trying to explain them is more the task of a biographer than that of an artist. MH: Your work “The Dictators- Studies for a monument” shows figural portraits of creatures posing as men. As one of the handful of artists from this region who can create such an artwork, what was
your thought process? What reaction did you hope to illicit with this piece? MS: At the beginning, this series was more meant to be a study for a sculpturelike the ones we see in every public place in some country in our part of the globe, where the leaders are depicted, grandiose, with a hand up, talking to the people. This idea of a monument has been present since antiquity, but it faded out in the western world, though quite actual in the Middle East. So in 2008 I decided to work on the subject, and I produced 40 large drawings and a dozen paintings with the aim to feel the essence of a representation of the dictator through out the ages. That’s why one sculpture would never have been enough to get close to the truth I have found in the drawings. After that I never produced a sculpture. I stopped there. MH: A Michelangelo inspired piece, your installation “The Feast of the Damned” is a vacuum of scarring images that force one to reevaluate their actions. Who, in
your view, is the damned? & as the Artist capturing them, how do you perceive they could be saved? MS: Sometimes as an artist it is not necessary to give an explanation to everything one does. In the contemporary art world you always need to relate to some kind of reality or actuality. On my behalf I find it very simplistic to create associations between art and life. Art is art and life is life as Ad Reinhard used to say. This installation could be seen as a sort of dialogue with this subject throughout the history of art. And I still find it very relevant to our time. MH: Speaking of saviors- If you were a superhero, what power would you have, and how would you use it during this transition? MS: What is important is to let time have its own way. Not everyone is ready for a change, sometimes a transition of this kind comes as a blessing. If I was a superhero I would do nothing I think- it
may seem nihilistic. But what would be the difference between a superhero and a dictator, if those 2 entities are able to make changes because of their respective powers and ideologies. MH: As Artist Citizen, understanding that this is the time for change. What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in willing to do for your community? MS: I think true freedom doesnâ€™t come just by a single revolution on the ground, it is of course very important to do so, but freedom is related also to an evolution of the spirit in the soul of a people. Therefore the freedom of an artist through his work as well as his unique and universal vision is what I think could be interesting to transmit to each individual in society, so we can transgress all the taboos that pre-exist within us and within our communities. MH: As Artist Citizen: What is your principle obsession/project/drive that leads
Portrait of a Man with Tarbouche, 2010 Oil on canvas, 50 x40 cm Image copyrighted to the Artist Courtesy of Lawrie Shabibi Gallery
your practice? Is that likely to change under the current circumstances? MS: Revolution, political or social changes have always been in the history of humanity. Artists are ideally the most sensitive recipients and that affects directly their work in an esthetic or intellectual way. For me the real truth in art is to keep a certain distance in regards of all that. The artist has a responsibility through his art to depict a more universal dimension. All the masterpieces we know donâ€™t need any explanation or a context. They stand in front of us with all their grandeur and true-ness.
168 INTERVIEWS Larissa Sansour in conversation with Maryam Hamdy MH: Did you foresee the events in the Middle East? LS: The events of recent months were surprising, but invigorating for me. Because even though it was clear that the situation in many parts of the Arab world was volatile and on the brink of a major eruption, I was not sure when and how the Arabic population will gain enough momentum and bravery to overthrow such brutal autocratic regimes. But it was clear to all that something had to happen. MH: As a Palestinian, do you see that these events will affect you in your personal plight for your land? LS: Of course what is happening in the Middle East will have a big effect on the entire region. I think many Palestinians are hopeful after the uprisings in the Arab World that the change would somehow influence the situation in Palestine. Dismantling the Arabic governments complicit with the countries that cement Israel’s world position and support its unilateral actions yields hopes of change. One can already see how the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have had a domino effect not only in the rest of the Arabic World, but in the world as a whole. What happened in Tunisia and Egypt was
so inspiring that you see many people around the world taking to the streets to demand change. I guess in the case of Egypt, it is the power of the people that was so inspirational, restoring the belief that the people prevail no matter how vile their rulers are. In recent days, even Israelis have taken to the streets in a protest against their own government. Sadly, the only time Israelis decide to unite against their leadership it is to protest high rent and not to oppose their government’s policy towards the Palestinians. One can only hope that the Israeli population would one day take to the streets to demand the same human rights for their Palestinian neighbours, but I think it would be decades before this day comes, if ever. MH: In your video “A Space Exodus” – which I thought was one of the strongest works of video art I’ve seen in a painfully long time – you finally take all Palestinians to a homeland, but that land is barren and in itself wandering in a vast, empty space. Are you trying to get others to look at the entire situation with a more satirical perspective; with a grain of salt as it were? LS: A Space Exodus references the exodus of 700,000 Palestinians from their
land in 1948 and the consequences of that till this day, with Palestinians facing ever more subtle methods of “silent transfer” by the state of Israel. The film also references the biblical exodus as well as the 1960 Hollywood blockbuster The Exodus, each having done their share of damage in by influencing international understanding of Palestine and lending credibility to Israeli mythology: “A land with no people, for a people without a land”. This, of course, has caused a lot of harm to the Palestinian plight. It is fascinating for me to see this interplay between reality and mythology building, as they are very closely interlinked. In the same light, A Space Exodus references Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and re-contextualises it in a Palestinian setting. The film coaxes up many scenarios and dilemmas rather than provides solutions. It posits a fictional future scenario in an attempt to understand the present, so in that sense the proposed future is not there as an end result, but as a means for dealing with the present political impasse. It hints on a more advanced or progressive state for the Palestinians, but with a bleakness that is inherent in universal understanding of human explorations for advancement. With Palestinians being dispersed all over the world, it is very hard to define
what a Palestinian homeland is or what Palestinian identity can be defined as. It seems to me that this political rupture in Palestinian history is the most and probably only unquestionable indicator of a Palestinian identity. MH: “A Space Exodus” is both heartfelt and sincere as it is a tragic-comedy: An Arabic parody of space odyssey so well done cannot be but funny. Your lack of usage of images of Israeli soldiers, little Palestinian boys throwing rocks, wailing mothers & what have unfortunately become clichéd images we’ve gotten immune to, have in fact drawn our attention to your video more. What do you hope people walk away with after seeing “A Space Exodus”? LS: As you say, the world has long since become immune to the standard images from Palestine. The sheer longevity of the situation and the repetition of news and images have a disengaging effect on the outside viewer. Tragically, the lack of nuances in turn takes away from the humanity of Palestinians, which is crucial for establishing empathy. In order to challenge this predicament, the analysed has to take on the same power role as that of the analyser. In my work, I deal a lot with these power plays.
170 INTERVIEWS For me, it is much more important to tell an attention-grabbing story than to show the truth. In saying that, I’m by no means arguing that the terrible facts on the ground in Palestine should not be documented. But sometimes fiction actually tells the story and conveys the essence of a situation better than documentary. In a context where truth is in reality stranger than fiction, starting with fiction might be a safer bet. MH: Could you have seen yourself living in an autocratic regime (even if not your own) for another 5, 10, 15 years? LS: I have a hard time imagining that. Fortunately, in an age marked by access to information and the ability to dissipate this information to the outside world, it seems less and less possible for any autocratic regime to sustain itself for another 5, 10 or 15 years. MH: Speaking of autocratic regimes, your project “Cairo Taxilogue” tackled various elements of a country riddled with frustrations, political, social, economical as well as sexual, in a comic spoof of a movie. What was your thought process behind this fake film stills? LS: Cairo Taxilogue was a tug and pull of my subconscious and conscious understandings of Egypt. As most people in the Arab World, I grew up watching films and television from Egypt. Outside of television, I had no significant interaction with the Arab world. Israel did not allow Arabs from other parts of the Arab world
into Palestine, just as Palestinians had a hard time visiting other Arabic countries, because our ID’s and passports were issued by Israel. When I was invited to come for an art residency in Cairo in 2008, it was my first ever visit to Egypt, and it was quite shocking for me to level my childhood idea of Egypt to real life. In Cairo Taxilogue I tried to accentuate this clash between the televised image I grew up with and the actual social and political problems in Egypt. The conversations seen on the mock film stills are based on actual conversations with taxi drivers in Cairo. MH: By taking situations and blowing them out of proportion with over the top styling, acting and hyper colouring of the stills, viewers are jolted into re-thinking matters that they have grown accustomed to taking for granted or brushing off. It seems to be a theme within your work – do you feel that you need to proverbially slap people with the obvious to get their attention nowadays? LS: Yes, I think deviating from the standard sense of gravity is a good thing, because it forces the viewer to refocus. I also think hyperbole is more often than not a more accurate and honest way of describing dysfunctional and surreal political situations than plain reporting. More often than not, hyperbole provides a space for overlooked details to surface and for a more coherent and integral understanding of the truth at hand. MH: If you were a superhero, what power
171 would you have, and how would you use it during this transition? LS: In 2009, Charta Art Books published a graphic novel which I co-authored with UK based artist Oreet Ashery. The book very much questioned the politically and socially engaged artistâ€™s ability to affect social and political change. In the book, Oreet and I cast ourselves as two artists contracting a virus granting us superpowers at the expense of our artistic agency. Morphed into superheroes, we decide to fly to Palestine and put an end to the Israeli occupation. Throughout, we discuss what superhero powers are needed to save Palestine. In the end, our superheroic adventure is subverted through foggy intermittent psycho-geographical conversations taking place between ourselves as artists as opposed to superheroes, reinstating the constant pull back to artistic practice as a means and a valid tool for political change. The physiological superhero interference did serve for a good comic book ending, but its impotency and our total lack of control of it was also brought to light. MH: As Artist Citizen, understanding that this is the time for change. What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in willing to do for your community? LS: It is a difficult question, because although change is spreading across the region, each Arab country is in its own
unique situation. In the case of Palestine, I would, of course, like to see a state finally materialise and get citizenship. But the forces at play here are very different from anywhere else. An occupation either directly sanctioned or simply ignored for decades by the international community is its own breed of mountain to climb. Yet the Palestinian mind is always busy thinking up ways to navigate, challenge, expose and change this imposing predicament affecting all levels of existence. Artists and non-artists alike, Palestinians are in a constant and often very vocal state of opposition not only to the occupying power, but also to their own leadership. This fact alone is at least something to build on. MH: As Artist Citizen: What is your principle obsession/project/drive that leads your practice? Is that likely to change under the current circumstances? LS: I have noticed that there is a shift in my work from a previously quite local attention to the Palestinian predicament to a more universal rendition of that context. I think the concerns I address in a Palestinian context are mirrored in other disciplines, such as feminist, post-colonial and queer studies. Power relations are at the core of my practice and I think it will remain that way, however maybe with a wider application of the same concepts.
172 INTERVIEWS Bassem Yousri in conversation with Heba Elkayal Heba Elkayal: Did you foresee the events in the Middle East? Bassem Yousri: No, not at all. My friends and I were making light of the protests the night before the first protest on the 25th of January. IFrom the night of the 24th of January friends and I were criticizing the possibility of a revolution commencing the following day and our opinions on what could happen and our expectations. Despite our mockery, the reality was we were all hoping that a revolution would kick off but I wasn’t optimistic at all and I predicted that it was going to be a protest like all other protests previously held that would end with no conclusive end. Yet despite it all, I went down on the morning of the 25th. Heba Elkayal: Was it out of curiosity? Bassem Yousri: No it wasn’t curiosity, it was because I sided with these people,
because my opinions and beliefs were in line with those of the people who organized the protests of January 25th and that we had to protest to claim our rights and express them. The only matter I questioned was whether protesting was going to help us gain our rights, whether we would be heard. It was frustrating; I didn’t know whether it was going to yield anything. The morning of the 25th, I went down and started shooting with my camera and when Central Security Forces started spraying us with water and firing tear gas, I left because to be frank, I wasn’t courageous in that sense to stand up to these sorts of tactics. I’m bold and audacious in other respects, but I don’t know how to fight. I went home and then headed out again at night because it wasn’t over and stayed in Tahrir until midnight, again seeing that they were going to attack protestors but again I thought that it was going to be the end of it that night. Regardless, I thought that it was in and of itself something great that we protested
for a day. Heba Elkayal: Very interesting that you say that because other artists and people felt that from the morning of January 25th they had a feeling that matters were going to be serious. Bassem Yousri: By my nature, I’m not very optimistic. I have hope that things will change in the long run but I don’t have faith that they will change in the immediate future. My work in general is about the political and social reality of Egypt at the moment; the lack of freedom, on religious extremism and corruption. A large part of my work focused on this framework of corruption that we’re entrenched in, and Egypt’s state. It was something that I was working towards, the issues that consumed me most and I was trying to discuss how this country could resolve its issues but I never imagined that they would be done during my lifetime. HK: When the revolution evolved, did
you begin to change your attitude and mindset towards what was happening? BY: I did of course, after the 28th of January. That was the day when I saw that there was something big going on, and when I went back down onto the streets the morning of the 29th and I saw the massive amounts of destruction and vandalism. I considered the destruction and vandalism beautiful; usually when one sees destruction on a large scale it’s sad but this was vandalism and destruction that was enchanting for me. After the first Million Man March on Febraury 1st, Mubarak gave a speech on night that threatened the revolution. Public opinion swayed suddenly and people were willing to believe that he was willing to make compromises and concessions. I started having my doubts then and I was worried that the protesting would fail. The idea that Mubarak would resign was beyond my wildest expectations. I never really believed that justice pre-
174 INTERVIEWS vails. As a child when watching ,movies wherein criminals would always be arrested at the end, I would get upset because I knew that this was not an accurate reality. So I’m not a big believer in happy endings, and I was always worried that it would end with the former regime being victorious and with the arrest of us all as protesters and activists. HK: Could you have seen your self living in an overcome regime (even if not your own) for another 5, 10, 15 years? BY: I would have continued doing what I was always doing in my daily life and with my work which I always try to find an active role for. My work always expresses my condition as a human being, and this is strongly related to the political, economic, and social environment that I was raised in, and my reflections on these matters when living abroad for a few years in the United States. In a sense, these reflections are inherently the reasons why I lived abroad for a while because the social, political and economic situation that tired me emotionally and mentally forced me to go abroad and there, I could also reflect and try to understand where the fault lied here in Egypt. It was those very questions and issues that consumed my work while I was away. I work with mixed media installations, and my thesis show was entitled “All the
Important Issues.” All my work is very sarcastic, and it includes a lot of various elements; for example, illustrating on the wall which seeps onto canvas which runs onto paper and then continues on the wall and then descends onto the ground and becomes figurines which are watching a video. There were lots of convoluted elements in my installations reflecting how I perceived and felt about my reality. My work is mostly inspired by people, which is why you’ll find masses of figures in my work. One of the things I discuss in my work is the idea of the manipulation of people by religious men, politicians and the media. I try to focus on the behaviors of masses and discuss it from my perspective because I think there has been an ongoing conflict between two patterns of thought.. This conflict is between people who are influenced by western culture be it through their clothes or behavior (people who tend to be from the wealthier social classes) and fundamentalists, and the two have refused to find their own identity as a collective whole; migrating towards identities that are foreign to them. Wealthier people try to emulate western society, whereas the poorer classes and the middle classes emulate behavior influenced from the Arabian Gulf because they don’t approve either of our current reality. This phenomenon is telling of
175 The niqaab is a term that refers to the face veil that some women choose to wear to cover their face for a more heightened sense of modesty.
a people that are divided and that the majority of Egyptian society is heading towards a fundamental culture -but not to such a large extent as previously perceived before the revolution. HK: It’s almost as if Egyptians were facing an identity crisis. BY: Exactly, and it was this point that I was focusing on. This phenomenon has a lot of contributing factors, I don’t blame people but there is something that is causing people, in an effort to form an identity, to gravitate instead towards something that is not theirs. HK: What do you think an Egyptian identity is composed of? A fundamentalist views his fundamental beliefs as part of the overall Egyptian identity, whereas others might think the veil is not part of the Egyptian identity but something (culturally speaking) has been borrowed from countries such as Saudi Arabia. BY: The issue is that religion can not be our identity, our problem is that what can be referred to as being an Egyptian identity is a far more complex issue than simply whether one is wearing a veil or not. A veiled woman could be walking next to a woman wearing shorts but their identity could be the same but their practice of that identity could be different. Whilst living in Philadelphia in the United States, I was living in a neighborhood
inhabited by lots of Arabs and AfricanAmericans. I used to see ladies wearing niqaab1 or a Sikh man in a turban that people would interact with normally living alongside a girl who would be sunbathing in her bikini. This itself is an identity: one based on diversity. For me, cultural identity is not related to how one dresses or whether one drinks alcohol, it’s by the commonalities that we share as groups. It’s the paradigms of identity that divides us in Egypt whereas in the United States, it’s the diversity of identities that collectively identifies people. In the United States, it’s as if a leader, a godfather figure, decided that they must accept everyone so that they can utilize all their energies. On the other hand, unlike the United States, in Egypt the government for so long instigated divisions between people so that one can stay the leader regardless of how and in what direction they might lead people and lead Egypt. For Egyptians, the priority in life is sitting in cafes with friends, watching football or else playing it as a video game. Their main focus when reading newspapers is sports news. I used to work in a clothes factory, and I remember during our set break times, all the workers would speak only about football: the players, the clubs, the tournaments. There were these categorizations
Ahly and Zamalek are the two largest football teams in Egypt and there is a strong rivalry between the two clubs.
implaced on people dividing not only Ahly and Zamalek2 fans but also Muslims and Christians. So that’s my idea of identity: that the whole nation works towards one thing. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the revolution, but the revolution was an indicator that we as a nation could. It was in Tahrir that a utopia materialized that gave birth to this one unified identity that everyone ascribed to for a short time period. My mother is Christian and my father is Muslim. My mother and I would go down to Tahrir during those 18 days and she would mingle and talk with women wearing the niqaab. On February 11th, the day when Mubarak officially resigned, a woman wearing the niqaab walking by hugged my mother though they don’t know each other. I think this was the first time that in Egypt, people could talk to each other as strangers and this was socially accepted. It’s a very romantic idea but it was a reality.
rir, I started filming people who were in their tents and I asked them and investigated what was making them stay. So I sat with people who were like-minded and from a similar social background and others who weren’t, people from the various provinces of Egypt, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, people from different walks of life and different intellectual mindsets. I realized that I was sitting with philosophers, not simple-minded people. When I was listening to a man speaking of human dignity, and equality, and these are philosophical principles and ideas, words they were saying were reasonable based in logic, there was awareness on his part without having to have been well read or been formally educated. This allowed me to recognize that the Egyptian people have a civilization, that we are 7000 years old as a people, as a race. Knowledge is an accumulation of experiences, so if we look to Egypt’s history, we can see that the knowledge inherent in us as Egyptians is not that of one person, but a collective knowledge of a nation.
This is what proved to me that we as Egyptians have an identity because the manner in which people reacted and behaved showed me that this nation that we as Egyptians look at as being overall uneducated is actually not uneducated although, yes, the educational system is flawed because of the regime’s doing.
I believe that knowledge spreads. Our history is replete with invasions, colonialism, wars and cultural invasion. The man we consider to be uneducated and simple minded is filled with this knowledge. Yes, this is a very romanticized idea but I truly believe in the nation’s collective knowledge after my experience in Tahrir.
When people began the sit-in in Tah-
Despite this all, I won’t deny that we suf-
Foreign language schools in Egypt, most set up in the early 1900’s by French Jesuits or other foreign religious orders including Italian and German, heavily dominated the educational landscape. They offered a foreign education, which led to the development of the phenomenon of educational elitism.
fer greatly from a lack of awareness and knowledge in other respects, in particular fields such as academia and research. Additionally, we are a nation that cannot handle differences, because after all we have been forcibly repressed for years and have never been allowed to voice our opinions freely and that is still occurring. I feel that people now behave better and more politely towards one another, particularly after the 18 days in Tahrir because they’re no longer oppressed by powers above but I felt that this polite behavior has been slightly reversed unfortunately because right now, a lot of people’s demands from the revolution are not being met. I don’t blame them; I think it’s reflective of the reality of people’s emotional reactions to the current political reality. HK: If you were a superhero, what power would you have, and how would you use it during this transition? BY: I would have a superhero of helping to educate people really well. I think that what we lack is a proper educational system. There was a time in Egypt’s history, particularly during the ‘60’s (clearly evidenced in say the caliber of movies produced during that period which was good) when people had intellectual inclinations. Art across the spectrum was produced well, people were aware and connected to the various art movements happening abroad, and the art and literary movements here were progressive
and there was a general inclination towards that in Egypt. HK: I think one could say that this openmindedness and intellectualism was prevalent in a larger percentage of Egyptians. The average Egyptian housewife or child say didn’t have to be at an elite French school3 or be in a household that spoke English. Yet they were aware of current trends and knowledgeable. The average housewife now is not like that. BY: Yes I would agree with that. My parents went to public schools. My father was raised next to the Citadel in Darb El Ahmar, and my mother was raised in a small province in the Delta and they speak about the cleanliness of these public schools and the caliber of the teachers so that of course makes a general difference to a country when people are educated in such good environments all over the country. In my opinion, despite it all, they were still raised in an oppressive environment socially speaking. When Abdel Nasser, Sadat and then Mubarak ruled, it was essentially a continuous military ruling so whatever glimmer of renaissance Egypt experienced in the 1960’s is no longer there. I would be the God of Education, create opportunities for education so that Egyptians may learn more, this is my absolute final answer.
178 INTERVIEWS HK: As Artist Citizen: What is your principle obsession/project/drive that leads your practice? Is that likely to change under the current circumstances? BY: Strange question. Well artists are like children, I’m talking about real artists, people who have a sincere urge to communicate with their society and who are capable of articulating their viewpoint vis-à-vis their art. These artists act like children in the sense that when one does something, they want to show it off to people. Inside me is a drive to produce something, to expel it out of me, and the way to do that is by executing it visually. Why I do it is so that I can communicate, create dialogues, and raise questions. What I do is equivalent to me asking you “Do you understand me? Do you agree with me or do you have a diferrent opinion? Have you thought about this before?” As an Artist Citizen and the difference in my practice…well I face a lot of problems in Egypt. As an artist, I always face the problem of finding large spaces for my big scale installations, and also of having a large enough audience. I was raised in a country whose museums are abandoned and devoid of any other person visiting and art galleries that are elitist and target a select type of visitor, and yet, artists in our society are ridiculed. Artists here aren’t respected or consid-
ered to be important in the community, so how can I deliver something to these people to prompt them to think about a certain idea? My role as an artist is to create question marks. If you look at my work and I leave a number of questions in your mind, then I’m satisfied with that. I’m trying to create work that is more widely understood, made for a more encompassing audience. I once did a large-scale mural in a relatiely unknown town in Pennsylvania. I want to create works whereby I can show new things to people, that would reach as many as possible and that would be inclusive of as many people as possible because in my opinion, this comes back to this ongoing process of an accumulation of knowledge towards a general public consciousness. This would be coming from me and from the people receiving this new knowledge via the artworks because this person right now receiving this new knowledge might have an opportunity later on to be a messenger of knowledge-so that is how I think of art, as a way of communicating. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s possible to do such large scale works here in Egypt because the space is not made available to artists, and I also wouldn’t have the freedom of choice in depicting whatever it is I wish to depict, nor will I have the means to execute my art work or the administrative help which is why I feel like I can’t get a lot of work done.
179 A oud is a musical instrument found in the Middle East that influenced the development of the present day guitar.
Therefore, when I was recently offered the opportunity to create a TV show, I took it because I felt that perhaps this would be a way to explore the possibility of reaching a wider audience. HK: Isn’t it surprising that there’s a new graffiti art scene that sprang up after the revolution that people on the street are very receptive to? BY: For me it’s not a surprise, I’m quite happy with this. I think that it’s a very natural reaction. In Tahrir at the beginning of the 25th of January sit-in, an effigy was created made from cardboard and was very amateurish. Towards the end of the sit-in, the art evolved whether it was that of the banners and posters, or whether it was the art being painted on the streets, the calligraphy being written by a calligraphist or the music being played by a oud 4 player or the spoken word poetry of a poet. I remember on February 11th I saw a man who created an intricate marionette of Mubarak and he was making it dance. All of this was symptomatic that people’s talents were forced to be invisible until the revolution. This great oppression resulted in an explosion of creativity, one of which was graffiti. Some art theories state that we as human beings are all
“Tag” is the term used to refer to the identifying moniker of the artist, which oftentimes composes the artwork itself by being a stylization of the moniker.
equally creative and intelligent. As human beings we like to express ourselves (which comes back to this child-like need to express yourself) and this was so visible when some chose to discover and express their talents during the revolution. I like the graffiti that happens in Egypt more so than that found abroad simply because most graffiti abroad, say in America, is mostly related to the artist’s tag5 and the way in which he chooses to express that statement of “I am here.” In my opinion, graffiti in Egypt today has the goal of stating something for the collective good, to create a common sense of unity and political awareness. It’s about identity as well. These artists want to be heard and the objective is clear. All the graffiti that has come out has to do with the revolution. Some things are wittier than others and require a bit of thinking to comprehend their full meaning. There’s a panda graffiti figure with a gun pointing towards its head that always grabs my attention. I think it’s very intelligent because I don’t think it has a too obvious of a meaning for the typical Egyptian HK: That piece in particular was done by Sad Panda, who does caricatures of a morose panda figure, and another graffiti artist Keizer painted the gun pointing to his head. BY: Really? Well I like it even better now.
6 Ganzeer is the tag name/moniker of a young Egyptian graffiti artist who has been one of the key figures to emerge on the graffiti art scene since the revolution, painting a series of murals for the fallen martyrs of the revolution through out the streets of Cairo.
I also like the series of the Martyr Murals by Ganzeer6. I think that graffiti art in Egypt plays a very important role now because it’s not banal “Ahmed loves Mona” scrawls, they are clear messages commemorating the martyrs or “Enjoy the revolution.” Some people write some very smart, interesting things or else draw sarcastic caricatures of members of the SCAF7. HK: As Artist Citizen, understanding that this is the time for change. What is the change that you would hope, wish and put effort in willing to do for your community? BY: The real change I hope for in Egypt is that I live comfortably, meaning that I don’t have to hide my true ideas from people, that people would accept my difference to others, and my ideas even if they don’t agree with everything I say. I wish for society to understand the concept of diversity and the acceptance of differences, I wish for true freedom of expression and democracy The freedom to express yourself freely, to marry out of your faith, to be accepting of the other, to stop the repression of women, to end sexual harassment, that religion becomes a subject out of the realms of everyday discussion and debate, that religion becomes something that is a personal and private matter.
SCAF is the acronym for the Security Council of the Armed Forces that has taken over power in Egypt since the resignation of former president Hosni Mubarak during the transitional phase between presidents.
Also, dignity. I really hope that we can regain our sense of human dignity, equality, justice and respect of the other. I don’t want to see differences in social classes, this division between people. I don’t want to see any beggers and I want the problem of increasing poverty rates to be resolved. HK: Tell us about the work that you’re presenting in The Changing Room Project. BY: The work I’m presenting is part of a large installation I did in Kansas State University for a solo show I had there in March 2011 and the installation had drawings of Central Security Forces men depicted in a very illustrative style, with heavy doses of sarcasm, and the drawings were all over the walls, and a pharaoh figure with a smiley face, with the goddess Nout (the Goddess of the sky) pooping on his head, drawn in the manner in which Ancient Egyptians styled their murals, with masses of people running towards the pharaoh made in clay figurines, far smaller in scale than the illustrated figures. The part of that installation that I am showing in the Changing Room is the march of the masses made out of clay.
182 The United Transport Company – Jerusalem – Adania Shibli Translated from Arabic by Chris Stone
The United Transport Company stands alone on a square kilometer of land in the heart of Jerusalem. It is bound on the west by Street Number 1, which falls on the line that divided the city into East and West Jerusalem in 1948. To the east are The Garden Tomb and the Schmidt Girls School. To its south is the Jerusalem Hotel and to the north lies Damascus Gate, which leads into the old city. Here one usually finds large and small white buses with green lines on their sides on which is written “The United, Jerusalem – ”, then the name of the area that that particular bus goes to. In the eastern part of the bus station sits a small building with a lounge for bus drivers and an office where the company’s founder and majority shareholder usually sits. ‘Ra’ed al-Tawil’, as he is called on official documents, is the eldest son of Umm Ra’ed and Abu Ra’ed al-Tawil. While only his wife and a few family members call him
‘Ra’ed’, everyone else calls the company’s founder ‘Abu Arab’. In the early ’90s Abu Arab fell in love with a girl from Jaffa, an extremely beautiful girl, except perhaps for her prominent jaw. This girl, however, did not reciprocate Abu Arab’s feelings, which naturally saddened him. He first met her on one of the trips from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee that leftist students used to take in the small bus that he rented out and always drove for just such occasions. Abu Arab had bought the bus to support the family after his release from prison. His mother had sold all of her gold jewellery so he could buy it. Abu Arab had been a ‘security prisoner’ for about two years because the Israeli authorities suspected him to be a member of The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. His father had preceded him to prison on the same ac-
183 cusation, then one brother and then the next and then the next. When the Israeli army raided their house in one of Jerusalem’s overcrowded neighbourhoods one night and asked Umm Ra’ed about the whereabouts of the remaining brother, who was twelve, she beat the soldiers to the room where this brother was sleeping and started kicking him while shouting, “Get up, Mr. George Habash, get up!” At that moment the head of the military unit intervened and saved him from her. Yet later, the investigator resumed the kicking with such intensity that that brother confessed to having thrown stones at a military patrol. His classmate, however, never confessed, a fact that has left his soul deeply scarred. The bus project turned out to be a success. Soon after buying the first bus, Abu Arab was able to get another one for his brother for when he got out of prison. The brother drove workers, whereas Abu Arab continued to drive college students and sometimes journalists or artists, something he really enjoyed. Even though, after prison, Abu Arab had given up completely on the idea of finishing high school, he still felt sad about it. And perhaps this sadness increased when he realised that the college girl from Jaffa did not like him, and that perhaps no left wing college or cultured girl would like him, because he had not finished high school and was just a bus driver. Eventually, however, the women of the family met and decided to introduce him to another girl, a cousin named Abla, who just happened to look a lot like the first girl. The two immediately fell in love, though perhaps Abla loved him a bit more. Abu Arab, in turn, introduced
her to his intellectual and artist friends. She was shy with them at first, but his close friends were soon able to get to know her intimate and gentle side. Also at the beginning, because of her family’s reservations, Abu Arab was not able to meet with Abla alone, though he so much longed to. Instead, Abla’s grandmother, the family’s supreme authority figure, always had to chaperone them. Thus the grandmother also met Abu Arab’s university and cultured friends, who were able to soften her up quickly and convince her to leave Abla and Abu Arab alone by themselves. Her only condition was that they tell no one. Therefore I ask the reader to keep this fact a secret, even though the grandmother died a few years ago, and now Abla and Abu Arab are married and have seven children, six girls and a boy! The first child is Kamilya. Abu Arab named her after his friend Kamilya Jubran, the lead singer at that time of the group Sabreen, of which Abu Arab was a huge fan. Kamilya is a beautiful girl who studies at the Rosary school and Abu Arab can’t wait for the day she goes off to college and he’ll see her standing at the Qalandia checkpoint on her way from Bir Zeit University back to Jerusalem. As for the second daughter, Karmel, her name was chosen on the way to the maternity hospital in Talbiyya, on the road that divides East and West Jerusalem. Everyone liked the fact that she was named after a Palestinian mountain and that the name begins with the letter ‘K’ like Kamilya. Abla and Abu Arab, however, knew that they couldn’t keep up this pattern of names starting with the letter ‘K’, for as soon as they had a boy,
184 they were going to name him Farid after Abu Arab’s father. Therefore, they dropped the ‘K’ names after Karmel’s birth, which was an extremely difficult one. While giving birth Abla began to beat Abu Arab and to scream, “It’s all your fault!” It saddened Abu Arab, who held on to her hand, to see Abla in so much pain, which he was helpless to stop. That day they thought they might not have more children. But luckily the following births were easier. Karmel is a beautiful and smart girl who studies all the time. As for Farid, he’s a gentle and intelligent boy who loves his six sisters a lot, perhaps with the exception of Aya, who is a year older than he. She’s also not so fond of him. This might be due to the fact that Farid is a highly sensitive child who feels gratitude towards those who love him, whereas Aya couldn’t care less about that and seems, rather, to be completely consumed by her curiosity towards the world. The other three are still small. The oldest of them speaks somewhat slower than normal, giving each and every letter its phonetic due, and then some. This could be because of a fall she took from the second floor two years ago. The ambulance took forever to come, as usually happens in the case of Palestinian injuries. That day, Abla felt a great hatred for the whole world, including herself and to some extent Abu Arab, since it had never occurred to him to encourage her to get a driver’s license. The time she spent waiting for the ambulance was among the most painful in her life, more painful even than giving birth to Karmel. However, it’s a good thing that Abla didn’t have a driver’s license at the time, for she was hardly able to stand on two feet that day.
It wasn’t a problem for the family that the little one spoke somewhat slowly. They gave her all the time she needed, especially since Aya’s rapid-fire speech, which really annoyed Farid, saved them so much time. The two smallest ones still cannot talk. They are fraternal twins, but if one did not know that they were siblings, one would never guess that they were even from the same city. Abu Arab and Abla’s ambitions were not limited to increasing the world’s population, but also increasing their own wealth. And, generally, the number of buses they owned grew with the number of children they had, until they eventually possessed five buses. Then Abu Arab suddenly thought about selling them, along with a small plot of land the family owned in Bethlehem, all for the sake of a new project. But his efforts to convince his parents, and especially his siblings, failed initially. According to them and to many of his friends and acquaintances, it was a completely crazy idea. Abu Arab, though, was not to be deterred. He decided to carry out the plan on his own. He sold his share of what his family agreed to be his after years of tireless work, which came to two buses. Then he sold all of Abla’s gold without telling anyone (and I ask the reader again to please keep this information a secret). Abla not only loved Abu Arab, but also believed in him. Objectively, though, the idea – which was to buy the RamallahJerusalem bus line itself – seemed like something only a crazy person would support. The line was owned by the Ramallah Bus
185 Company, which had remained in operation until the beginning of the 1990s, after which the buses stopped running and the company disappeared completely. Before that, its work had been limited to running two old and run down buses that no one had dared to ride except for those who had both no money and all the time in the world. It was, then, only a few senior citizens who used the Ramallah-Jerusalem buses, and occasionally students who couldn’t pass up the chance to procrastinate between home and school. But this wasn’t the main problem. The main problem was that even fifteen years ago, these buses were run down. Now they were more like worthless archeological ruins. The second problem was that there was no longer a direct road between Ramallah and Jerusalem that buses could use even if these buses were able to make the trip in the first place. The road had been divided into several sections in years past, what with checkpoints and the Wall. So now everyone, including the senior citizens and school kids, definitely preferred the shared taxis that were quite fast. Quite fast, that is, when they were actually moving, which gave the rider the sense, even if an illusion, that they were moving at the fastest possible speed after sometimes hours of waiting at the checkpoints. Last but not least, the idea was also crazy because Abu Arab did not possess a license to drive large buses. In fact, neither he nor any of his brothers ever would. According to Israeli transportation law, former ‘security prisoners’ could not obtain the license needed to
drive large buses. In short, he and Abla threw all of their hard earned savings into something that no longer existed, and, in fact, could not exist in the future. But Abu Arab looked at the situation differently. While all of this was true, Abu Arab could see beyond the present circumstances. For him, the success of any project depends on the possibility of the creation of different circumstances in the long run. So, Abu Arab started down this path all by himself, spending long hours in the garage where the buses had been lying like sick cows, trying to fix what could be fixed. He repainted the buses and reupholstered their seats. After several months of work, the two buses began running again. One of them ran from Ramallah to the Qalandia checkpoint and the second from the Qalandia checkpoint to Jerusalem, even though their signs said that they went from Jerusalem to Ramallah. The phrase “Jerusalem to Ramallah” was like words on a gravestone, a reminder of a life that no longer existed. In any case, at least now a route that had been dead for a long time had come back to life, even if it was a limited and partial life. These two buses slowly got more and more attention from riders, and not only because they had been refurbished or because they saved riders something on transportation costs, which had become exorbitant thanks to the breaking up of the road to and from Jerusalem into small segments, but also because people believed that the drivers of the small buses were a pack of thieves, drug dealers, sexual harassers and even collaborators. And even though no one scrutinised these claims very closely, the
186 drivers’ behaviour did nothing to help their reputation. Thus the popularity of the Ramallah-Jerusalem buses rose every day, especially since the buses left at scheduled times and not just when they filled up. And it rose not just among the passengers, but also drivers, who respected Abu Arab as the lawful owner of the route which many of them currently used unlawfully.
their passengers and adhere to the ticket system so as to be able to pay their taxes. They would also have to make sure that everyone wore the same uniform so that it would be easy for the passengers to recognise the drivers, and agree to standardising the colour and signs on the buses in line with the logo of the company of which they would now be shareholders.
One day Abu Arab, whom as we’ve already mentioned was a bright and ambitious goodhearted leftist, called for a meeting of all of these drivers. His suggestion was as follows: as an owner of buses he, like them, wanted to ensure his and his customers’ safety and wellbeing. This required that they unite and work together. As everyone knew, he was the owner of the Jerusalem-Ramallah route, but that was beside the point. What he was suggesting was that the owners of all the buses that used this route join his company, which would be called, instead of the Jersualem-Ramallah line, the United Transport Company. As the sole owner, founder and investor in the company, he would hold 51% of the shares, dividing the rest among the drivers who would join the company, which they could do without investing any money in it. All they had to do was join with their buses, buses that would remain their property, not the property of the company. The company would simply be an umbrella bringing together all of the bus drivers and owners to ensure and protect their rights, as well as the rights of the passengers – especially in the face of the Israeli Authorities, who were constantly harassing the drivers of the small buses. All the bus owners had to do was provide accident insurance for
One could sum up Abu Arab’s idea by saying that it was the exact opposite of the neo-liberal system. In fact, it established the kind of cooperative endorsed by many critics of this system as a form of resistance. The number of members of the company increased day after day until all of the bus lines leading to Jerusalem had joined it, a situation the passengers were very much in support of. And finally, Abu Arab’s family came around to the project. Naturally, Abu Arab still cannot drive any of the large buses that he owns or that fall under the umbrella of his company. But at least he owns two cars. One, an old jeep, he drives when he goes on long trips with his family. The second is nothing special, something he uses to take the kids to school every morning on his way to the office, where he remains until late at night, making sure that any problems connected to the company are on their way to being solved.
.:. This article was originally published on www.Jadiliyya.com, June 13th, 2011. Republishing rights have been approved by the Author. .:. Illustration across; East Jerusalem bus lines.
SULTAN SULEIMAN ST.
THE OLD CITY
76 HEBRON ROAD
124 CHECKPOINT 301
OLD BETHLEHEM ROAD
TO EL-AYZARIYAH TO SAWAHRAH ST TO ABU-DIS
188 THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENCY OF CHANGE – Ilka Eickhof Change: [I or T] to make or become different, or to exchange one thing for another thing, especially of a similar type; to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of something different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone; to transform or convert from one (conveyance) to another, to become different, altered, or modified. The definitions of “change” taken from several dictionaries resemble the two major lines of thought addressed in the project „The Changing Room“. One relates to the transformations and changes in the Middle East region, the other one follows conceptions of identity and belonging in a globalized world. Bringing those two major prongs together somewhat challenges the usual gaze and allows us instead to take a critical look at the common representations of contemporary Arab art in
the frame of the so-called “Arab Spring”, thus leaving behind a simple commodification and “fashion-factor” of contemporary Arab art. How so? The Cultural Currency of “Spring“ Since spring 2011, every major city in Europe appears to be filled to the brim with events and exhibitions touching upon the theme of the so-called “Arab Spring”. International funding organizations, curators and critics have focused on contemporary Arab art, especially considering Egypt. Projects and exhibitions are set in scene from different perspectives and with differing agendas, most of the times characterized by a plethora of voices explaining the political context(s) and speaking in the name of the “revolution(s)” - contemporary Arab art has reached a peak of (international) interest.
Through this interest, cultural NGOs, festivals, workshops, and a wealth of international conferences and exhibitions emerged. With the recent series of uprisings, the “West’s” fascination with the Arab region has found new currency. Previously unrecognized Arab artists attract record prices at auctions. Last year, the Dubai branch of Christie’s extended its autumn sale of Arab art to promote an emergence of ‘younger’ contemporary artists. The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum are expanding their collections of contemporary art from the region. The Arab Spring is feeding into that interest, says Venetia Porter, curator of Islamic and contemporary Middle Eastern art at the British Museum. Next to the mushrooming of museum exhibitions, film festivals and symposia on “Art and Revolt”, a number of invitation-only events popped up, like the two-day summit “Art and Patronage” held in London at the British Museum and the Royal College of Art, bringing together collectors, museums, academics and artists in order to explore ways to support the “emerging” art scene: ”Capitalising on the region’s current cultural
vitality and political flux, the Summit aims to engage cultural debate for the Middle East and, ultimately, to translate bold ideas into new initiatives.” But what goes hand in hand with support and patronage are content-based claims and regulations, which are already patent in the act of choosing certain artists/guests/ lectures rather than others. This selectivity and the thematic focus of several of the aforementioned projects “art and the revolution” or “art and the Arab Spring” – is indeed intriguing and leads to questions on the functions and role of art as well as to the field of (local as well as global) cultural politics. Cultural politics are politics of intervention, shaping contemporary arts practices, their theoretical interpretations, and how cultural practices in turn become (re)presented, rearticulated and challenged by local actors. Now what has been marked or is often presented as “political art” involves social and aesthetic theory: the frameworks through which we make aesthetic assumptions, sense of and judgment about art. What stands out
190 concerning the current buzz with contemporary Arab art is the frame in which it is presented, and the political stance which it represents. Old Paradigms in New Customs? In her thorough study on the politics of arts and culture in contemporary Egypt before the uprisings, Jessica Winegar demonstrates how critics, curators, and scholars working from Western institutions have judged the art and artists according to a teleological notion of artistic progress that maps onto a cultural hierarchy of the “West before and above the rest” (“Creative Reckonings” (2006), research conducted between 1996 and 2004). Within this ‘orientalistic’ frame, artists have been appraised according to the degree to whicht they fit the Euro-American idea that artists should be rebels challenging aesthetic and social norms, emphasizing the “shock of the new” and a break with traditions, hence, the contemporary. The aesthetic as a very particular concept that emerged with the rise of the bourgeoisie in modern Europe is linked with a Euro-American understanding of modernity that depends on notions of progress and development. Like the sociology of “modernization” and the economics of “development”, the aesthetics of (post-) modernism often assume a clear predefined path along which “third world cultural practices” are supposed to be developing.
Talking about the “rebel artist”, what maybe first comes to mind is street art/ graffiti art. Attention has been drawn to graffiti art from Egypt and from the Arab World in general for the past months, whether in form of workshops, exhibitions, discussions or web-symposia, “exploring the legacy of expression through graffiti and street art as part of the visual landscape of in the Middle East and Arab world” (Harvard University, Center for Middle Eastern Studies: Graffiti and Street Art: Art and Political Protest of the Arab Spring, 2011). Seeing street art as a counter-hegemonic force, this imagination fits into the “modernity pattern” of the Euro-American ideal “rebel artist”. In the frame of the so-called Arab Spring, attention has been drawn on graffiti art on the very basis of this interpretative pattern, often enough commodifying the piece itself along the process. Concurrently, in the representation of these works, it seems less about the content, the sign, the struggle over meaning and narration, but more about the artists as opposed to the/a regime (even more so when he or she has been arrested once or twice): the radical, the free mind, the universal standard of “western” modernity now attached to Cairo, Tunis and other Arab Cities. A different way to analyze and represent street art in the realm of the revolution has been conducted by Lewis Sanders (in: Samia Mehrez (ed.), Translating the Revolution (2012)). Sanders discusses street art not only as an aesthetic prod-
191 uct of resistance, but also as a way of reclaiming and re-appropriating space, as a burst of political expression and a visual narrative, but also as a contested site over meaning and definition. Another, more art-focused perspective can be found in the 2011 by Don Karl and Pascal Zoghbi published book “Arab Graffiti”, presenting detailed information on Arab Street Art and the history of Arab calligraphy. Not surprisingly, another almost traditional field of “western” interest can be found in the thematic field of “women and feminism”, often in intersection with religion (here mostly Islam). The negotiation and representation of women and gender within the popular dichotomy of “East” and “West” has a long, intertwined and ongoing history, one which has been subject to scrutiny by voices like Lila Abu-Lughod or Saba Mahmoud, drawing on Orientalism/Postcolonial criticism/ Eurocentrism/Critical Whiteness, etc. The discussion on “women in the Arab world” ignited again in “the West”, especially with regards to the electoral success of Islamic parties in Egypt and Tunisia. But what exactly is negotiated (in “the West”), and how? The discussion was also reflected in the way Alia al-Mahdy’s self-portrait was being reprinted and talked about in various newspapers, magazines and blogs – unlike the forced virginity tests of female Egyptian protestors, which in comparison only received little attention.
Again, also the discourse on Alia al-Mahdy depicts discussions on emancipation, modernity and rebellion – against the nation, the state, the society, or mainstream culture. Attention given in the name of “freedom and democracy” by “the West” is dangerous because it might follow the old and tiring orientalistic stance, be it in a post- or neo-orientalistic way. Instead of using the current interest to re-evaluate the representations of the Arab World and questioning the common notion of Arab societies through contemporary art, the historical binaries of “the West” and “the Rest” are easily being perpetuated. Currently, art coming from the Arab World is being prominently promoted (only) when it contains political critique, or evolves around the notion of religion and/or gender. The Ambivalence of Interest and the Responsibility of the Curator But on the other side of the coin, these observations are quite ambivalent as well. Just criticizing the status quo would be like shooting fish in a barrel: just too easy. Local as well as international regulations or interventions within the field of arts and cultural politics do have to be critically analyzed, especially in the frame of the historical entanglement of “the West” and the Arab World. But the financial support can indeed be of much help as well, supporting an emerging art scene, which needs to be financed and looked
192 at, at this very point, no matter whether the investment in art is made as a marker of civilization and humanity. Accessibility and social mobility is needed today in order to engage with the global art world’s institutions, curators and critics. In the end it seems to be more about the “how” and not the “if”: there should not be the perpetuation of the ever-victim of orientalism, but to exactly overcome this notion, one should take a critical look at the conceptions and representations of the so-called Arab Spring in connection with contemporary Arab art and the diversity of the societies in the Arab World. This has been done so carefully in practice and theory by curators and critiques like Aida Eltorie, Omar Kholeif, Gilane Tawadros, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Frie Leysen, Olu Oguibe or Simon Njami, to name just a few amongst many (which does not do justice to all the theoreticians and practitioners in the field, but that would be another paper in itself…). The curator is an active knowledge producer, and curatorial work guides and accentuates the discourse of – in this case – contemporary Arab art, it functions just like epistemological power. The notion of the curator as a “culture broker”, as argued convincingly by Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, seems to be a role of which Aida Eltorie is aware, and which shows in her work. It is the curator who gets the support and the funding, who choses and therefore constitutes meaning – and who enters the battle on funding and acknowledgment with other artists, art his-
torians, critics and curators, fighting for control in the field of cultural production. (Beatrice von Bismarck, 2007). The image we so often find ourselves to look at on cover pictures or in exhibitions– the veiled woman, artistically set in scene, or the graffiti boy in the streets, tagging something on democracy or Islamism, they sell easily. The topic of Palestine, like Larissa Sansours’ work, where she decontextualizes Palestine into a corporate building, robbing it from its original magnificence symbolized in an olive tree, the Dome of the Rock, and a landscape of settlements; that’s another kettle of fish, directing attention to a marginalized context. The curator of today’s world has a lot on his or her plate: global hierarchies and modernity scales, historical contexts and old paradigms, funding options and culturalas well as identity politics, just to name a few of the interconnected issues at stake. With the lens of art it is possible to explore and present the diversity and creativity of people both enacting and embodying protest in several forms. This also touches upon the question whether art as a political instrument can function as an archive, or (counter-) narrative, taking place within the discourse and struggle of meaning, but concurrently being commodified in the field of cultural productions. Aida Eltorie’s project answers this question by presenting something like a “uto-
193 pian documentary”. In her project “The Changing Room”, the artists interpret social change and historical narration, stressing what Tarak Barkawi has put together so well in only one sentence as the crucial aspect of the upheavals: “The agency was human, the act political.”
Book references: - Barkawi, Tarek. 2011. The Globalisation of Revolution. Al Jazeera, 21.03.2011. http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/03/2011320131934568573.html - Bismarck, Beatrice von. 2007. Curatorial Criticality – Zur Rolle freier Kurator/ innen im zeitgenössischen Kunstfeld, in: Drabble, Barnaby/Richter, Dorothee (ed.), Curating Critique. Frankfurt/Main. - Eagleton, Terry. 1990. The Ideology of the Aesthetic. Oxford, Blackwell. - Mehrez, Samia (ed). 2012. Translating Egypt’s Revolution: The Language of Tahrir. American University in Cairo Press. - Ogbechie, Sylvester Okwunodu. 2010. The Curator as Culture Broker: A Critique of the Curatorial Regime of Okwui Enwezor in the Discourse of Contemporary African Art. Aachronym. http://aachronym.blogspot. de/2010/06/curator-as-culture-brokercritique-of.html - Shohat, Ella/Stam, Robert. 2000. Narrativizing Visual Culture - towards a polycentric aesthetics”, in: Mizoeff, Nicholas (ed.),
The Visual Culture Reader. London, New York. - Toukan, Hanan. 2010. On Being the Other in Post-Civil War Lebanon: Aid and the Politics of Art in Processes of Contemporary Cultural Production.’ Arab Studies Journal, 18 (1). pp. 118-161. - Winegar, Jessica. 2006. Creative Reckonings. The Politics of Art and Culture in Contemporary Egypt. Stanford University Press.
Adel Abidin Born 1973 in Baghdad / Iraq. Lives and works in Helsinki / Finland since 2001. Adel Abidin, a video, installation and photography artist focuses his visual discussions on issues such as cultural alienation, identity and marginalization. Humor, sarcasm and irony are central to his language.
Art in Poland. In 2010 The17th Sydney Biennale and major solo exhibitions at: Kiasma, Helsinki’s museum of contemporary art, at the DA2 Domus Artium 2002 (Centre of Contemporary Art in Salamanca)- Spain and recent solo exhibition at Location One Gallery in New York city. Also his new video installation will be featured at the opening of the museum of contemporary Arab art in Doha. In 2011 Abidinʼs new works will be featured in the 10th Sharjah Biennial, a solo exhibition at Artopia gallery in Milan, a solo exhibition at Gallery Anne De Villepoix in Paris. And a new work will be presented at the 54th Venice Biennale, Iraq Pavilion, organized by Sala Uno.
Adel Abidin started his art career as a painter, where he received his bachelor degree in painting from the Academy of fine Arts in Baghdad in 2000. After arriving to Europe he started to work mainly with installation, interactive installations, videos and photography, and in 2005 his received his Masters degree in media and new media art from the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. His works have been shown in different venues around the world, such as; In 2006 he got invited by the curator Mr. René Block to exhibit in the October Saloon in Belgrade. In 2007 he got selected to represent Finland at the 52nd Venice Biennale, where he exhibited his most ironic work of art, a traveling agency that promotes tourist trips to Baghdad called “Abidin Travels”. as well as venues such as Louis Vuitton in Paris, the Gothenburg Biennial. in 2008 a solo exhibition in White Box Gallery in New York city, a screening at MoMA, The best young European artists exhibition in Reims/ France and The 11th Cairo Biennale. The Baltic Center for Contemporary Art 2009, the 8th Baltic biennale for Contemporary
Sama Alshaibi Born 1973 in Basra / Iraq. Lives and works in Arizona / USA. Sama Alshaibi is an artist born in 1973 to an Iraqi father and Palestinian mother and is now a naturalized US citizen. Alshaibi’s works in photography, video art and sculpture to evoke the language of suffering, displacement and loss. Her poetic and lyrical approach contrasts the depiction of her own history of living in war and the double negation to her familial homelands. Alshaibi often uses her own body in her works to test the limits of access and privilege; infil-
trating guarded spaces, negotiating borders and testing the dynamics of power between nation/state and its citizenry. Alshaibi is also interested in the spectrum of control and domination, whether it’s the body’s relationship to land and national identity, or the experience between humans’ competing for resources and power. Whether it’s the threshold of two different existential planes, of disorientation, and spaces between spaces, her work is rooted in the anxieties of the human experience. Sama Alshaibi received her MFA from the University of Colorado in Photography/ Video and Media Arts in 2005. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography/Video Art at University of Arizona. Her work has been exhibited at arts institutions and galleries in in over 20 countries including Selma Feriani, London, Exit Art, NYC, Art Dubai, Dubai, Bastakiya Art Fair, Dubai, Empty Quarter, Dubai, Traffic, Dubai, Al Hoash, Jerusalem, DARB 1718, Cairo, The Bronx Museum, NYC and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver. Her 28 timebased works (video art and films) have screened in numerous film festivals internationally, including Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece, CinemaEast Film Festival, NYC, DOKUFEST, Kosovo and MidEast Cut, Copenhagen/Denmark & Helsinki/Finland. Alshaibi is in prominent public collections such as Nadour, Darat al Funun, the Barjeel Collection, and the Rami Farook Collection.
Kader Attia Born 1970 in Dugny / France. Lives and works in Berlin and Algiers.
Kader Attia was born in 1970 to an Algerian family in Paris. He studied both Philosophy and Art in Paris, and by 1993, he had spent a year at Barcelona’s Escola de Artes Applicades. He held his first solo exhibition in 1996 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and since then has exhibited regularly throughout the world. Attia’s childhood between France and Algeria, going back and forth between the Christian Occident and the Islamic Maghreb, has had a decisive impact on his work. His time living in the Congo-Kinshasa, as well as Venezuela and Algeria, further inform the multicultural vision in his work. Using his own identities, as the starting point, he tackles the increasingly difficult relationship between Europe and immigrants, particularly those of Islamic faith. In doing so he does not tie himself to one specific medium to explore controversial content. Attia gained international recognition at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003) and at the Lyon Biennale (2005). At the latter he created, Flying Rats, featuring life-size seed sculpture-like children being devoured by 250 pigeons. Other works include The Landing Strip, the culmination of Attia’s work with Algerian transsexuals within wider French society. In November 2007 he held his first solo exhibition in the USA, Momentum at the Boston ICA, and the large-scale New Works opened in February 2008 at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. Other recent projects include solo shows as Square Dreams at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle, in 2007, or at the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo in Huarte – Spain, and a residency at IASPIS - Sweden, in 2008, participation to major exhibitions like “La Force de l’Art” / Paris Triennial and Havana Biennale, and curating the exhibition “Periferiks” at Centre d’Art de Neuchâtel in Switzerland, in 2009. In 2010, Attia takes part, among other projects, to the Sydney Biennial, the exhibition Dreamlands at Centre Georges Pompidou, to the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship Program in Washington DC, and to the Paul D. Fleck
Fellowship at the Banff Centre in Canada. In 2011, Centre Pompidou - Paris commissions a new film, entitled “Collages”, shown in the exhibition “Paris-Delhi-Bombay”, and later at the Moscow Biennale. Attia is one the winners of the Prize of the 2008 Cairo Biennale and of the 2010 Abraaj Capital Art Prize. His work can be seen in Kassel’s Documenta .
Khaled Barakeh Khaled Barakeh graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University (2005) and holds an MA degree from Funen Art Academy in Denmark (2010). His works have been presented in Kunsthalle and Museum Brandts, and Ovegarden in Denmark and French Cultural Centre in Damascus. His work has also been shown in other countries such as Italy, Germany, Ireland, Jordan and Malta. Currently he is studying MA with Simon Starling’s class at Stadelschule in Frankfurt.
Hassan Hajjaj Born 1961 Larache, Morocco. Lives and works in London, England and Marrakech, Morocco. Winner of The Sovereign African Art Prize 2011. SELECT SOLO EXHIBITIONS: September 2012: ‘My RockStars, Volume 1’ – The Third Line Gallery – Dubai; October 2012: ‘My RockStars, Volume 1’ – Rose Issa Gallery, London – UK; 2011 ‘Marque deposee’
– Matisse Gallery, Marrakesh - Morocco; ‘Mi Casa Tu Casa’ – Matisse Gallery, Marrakesh – Morocco; 2010 ‘1430 in Casa’, Bab Hotel, Marrakesh - Morocco; ‘My beautiful Rubbish’, Freies Museum, Berlin - Germany; ‘Kesh Angels, Rose Issa Projects, London UK; 2009 ‘1430 in Casa’, Matisse Gallery, Casablanca - Morocco; ‘Dakka Marrackesh’, 8th Bamako Encounters African Photography Biennial, INA - Mali. 2008; ‘Reuse 2.0’, El boutique at Lothan Exhibition Space - Kuwait; ‘Dakka Marrakesh’, Leighton House Museum, London - UK; ‘Noss Noss: Photographic Works and Other Moroccan Stories’, The Third Line, Doha - Qatar. 2007; ‘Noss Noss: Photographic Works and Other Moroccan Stories’, The Third Line, Dubai - U.A.E. 2005; ‘Arabic Film Posters’, Dar Sharfia, Marrakesh – Morocco; ‘Salon Enrique’, Royal Festival Hall, London - UK. 2004; ‘Graffix From The Souk’, Dar Sharfia, Marakkesh - Morocco. 2003; ‘Graffix From The Souk’, Institut Francais, London - UK. 2002; ‘Graffix From The Souk’, Taros, Essaouira, - Morocco. 2001 ‘Graffix From The Souk’, Apart Gallery, London - UK. 2000; ‘Pop Art In The Kasbah’, Ministero Del Gusto Gallery, Marrakech - Morocco. SELECT GROUP EXHIBITIONS: September 2012; ‘Daba Maroc’, Brussels – Belgium; November 2012: ‘Light from the Middle East’, V&A Museum, London – UK. 2012; ‘Between Walls’, Rabat – Morocco; ‘London Twelve’ – City Gallery, Prague – Tcheque Republic; ‘The Bravery of Being Out of Range II’ – Athr Gallery, Jeddah – Saudi Arabia; ‘Mi Casa Tu Casa’ – Marrakesh Art Biennale – Morocco; ‘ReUse 5.0’ – Envearth – Kuwait; ‘Aurs Al Arab’ – OltreDimore Gallery; 2011 ‘The Apart London Summer Show’ – Apart Gallery, London - UK; ‘Photoquai’ – Musee du quai Branly, Paris - France; ‘Africa, See You, See Me’, Fondazine Studio Maragoni, Firenze - Italy; ‘Play Ground’ New Walk Way Museum, Leicester - UK; ‘Le Salon’ for the Jameel Prize, La Villa des Arts, Casablanca Morocco; 2010 ‘Africa, See You, See Me’, Museu Da Cidade, Lisboao - Portugal; ‘Le Salon’ for the Jameel Prize, Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul - Turkey; ‘Le Salon’ for the Jameel Prize, Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation - UAE; ‘Arabicity’, Beirut exhibition center - Lebanon; ‘Le Salon’ for the Jameel Prize, National Museum, Beiteddine Palace, Beiteddine - Lebanon; ‘Collective
Design’, Albareh Art Café, Manama - Bahrain; ‘Always Moving Forward’, Gallery 44, Toronto - Canada; ‘Le Salon’ for the Jameel Prize, National Museum, Damascus - Syria; ‘Le Salon’ for the Jameel Prize. National Museum, Riyadh - Saudi Arabia. 2009; ‘Le Salon’ for the Jameel prize, V&A, London - UK; ‘Icons Reloaded’, Elysee Arts, Liege - Belgium; Exposition VII Art Collection Luxembourg; ‘ReOrientation’ European Pairlement, Brussels - Belgium. 2007; ‘Social System’ `Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance - U.K 2008 ‘Mediterraneo’ a Sea that Unites‘ Italian Institute, London - U.K; Exposition VI Art Collection - Luxembourg. 2005; ‘Contemporary African Visual Arts’, Painting & furniture. British Museum, London - UK; ‘ Fashion in Motion’, Victoria and Albert Museum, London - UK. 2004; ’Black British Style’, clothing from 1950s till now, Victoria &Albert Museum, London - UK; ’Graffix From The Souk’, Artisania, Rabat, Saler - Morocco. 2003; ‘Graffix From The Souk’, as part of the 5th Festival of cultural diversity, Institute Francais, London - UK; ‘Graffix From The Souk’, Part of Moroccan Cultural Week in Covent Garden, London, UK. INTERIOR/ INSTALLATION/ EVENTS: 2011 Le Salon, Play Ground, New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester, UK. 2010 Le Salon, Les Veillées du Ramadan at the Institut des Cultures d’Islam, Paris, France. 2009 Le Salon, The Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival, Bluecoat, UK; Le Salon, The Chapter Gallery, Cardiff, Wales, UK; 2008 Le Salon, The Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival, Bluecoat, UK 2007 Road from Marrakech to Penzance, part of social systems, The Exchange, Cornwall, UK; Arabise Me, Madrid, Spain; Tut’s Tearoom, 02 Centre, London, UK. 2006; Arabise Me, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK. 2005 Le Salon for Meltdown - Patti Smith at the Royal Festival Hall, London, UK; Sounds Africa, Part of African year Installation, Starbucks in Camden, London, UK; Fashion in Motion’, V&A, London, UK; Salon Afrique, Royal Festival Hall, London, UK; Le Salon, Africa Remix, Hayward Gallery, London, UK. 2003 Interior design, Andy Wahloo Bar, one of Mourad Mazouz’s establishments in Paris, France. ADVERTISING AND TELEVISION WORK: 2006 Bike helmet, Japan Show, Apart Gallery, London, UK. 2001; Paintings used in Ungaro Perfume Advertising Campaign
and featuring in Corresponding Documentary on Paris–Mode TV fashion channel. ALBUM COVERS: 2009 Jose James BlackMagic- Brownswood Recordings UK (Photo: Hassan Hajjaj / Artwork: Robi Walters) Hindi Zahra, handmade – EMI-France / Oursoul records - (Photo: Hassan Hajjaj / Artwork: Marc Borgers); Hindi Zahra, Beautifull Tango / single cover – EMI-France / Oursoul records - (Photo: Hassan Hajjaj / Artwork: Marc Borgers); 2004 One night at Momo’s: Kemia Bar, Most Records / Rasa Music (Photo: Hassan Hajjaj / Artwork: Melody Sere @ Ich&kar); 2003 Painting used on Blur’s website to coincide with Think Tank album release, recorded in Morocco. EMI, UK. 2000; Design concept/painting featuring on Pino Daniele Medina album cover, BMG, Italy. ACQUISITIONS – COLLECTIONS: ‘Le Salon’, Institut Des Cultures d’ Islam, Paris, France ‘Nido Bouchra’, Wedge collection, Wedge curatorial projects, Toronto, Canada ‘Jama Fna Angel’s and ‘Saida Green’, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK ‘Ilham’, Kamel Lazaar Foundation, Tunisia Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia, USA Farjam Collection, Dubai, UAE; Barjeel Collection, Shrajah, UAE. AWARDS: 2003 Frame Magazine (frame 34) Arabian nights recycling, Paris, France 2003 French award ’Fooding 2003’ for the best restaurant design granted to Andy Wahloo Bar, Paris, France. SELECTED PUBLICATIONS: 2010; Contemporary Practices - UK - Oct. Volume VII, Cover & pg 158-165; Zoom -special Issue on Portrait no 100, Autumn - pg 54-59; Brownbook- Dubai - North Africa Rising, Jul- Cover & pg 40-41; ZAM Africa Magazine - Netherlands - Kesh Angels - 3rd issue - cover & Pg 44 - 49; Marrakesh MAG - Hassan Hajajj – Portfolio - May – 1st issue - cover & pg 50-61; Art Quarterly – UK - The Magazine of the art Fund - Spring - cover & Pg 38 – 39; Arise -Double Exposure – Apr - Issue 9 - pg108-113. 2009; Sotheby’s -Contemporary Art including Arab and Iranian Art - London Oct; Evening Standard – UK - V&A Donor’s £25,000 Prize for Islamic Art -26 Jan - pg 17; Harper’s Bazaar – DubaiMeet the Moroccan Warhol, -May - pg 147; Bamako Encounters African Photography catalogue - Published by Acte-Sud – France. 2008; Sotheby’s, Modern and Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art, London Oct 2008 Ich & Kar’s Dairy, Momo’s, Paris, France; In-
side Out, Candid Camera, March - pg 106– 109; Modern Painters, Who’s the Noss? Dec 07 / Jan 08; The National, Art Paris – Abu Dhabi, 17 Nov - Cover & pg 5; ArtCo - Art Dubai - pg 140–147; Art Investment - Hong Kong - Art Dubai, -pg 83–89; Brownbook, Making Pop Art for the Middle East, November–December 2008, pg 32–33; Alef, Technicolour Dreams, Winter 2007/2008, pg 58–69; Canvas, Street Chic, July 2008, pg 148–155; Modern Ethno Interiors -Published by Daab - Germany - pg 66 - 71; 2007; Time Out Dubai, Half Life, 22 November, 2007, pg 63 Canvas – Dubai -Oct Pg 68; Emirates Today -Hassan Links East and West with Art - 5th Dec; Gulf News Moroccan Mosaics -30 Nov - pg 17–19; 7 DAYS - Dubai - Proving Faux Can Be Fun - 27 Nov - pg 22; Alef - Dubai - Maroc Moderne - Autumn - pg 172–82; L’ officiel - Middle East - Dec - issue 33 - pg 116-118; L’ officiel - Middle East / Homme - Nov - Issue 23 - pg18; Brownbook- Dubai - Making Pop Art for the Middle East - Nov/ Dec - Pg 3233; Christies Auction - Dubai, International Modern and contemporary Art -1 Feb 2007 - 7370; Casa Da Abitare - Italy - Feb - pg 122-129; Marie Claire Maison –France- Oct – issue 416 – pg 160 -166; Boutique - Moroccan Roll: the Beautiful world of Hassan Hajjaj (by Kathy Battista) – Jun/Jul - pg130136; Elle - France - The Studio, London - Apr - Issue 260. 2005; New Bar and club design - by Bethan Ryder - Laurence King publishing ltd UK – p44-45. 2004; Chill Out Spaceby Ana G. Ganizares - Loft Publications Spain - pg 56-61. 2003; Fame 34 – UK- Sep/ Oct - pg108-113.
Nermine Hammam Born 1967 in Cairo / Egypt. Lives and works in Cairo / Egypt. Nermine Hammam is a Cairo-based visual artist who creates images that are a blend of painting and photography techniques.. She obtained her BFA in filmmaking from New York University’s Tisch School of Arts, going on to work with Simon & Goodman and renowned film director Youssef Chahine. She also served as production assistant in the movie Malcolm X. Hammam’s work has been widely exhibited, and is included in public and private collections around the world. With human gesture as a central subject, she seeks out individuals in states of abandonment or altered states of consciousness, whether through transcendental spiritual ceremonies in different parts of the Middle East or a visit to the beach in Alexandria. She is known for the distinct technique with which she reworks photography, addressing the influence of mass media and market stylization. The founder and creative director of Equinox Graphics, Hammam is also known for introducing art into the public space through innovative design and branding. She is behind some of Egypt’s most familiar brands, including Cilantro Café, Diwan Bookstores and the Deyafa group of restaurants and bars. Exhibitions include: 2012, “Cairo Year One”, The Mosaic Rooms in association with Rose Issa Projects, London, UK; 2012, Paradox[on] at the EU house of Delegation, Cairo, Egypt; 2011 “Upekkha” Iman Fares Gallery, focus 11 basel
solo; 2011 anachrony, IF gallery, Paris solo; 2011 mois de l image, Deippe, France Collective; 2011 iman fares gallery paris collective; 2010 Pierre Bergé & Associés, Belgium; 2010 land of the hyperreal, Havana, Cuba Collective; 2010 Metanoia, townhouse gallery, Cairo solo; 2010 Photo Biennale, Thessaloniki, Greece Collective; 2010 Act of Faith, Abdijdmuseum Ten Duinen, Koksijde, Belgium Collective; 2009 IL Corpus Homanus, Almasar Gallery, Cairo Collective; 2009 X Biennial, Cuenca, Ecuador Collective; 2009 Photoquai, Museum de Quai Branly, Paris Collective; 2009 Parco Horcynus Orca, Messina, Italy solo; 2009 Casa Arabe, Madrid Collective; 2009 The Blow Out, The Empty Quarter Gallery, Dubai Collective; 2009 Escaton, Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo solo; 2008 Athens Photo Festival, Greece Collective; 2008 Joburg Art Fair, South Africa Collective; 2008 places and manners of worship, the museum of byzantine cultural in Thessaloniki, Greece Collective; 2007 palimpsest, town house, Cairo solo; 2007 a retrospective 2001-2007, the sultan gallery, Kuwait solo; 2007 Act of Faith, Der aa-kerk, Groningen Collective; 2006 Ashoura, Townhouse Gallery, Cairo solo; 2006 Ashoura, Artmenparis, Paris solo; 2005 Apotheosis, Karim Francis Gallery, Cairo solo; 2004 Metamorphosis, Espace SD, Beirut solo; 2003 Cairo Modern Art, Fortis Circus Theater, Netherlands Collective; 2002 Photo Cairo, Townhouse Gallery, Cairo Collective; 2001 Portrait, Hanager Art Center, Cairo solo; 2001 Mitigation, Townhouse Gallery, Cairo solo.
Karim Al Husseini Born 1978 in Tripoli / Libya. Temporarily lives and works in Cairo / Egypt. Born to Palestinian parents who moved with Jordanian passports, Husseini was raised in Egypt till the age of 19, then moved to the United States. From 2003 till 2006 he served in the US Army as a war veteran in Iraq. Husseini’s practice spans music, sound, video and installation. Introduced for the very first time as an installation artist, Husseini has been involved in several performance based events, and video/audio projects throughout the Middle East. Throughout the past three years, Husseini has been practicing studio art and has worked closely with well-established artists in the region such as Khaled Hafez. Husseini develops numerous sound pieces for visual art projects. From his most recent is the screening of his latest video “Lesson” in the 9th International Bamako Encounters in Bamako, Mali (2011). Projects include: “Lesson,” November 2011, 9th Bamako Encouters, Bamako, Mali. “North West Nirvanty,” In Search of Eden series, September 2011, Spazio Qubi, Turin (Italy). “Change is Needed” (audio/video music piece), March 2011. “Day Dreaming” (video and music piece), July 2010. “Tuning Your Senses,” (audio/video music piece), July 2010. “Change is Needed,” music composition, for The Video Diaries (Khaled Hafez, 2011) March 2010. Audio Score, On Presidents and Superheroes, The A77a Project (Video Artist: Khaled Hafez) October 2009, . Live Music Performance “Live Under Fire,” Mosul (Iraq), June 2006.
Ines Jerray Born 1977 in Tunisia. Lives and works in Tunisia. She graduated from Paris 8 University with a Master in visual and contemporary arts, and from the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera at Milan with courses in drawing sculpture and cinema. She also post-graduated from the National Higher School of Decorative Arts of Paris with an Interactive research Certificate. Her work has been exhibited in France (ENSAD), Tunisia (cultural center of Sousse) and Japan (Maejima Art center of Okinawa). She published in the Czech review of cinema Iluminace. Her most recent interest deals with Animation work as a site of cognitive and sensory experiences, which is the title of her PhD research in visual and performing arts at the University of Tunis (Tunisia) and Artois (France). With the program Visiting Arts she recently started a creative dialogue in London with the British artist Gayle Chong Kwan. Through the use of photography, video, sound and drawing, but also by a reflection on the recent introduction of animation in her practice, she’s exploring with Chong Kwan the ideas of hybridization, the senses, cognition, memory and context, as a way of questioning the body and landscapes of difference that are pertinent topics to both of their work.
Ibrahim Saad Born 1977, Egypt. Lives and works in Cairo / Egypt. Ibrahim Saad received his BA degree at Faculty of Fine Arts. Working at the Jesuit Cultural Center in Cairo as coordinator for the Visual Arts Program. In the past, Saad has worked at the Townhouse Gallery’s “Sawa” workshop and “Sawa Generation”. In addition, I taught art to children at the Artellewa Gallery. His work can be considered as an investigation into the depths of the human soul, as he tries to find new ways of communicating human emotions. Saad models himself in his performances, photography and video projects. Group exhibitions include: 2002 “FOR JURUSELAM”, Hanager Center of Art; 2004 16th Youth Salon; 2004 Nile Salon for Photography; 2004 7th Small Pieces Salon; 2005 17th Youth Salon; 2005 25th National Exhibition for Plastic Art; 2006 French Culture Center; 2007 “MAYBE AT THE GARDEN” Cairo Atelier; 2007 Group exhibition; 2007 18th Youth Salon; 2007 “ATLAS” Art Elliewa Gallery; 2007 “WAITING IN THE WHITE” due with Jolie Exonforce, Cairo Atelier; 2007 25th Cairo Atelier Salon; 2007 “YOUTH X YOUTH “ Ebdaa Gallery; 2007 Group exhibition at Goethe Institute, Townhouse Gallery; 2007 “ Smile while going up” installation on walls of the building, Spanish Culture Center; 2007 Summer festival at Qaied Bay Castle, Alexandria; 2007 Photography Group Exhibition, Townhouse; 2007 “Gomaa Market”
, Townhouse; 2007 “ What is happening now “with George Fekry Art palace, Cairo Opera house; 2007 Black and white on the walls of Townhouse” with George Fekry; 2007 “sketches“ with Lotchi , Townhouse; 2008 “100mm X 100mm” Arteliewa Gallery; 2008 Sawa at Gomhoria Theater group exhibition, Townhouse Gallery; 2008 “ rosomat” at Townhouse gallery (installation art painting on all the white colours with music and light system); 2008 “Dodels art or sketch” at Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum; 2008 “Selfmap”, Arteliewa Gallery; 2008 “no difference” installation, at Shenzben, China; 2009 “for Gaza” Cairo Atele, Cairo; 2009 exhibition at the French Center, Cairo; 2009 “Drawings” El Gezera Center, Zamalek, Cairo; 2009 Model Citizens Townhouse Gallery, Cairo; 2009 “The Sixth Wall” Artistic Installation at the Manesterly Palace; 2009 “Diversity Dialogue Lunch” New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York City, USA; 2010 “But a Shadow of Myself : a Collaboration” the Tin Shop, Breckenridge, Colorado, USA; 2010 “Model Citizen Continuum”, Schunck Museum, Heerlen, Netherlands; 2010 “Forms of Compensation” Bidoun Projects @ Townhouse Gallery, Cairo; 2010 “Forms of Compensation”, Bidoun Projects @ Art Dubai 2010, Emirate of Dubai; 2010 “Angels in the Bar”, El Gezera Center, Zamalek, Cairo; 2010 “The Sea Symposium”, Qaitbay Citadel, Alexandria; 2010 “The Sea Symposium”, El Gezera Center, Zamalek, Cairo; 2010 “The Second Black and White Salon”, El Gezera Center, Zamalek, Cairo; 2010 “The Second Black and White Salon”, Library of Alexandria, Alexandria; 2010 “But a Shadow of Myself at Jesuit”, Cairo; 2010 “Cairo Atelier Salon”, Cairo. Group projects include: “Model Citizens “ with Elke Uitentuis and Wouter Osterholt from Netherlands ,making models for the buildings of Townhouse and the surrounding buildings; “Mobile School” with Djamel Koken from Algeria; “But a Shadow of Myself” with Alexandra Zevin. An international, intercultural, intergenerational project in which participants use silhouettes to develop self –portraits and collaborative drawings; “Model Citizens – Continuum” Two month project with Elke Uintentuis and Wouter Oster
Steve Sabella Born 1975 Jerusalem / Palestine. Lives and works between London / Berlin. Steve Sabella is the holder of the Ellen Auerbach Award (2008) granted by the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and Sabella was also one of the commissioned artists for the inauguration of MATHAF: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. Steve Sabella’s artworks have recently been collected by the British Museum in London, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, and leading collectors in the Middle East including the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah. Sabella’s international shows include: Neighbors in Dialogue (Istanbul, Turkey 2007 and Sarajevo, Bosnia 2008), Gates of Mediterranean (Rivoli, Italy, 2008), Palestine, La Création Dans Tous Ses Etats, Institut du Monde Arabe & the National Museum of Bahrain (Paris 2009), Deconstructing Myths & Realties, Gallery Caprice Horn, Berlin, NOW - Contemporary Art of the 21st Century, Phillips De Pury (London 2009), This is Not a Love Song, The Empty Quarter gallery (Dubai 2010), Award Month, Akademie der Künste (Berlin 2010), a retrospective solo Steve Sabella In Exile at the Metroquadro Gallery (Turin 2010) The Interrupted Image, Nicholas Robinson Gallery (New York 2010), Told Untold Retold, MATHAF Arab Museum of Modern Art (Doha 2011) and a solo exhibition Euphoria & Beyond at the Empty Quarter Gallery (Dubai 2011). Sabella’s project jerusalem in exile (2006) ex-
plored the mental image Palestinians held of Jerusalem and has gained international attention, leading to its production into a documentary film. Consequently, Sabella has been giving a visual form through photomontage to the ‘state of mind’ of living in ‘mental exile’. Steve Sabella studied art photography at the Jerusalem School of Photography and New Media in 1994, and holds a BA in Visual Arts from the State University of New York (2007). Sabella received his first MA with a Caparo Award of Distinction in Photographic Studies (2008) from the University of Westminster and his second MA in Art Business (2009) at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. Sabella gave art talks / presentations in several places including the University of Cambridge, Turin University, SOAS, University of East London, Accademia Albertina Delle Belle Arti in Turin, Rostock University, Akademie der Künste in Berlin & and the British Museum in London. Sabella’s artworks and life triggered much media attention, including several TV & film documentaries. His earlier artworks have been reviewed in Palestinian Art by Kamal Boullata (Saqi Books 2009), and recent artworks have been reviewed in New Vision: Arab Contemporary Art in the 21st Century (Thames & Hudson 2009). In Exile artwork was on the front and back cover of Contemporary Practices journal VI, 2010 including two retrospective reviews.
Sansour studied Fine Art in Copenhagen, London and New York, and earned her MA from New York University. Her work is interdisciplinary, immersed in the current political dialogue and utilizes video art, photography, experimental documentary, the book form and the internet. Sansour borrows heavily from the language of film and pop culture. By approximating the nature, reality and complexity of life in Palestine and the Middle East in general to visual forms normally associated with entertainment and televised pastime, her grandiose and often humorous schemes clash with the gravity expected from works commenting on the region. References and details ranging from sci-fi and spaghetti westerns to horror films converge with Middle East politics and social issues to create intricate parallel universes in which a new value system can be decoded. Sansour’s work has been exhibited worldwide in international biennials, galleries, museums, film festivals and on the internet and is featured in many art publications. Her most notable shows include the Tate Modern in London and Arken Museum of Modern Art in Denmark and the IMA in Paris, France. Her work recently featured in the Third Guangzhou Triennial in China, the Busan Biennale in South Korea, PhotoCairo4 in Egypt, The Istanbul Biennale and Art Dubai and will take part in the Liverpool Biennale later this year. Her most recent film A Space Exodus was nominated in the short film category at the Dubai International Film Festival. In 2010, she launched her graphic novel “Nonel and Vovel”, a joint project with artist Oreet Ashery. The book appeared first at the Venice Biennale bookshops in August and was also launched at the Tate Modern, UK, the Brooklyn Museum, USA and Nikolaj Kunsthal in Denmark. In 2010, Sansour also had her first solo shows in New York and Paris and will have a solo show in Stockholm, Sweden by the end of the year.
Larissa Sansour Born in Jerusalem / Palestine.
Sansour’s work is represented by Galerie La B.A.N.K. in Paris, France. She lives and works in London, UK.
Anas Al-Shaikh Anas Al Shaikh was born in Bahrain in 1968, where he lives today. He studied architecture at Arab College in Jordan, and now works as a graphic designer, photographer, video, installation and conceptual artist, and independent curator specializing in group contemporary art projects. He frequently sits on juries and selection committees, and some time writes for cultural publications and newspapers. His focus is on spatially conceived works through which he can relate different perspectives to the public; for example, his 1st solo installation in 2001 “Memory of Memories”, was shown in a garage in old district in Manama the capital of Bahrain, attracting people from the neighborhood. Al Shaikh has exhibited widely in Bahrain and internationally such as: “Metropolis: City life in the urban age”, The 18th Noorderlicht International Photo Festival, Groningen, Netherlands (2011); “The MENASA Studio Dispatches”, The Island, Art Dubai, UAE (2011); “Alsajanjal”, Group Exhibition 4 for Contemporary Art Practices, Bahrain (2011); “Mapping Worlds, Understanding Worlds”, The 8th International Photo-Triennial, Esslingen, Germany (2010); “Kan Ya Ma Kan”, Bait Muzna Gallery, Oman (2010); “Self Representation in the Arabian Gulf”, Sharjah, UAE (2009) “Re-Orientations: Contemporary Arab Representations”, Rose Issa Projects at the European Parliament, Brussels (2008); Thessaloniki Film Festival, Athena, Greece (2008); “Still life: Art, Ecology & the Politics of Change”, Sharjah Biennial 8, Sharjah, UAE
(2007); “Self representation in the Arabian Gulf”, Virginia Commonwealth University, Doha, Qatar (2007); “The city and the street”, The Circle 4, Muscat Festival, Oman (2007); “Zones of Contact”, Biennale of Sydney, Sydney, Australia (2006); “Coding: Decoding”, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre, Denmark (2006); “Common Ground”, Sharjah Art Museum, UAE, Bahrain (2006-2005); “Nazar”, which travelled to the IFA, Berlin and Stuttgart, Langhans Gallery, Prague, the Aperture Foundation, New York, Fries Museum, Netherlands, and FotoFest Foundation, Houston (all 20042006); “Regards des photographes arabes contemporains”, Arab world institute, Paris, France, Kunstforeningen GL Strand, Denmark and Centro Andaluz de Arte Conteporaneo, Seville, Spain (2006-2005); “The Circle: Video Art from Oman, Bahrain, Qatar”, World Bank, Washington DC (2005); “Arab Italian Exhibition”, Mediterranean Nations Festival, Bisceglie, Italy (2005); “Contemporary Curves”, The 3rd Group Exhibition for Installation Art & New Media, Al Riwaq Gallery, Bahrain (2005); “Visual Arts Assemblage Exhibition”, The 3th and 4th Doha Culture Festival, Qatar (2005-2004); “More Darkness… More light”, The 2nd Group Exhibition for Installation Art, Bahrain (2003); “Remains of Memory - Remains of Trace”, Joint Exhibition with Haela Alwaary, Bahrain (2003); and “Out to in!”, The 1st Group Exhibition for Installation Art, Bahrain (2002). His work is in the public collections of the Arab Modern Art Museum, Qatar; Bahrain National Museum; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Jordan Fine Art Museum, Amman; Nooderlicht Photography Foundation, Netherlands; Sharjah Art Museum, UAE; and Spanish Embassy, Jordan.
vergence: New Art from Lebanon, American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center, Washington, D.C., USA; 2007 Espejismos: Contemporary Art from Middle East and North Africa, International Festival of Puebla, Puebla, Mexico; 2004 Pensées et measures, La Fabriq, Montreal, Canada; 1994 Le prophète, Espace E.S.A.G, Paris, France.
Marwan Sahmarani Born 1970 in Beirut / Lebanon. Lives and works in Beirut / Lebanon. Marwan Sahmarani is living in Lebanon where his paintings can be seen as an extension of painterly practice from 2 cultures. The context, the light, the colors, the history can affect and inspire his work. It becomes reminiscent of a sensibility that is timeless and universal. he held several group and solo exhibitions in Beirut, Dubai, Montreal, New York, Mexico... In 2010 he was one of the three recipients of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize. EDUCATION: 1989 – 1994 Atelier Met de Penninghen Paris, France SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS: 2010 The Feast of the Damned, Art Dubai, UAE, Abraaj Capital Prize; 2009 The Dictators: Studies for a Monument, Boutique 1 Gallery, Dubai, UAE; 2007 Can You Teach Me How to Fight? The Third Line, Dubai, UAE; 2006 Paintings And Drawings (1990-2005), Mogabgab Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon, Masturation, Ardbia gallery, Ireland, “Masturation”, Ardbia gallery, Ireland; 2005 Beirut el koubra, Mogabgab Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon; 2004 Mecca Cola, Clair Obscur, Montreal, Canada No-body, Mogabgab Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon “No-body”, Mogabgab Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon; 2003 Non-dit, Mogabgab Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon, Nondit, Alternative, Montreal, Canada; 1997 Le prophète, Mogabgab Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS: 2010 Con-
Khaled Ramadan Born 1965 in Damascus / Syria. Lives and works between Europe and Middle East. Khaled Ramadan is an archivist, documentary filmmaker and curator. His fields of specialties are the culture and history of documentary and experimental film, with interests in the fields of alternative aesthetic and archive research. He produces video and documentaries that explore how political, cultural, and scientific systems change the ways we think about the world around us. His films reflect the work of a film archivist not a traditional filmmaker, he often apply his theoretical knowledge in his production to learn and be inform about communities, people and the evolving social / human system. Ramadan utilizes his art as an agent for empowerment to involve viewers from all different backgrounds and communities. Ramadan has studied at Edinburgh College of Art, and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art. He has a master degree in architecture and Diploma in documentary film production and Ph.D. in Art History. Ramadan has occupied a variety of positions such as lecturer, advisor and curator, for among others, the Manifesta Foundation, Amsterdam; Finnish Art Council; the Danish Art Council; Norway Residency Program,
NKD; Finland Residency Program HIAP; and the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art (NIFCA). He curated projects and cultural programs for institutions like, Manifesta 8, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Modern Art, China, and UCCA Beijing, Danish Film Institute, Nikolaj, Copenhagen Art Center and the Nordic House Reykjavík, Iceland. Ramadan’s works are shown around the world at major festivals, TV stations and museums, like Rotterdam Film Festival; Cinema Paris; KIASMA Museum in Helsinki, Queens Museum, NY; Hamburg Film Festival; Docu-days Beirut; Video Brazil; Der Kunstwerk in Berlin; Manifesta 8; Sidney Film Festival; Milano Film Festival and San Francisco Arab Film Festival, Press TV and Al-Jazeera TV. In 2009, Al-Jazeera TV produced a documentary about Ramadan’s activities and achievement. In 2009, Ramadan was given the Achievement Award of the 11th Cairo Biennial. In 2001, he received the prestigious Hoffmyer Award. Ramadan is member of the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (IKT) / www.khaledramadan.org www.chamberarchive.org www.chamberarchive.com
Bassem Yousri Born 1980 in Algeria. Lives and works in Cairo / Egypt.
Bassem Yousri is an Egyptian visual artist and independent filmmaker. He was born in Algeria in 1980 and raised in Cairo, Egypt. Yousri received his BFA in painting from the School of Fine Arts in Cairo in 2003, and his MFA in painting, drawing and sculpture from Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia in 2009. Yousri was the recipient of a Fulbright Art’s Grant in 2006, and a fellowship from Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California in 2010. In his work, Yousri uses the whole gallery space as a canvas for his site-specific installation work where different surfaces, perspectives, and mediums overlap and intersect. In Parallel to his mixed media installation work, he creates experimental videos and documentary movies. Egyptian social and political situation, Human rights, cross-cultural dialogue, stereotypes, mass culture and the relationship between art and audience are some ideas that concern Yousri’s work. Since 2000, Yousri has participated in several collective shows in Cairo, Philadelphia, Boston, San Fransisco, and his documentary film titled Keep Recording was recently shown in Murcia’s Manifesta Biennale in Spain. Additionally, Yousri was commissioned to design and execute a large mural in Ephrata, Pennsylvania in 2009. He has had three solo shows in Philadelphia: at the Leonard Pearlstein art gallery at Drexel University in 2006, at the Knapp Gallery in September 2008, and at Tyler School of Art in March 2009. He was recently, in March of 2011, invited as a visiting artist at Kansas State University where he had his fourth solo show and he is currently working on a television series documenting the first three weeks of the revolution for Chanel 25, an Egyptian Television station.
aladin aladin works across categories including as strategic counsel to local, national and international initiatives in the civic terrain in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, as an interdisciplinary artist and curator/producer and as a magician. Appointed by Mayor Ken Livingstone to be Co-Chair of the Cultural Strategy Group at London’s City Hall between 2000-4, aladin was a principal architect of the City’s integrated master plan for its culture, media, sport, arts, heritage and tourism – a world first for a capital city . Amongst its achievements were London’s successful Olympic bid, its cultural diversity policy, a creative industries strategy and a focus on ‘sustainability’. www.aladinaladin.com
Ilka Eickhof Ilka Eickhof (Center for Middle Eastern and North African Politics, Freie Universität Berlin) Ilka Eickhof is a research associate at the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Politics since 2011 and has a Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies, Sociology and Modern History (Berlin, Damascus and Istanbul). She worked in Bosnia and the Palestinian territories before engaging in academic studies, and completed her MA with a thesis on Anti-Muslim racism and postcolonial theory. Before concentrating on her Ph.D, she worked at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin) for two years. Her current research focuses on the regulation of cultural (+identity) politics and contemporary Arab art in Egypt and Jordan, locating the arts/art institutions between the state, the political (secular/islamistic) forces, the (western) market and the current discourse on the “Arab Spring”. Ilka Eickhof is a participating member of the graduate colloquium of the Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies (FRCPS).
the Arab World and Iran in Paris; Breaking News (2008), Golden Gates (2009), and Patrizio Travagli’s Monograph, MMX (Florence, 2010).
Aida Eltorie Aida Eltorie, is an independent curator and director to a newfound organization: Finding Projects Association. A Masters degree candidate in Islamic Art and Architecture at the American University in Cairo (2011), Eltorie’s most recent project involves curating the late Ahmed Basiony at the 2011 Egyptian Pavilion of the 54th International Venice Biennale. Her past work includes curating the film program at Manifesta 8, under the curatorial auspices of The Chamber of Public Secrets, and the video collective Contemporary Arab Video Encounter (CAVE) at Maraya Art Centre (Sharjah, UAE). Editorin-Chief of Contemporary Practices Journal (Dubai); Volumes 4, 5, and 6, Eltorie has worked with The Townhouse Gallery of contemporary art (Cairo) for a period of 5-7 years from when the Gallery first opened in Cairo, during which she was also involved with The International Museum of Women (San Francisco) when they first launched in March 2003. By 2007, Eltorie moved to New York whereby she was accepted as a curatorial intern at The Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth Sackler Feminist Art Center, and continued her time there working with Bidoun Magazine for a year and then Christie’s auction house with the Indian and Southeast Asian Department. She independently produced a number of international projects with artists and cultural practitioners from the Middle East and Europe, with various support granted from institutions like ProHelvetia Swiss Arts Council and The Ford Foundation. Published works can be read in Rawi Magazine, Contemporary Practices Journal, and catalogues for shows curated by Daniela da Prato on art from
Heba Elkayal When not protesting in Tahrir Square, Heba Elkayal is the Lifestyle Editor of the Daily News Egypt, the local partner to the International Herald Tribune in Egypt. Elkayal holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the American University in Cairo which she received in 2009. A journalist and writer, Heba Elkayal has spent the past three years exploring and covering the trends of fashion, food, travel, architecture and design interiors in the Middle East, while probing the universe of modern and contemporary Egyptian art. In the past year, Elkayal managed to gain in depth interviews with some of Egypt’s most established and globally recognized artists, by adopting a multiple session model of recorded studio interviews and online exchanges with the creators. Though she doesn’t like to label herself as a political activist, Elkayal is proud to claim herself to be a Tahrir Square citizen. She tweets at @ hebaelkayal.
In 2009 she attended the Course for Museum Educators and Educational Managers at Cittadellarte Pistoletto Foundation in Biella. She attended the first year of the Specialistic Degree Course in Communication and Improvement of Contemporary Art at the Albertina Academy of Fine Arts in Torino.
Mariam Hamdy Mariam Hamdy is a trained artist, born and raised in the Middle East and currently residing in her home country, Egypt. Having completed her BA n ‘Performing and Visual Arts’ at the American University in Cairo, her MA in ‘Contemporary Portraiture’ at the Kent Institute of Art and Design, UK , she is currently pursuing her PhD focusing on ‘Contemporary Egyptian Art’ at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo. She writes for several publications as an Art correspondent and critic, and is currently adjunct faculty at the American University in Cairo. She enjoys large designer bags and Vanilla ice cream.
Sara Rossino Sara Rossino got a Degree in Arabic at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures of the University of Torino in 2008. In 2009 she got a Master Degree on contemporary history, culture and tourism in the Middle East at the same Faculty.
She worked as assistant curator in the following exhibitions: The Gates of Mediterranean, Palazzo Piozzo, Rivoli, 2008; Giuliana Fresco. Dipingere lo spazio, Palazzo Piozzo, Rivoli; Contemporary Artists between Italy and Turkey, Yapi Kredi Cultural Center, Istanbul, 2010. Since 2009 she has been working as a collaborator of the Education Department of Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, developing projects and events connected with the education to contemporary art and its languages. Since 2010 she’s been the assistant of Metroquadro Art Gallery in Rivoli (To), where she curates the exhibitions and the catalogues of the gallery. Of her published articles and reviews can be found in Juliet Art Magazine.
Adania Shibli Born in Palestine in 1974, Adania Shibli currently lives between Ramallah, Palestine and Berlin, Germany. She has two published novels and many short stories, narrative and art essays, which have appeared in various anthologies, art books and magazines. She has been twice the winner of the Qattan Young Writer’s Award-Palestine, for the year 2001 on her novel Masaas (Beirut: al-Adaab), translated into English as Touch (Northampton: Clockroot, 2009) and the year 2003, on her novel Kulluna Ba’id bethat al Miqdar aan el-Hub (Beirut: alAdaab), translated into English as We Are All Equally Far from Love (Northampton: Clockroot, 2012). In addition, Shibli is engaged in academic
research and teaching. In 2009 she gained a PhD for her thesis “Visual Terror”, in media and cultural studies, from the University of East London, London.
Salma Tuqan Of Palestinian decent and based in London, Salma Tuqan read History of Art at Cambridge University. She is the Contemporary Middle Eastern curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Previously, she has worked at Art Dubai as Head of Artists’ Projects as well as, Artistic Director of Contemparabia. She has contributed to many off-site projects as an independent curator and facilitator, including Palestine c/o Venice (53rd Venice Biennale) and Future Movements (Liverpool Biennial 2010). She is an active board member of ArtSchoolPalestine, the Khatt Foundation, Crowssway Foundation and the chair of the Young Committee of the Barakat Trust for Islamic Art.
Thank you to all those who were a part of this Project making it a great success. The Changing Room / London 2012 ÂŠ Finding Projects Association 2012
The Changing Room / London 2012 ÂŠ Finding Projects Association 2012
Published on Aug 10, 2012
The Changing Room project arrives in London, as part of the London 2012 Festival, taking on an alternative premise to the changes that have...