ROOM ARAB REFLECTIONS REFLECTIONS ARAB
ON PRAXIS PRAXIS AND AND TIMES TIMES ON
THE CHANGING ROOM ARAB REFLECTIONS
ON PRAXIS AND TIMES
SPAZIO QUBI, TORINO
22 September - 22 October 2011 www.thechangingroomproject.org
The Changing Room Project: Arab Reflections on Praxis and Times Curator / Editor Aida Eltorie Associate Curator Sara Rossino In association with Metroquadro Arte and Spazio Qubiâ€™ Art Direction / Graphic Design Aida Eltorie Print Manager Screen Technology Spazio Qubi via Parma 75/c Torino www.qubito.it email@example.com Metroquadro Arte Gallery firstname.lastname@example.org www.metroquadroarte.com ÂŠ Finding Projects Association, 2011 email@example.com www.findingprojects.org Thanks for the support of The Ford Foundation.
The event is brought to you by
Featured Artists Larissa Sansour, Palestine Kader Attia, Algeria Adel Abidin, Iraq Khaled Hafez, Egypt Sama Alshaibi, Palestine/Iraq Steve Sabella, Palestine Nermine Hammam, Egypt Ibrahim Saad, Egypt Khaled Ramadan, Lebanon Ines Jerray, Tunis Anas Al-Shaikh, Bahrain Ahmed El Shaer, Egypt Marwan Sahmarani, Lebanon Karim Al Husseini, Palestine Bassem Yousri, Egypt Featured Essays Martina Corgnati, Italy aladin, UK Aida Eltorie, Egypt Sara Rossino, Italy Amira El Ahl, Egypt Mariam Hamdy, Egypt Heba Elkayal, Egypt Wafa Gabsi, Tunis Special thanks to aladin, Khaled Ramadan, Alfredo Cramerrotti, Hannah Conroy and Engy Aly for their ongoing support to our projects. Cover image: Nermine Hammam, from the Upekkha series (2011), lambda print, 90 x 60 cm
CONTENT CURATOR’S NOTE Aida Eltorie
FOREWORD / PREFAZIONE Martina Corgnati
THE CHANGING ROOM A Liminal Space for an Arab Al-Kimi aladin
THE POLITICAL STUDIO Khaled Hafez in conversation with Amirah El Ahl PROTESTERS’ ART Cairo’s New Graffiti Scene Heba Elkayal A RENAISSANCE MAN Father William Sidhom in conversation with Heba El Kayal THE INTERVIEW
90 100 104 108
CURATORâ€™S NOTE The Changing Room: Arab Reflections on Praxis and Times is a project addressing an adversity of change towards the recent events happening in the Middle East region today. A new change arises, and with it comes a promise to a new history in contemporary art from the Arab region, designed by the 15 artists represented here. When you detail the visual narratives proposed by the collective of works presented, the events that unraveled in the past months were questioned, predestined, and contemplated to happen. The Middle East region just witnessed a revolution against autocracy and oppression, a revolution against social scrutiny and silence. The 18 days it took to unravel Egyptians in the reality of exhaustion and humiliation, triggered by what initially arose in Tunis, and then running through the veins of Algeria, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, to say the least, Egyptian Revolts became a global emblem of civil freedom sparked by a digital postmark, fostered out of public certitude, and obedient to
social conformity. Information is your power and Vigor is your tool. It is in The Changing Room project, is the artist proposed as protagonist, seeker, observer and storyteller. S/he continues their personal observations about their actual experiences from a selection of backgrounds either been displaced or in combat, under occupation or corrupt federal lead for years subservient to the so-called United Arab Republic. The United Arab Republic, which initiated between Egypt and Syria from 1958 - 1961, came the making of the Arab Liberation Flag, which consisted of three horizontal bands of color: red, white and black with two green stars in the white center. During the same year of its foundation, came the Arab Federation consisting of Iraq and Jordan to which leaders were Hashemite cousins, and sought to oppose what the UAR was achieving. What stood between them was an AllPalestine government lead by Hajj Amin Al Husseini (Mufti of Jerusalem), who
coincidentally is also the grandfather of one of the artists we present here. Karim Al Husseini marks his ancestral heritage with an eight-pointed star, acknowledging the seal of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and his journey to pilgrimage, by installing one bearing out of eight locations, in search of his paradise: Nirvanty. Larissa Sansour’s A Space Exodus, shows her longing as well as reality of displacement, by becoming the first Palestinian to walk on the moon vis-à-vis a remake to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 Space Odyssey in a very satirical format. A third Palestinian of mixed heritage, Steve Sabella motions us through his Euphoria. A transitory euphoria seeking the subsequence after being displaced, motioned and rebelled from where you once were to where you are now. He left Jerusalem in 2003, and returns every now and then, as an observer of change that keeps occurring to his city, but also watches the break out through news networks, of an attempted United Arab Republic fuse into complete national turmoils.
Khaled Hafez adopts the format of a Video Diary, and creates a narrative by sequencing personal footage and those of friends taken by amateur cyber shot cameras from different parts of the city during the 18 days of the Egyptian Revolution; this narrative is enhanced by déjà vu media propagated imagery extracted from Youtube and other Internet portals. Hafez constructed his story line through cumulative testimonials over the phone, through friends who were either on the grounds silently protesting, or reporting via online methods. His TV Diaries photo-project and depict the frozen imagery of what the live revolution offered and document in the moment by moment live reporting of the effervescent event. Khaled Ramadan, hosts a Skype conversation from Copenhagen with co-curator and friend Alfredo Cramerotti in Nottingham, questioning the ownership of history: the notion of being Lebanese in comparison to the ownership of being Italian, Belgian, or Flemish who carry
several cultural nations as opposed to being one national state, and vice versa. Their thoughts linger towards nation as a state of mind, as opposed to national as a state of being. Nermine Hammam proposes the age of the soldier as the protector, the fighter, the warrior, however since the unroll onto the streets of Cairo on February 4th, 2011, she has recreated a visual occupation of what defined the land they engaged with. With a backdrop of the Alps, and beautiful pink flower fields, Hammam reconsiders the definition of a harness, when repression is overthrown, and an illusion of solace replaces the harshness of power. Sama Alshaibi discovers Thowra; her own take of the revolution seen through the turmoil brought about the natural existence of being, with the unexplained beginning of thousands of black birds dropping dead from the sky, to an eclipse and regional rebel fire caught across the rest of the Arab region. Alshaibi occupies her journey by visiting the rivers of Tunis, snowfields of Arizona and sands of
Egypt to cross and unite the boundaries of creation. These are but a few suggestions to the works presented here. Marking an amalgam of installations, prints and videographies, characterizing the MENA region with a frame of socio-political reference: To know oneâ€™s history might also suggest the knowledge of what will happen next. But no matter how many times history repeats itself, we canâ€™t seem to stop ourselves from motioning through the process of verite. Artists are the documenters, they mark the time and place of the event, regardless of how abstract or literal their verses are voiced: Loud and clear, proud and magnificent, unsightly or progressive, beautiful and regressive. They move forward to keep returning to that starting point, and ironically it is also the finishing line. Motioning through contemporary history, a proactive group of artists who occupy a fragment of societyâ€™s foreseers, protagonists and citizens of desired change:
The works in this exhibition show a great deal of prediction, anticipation, as well as criticism towards the turn of events, their past and their unforeseen future. Its in the detail of every artist, will you find the rebel deep inside, and it is in gratitude to Metroquadro Gallery in association with Spazio Qubiâ€™ and associate curator Sara Rossino, will these works be available on a high platform of dialogue and recognition in Turin this Fall. We also like to extend our gratitude to Martina Corgnati, who twenty years ago started exploring, studying and writing about the Middle East art scene, in belief that one day this region will have its contribution to contemporary art history. Aida Eltorie, Chief Curator Cairo, August 2011
By Martina Corgnati In an attempt to offer an overview and, therefore, also accepting to run some risk of superficiality, we can say that Arab art has emerged to the general interest after 11 September and after the blossoming of “exotic fashions” which covered, at first, Russian artists (after the end of the USSR) and later the Chinese and Africans, driven, in the first case, by an explosive development of the internal market and, in the second, especially by the research carried out by a group of French scholars and curators in search of contemporary expressions, yet steeped in tradition; culminated these latter, in the famous exhibition Les Magiciens de la Terre. After all this, it came the turn of the Arab world, about which most of the experts of the art system in Europe and the USA, for the most part, knew nothing: In Italy for example, only a decade ago, Arab art was sistematically confused with “Islamic” Art; many thought that Iran was an Arab country and it was largely ignored that contemporary artistic research on the
southern shore of the Mediterranean and the Gulf even existed. The only exception to this rule was probably represented by Mona Hatoum, from a long time wellknown and respected presence on the British and international art scene, from which she drew much of her “style” and, consequently, much of its appeal and its relevance. In the Arab world in fact, before 2000, artistic formation and training was still largely a monopoly of public institutions and followed criteria and “protocols” generally quite conservative; it is not surprising, therefore, that painting, sculpture and so-called “fine arts” were still in an outstanding position, sometimes expressing points of real excellence (Adam Henein or Adel Siwi) which, though, could barely be recognized internationally as truly contemporary artistic expressions. But the need to update a discussion was latent, powerfully aided by widespread communication systems on a global scale, starting from the web. International attention, which came almost sud-
denly with powerful spotlights turned not only on Arab artists living in Europe and the USA but on the same production centers in the Middle East, has catalyzed this need quickly and amplified it enormously: in a amazingly short period of time, exhibitions, cultural associations, private studies, and open-festivals have multiplied, and an extraordinary number of young artists and young people have been able to upgrade their means of expressions powerfully, producing videos, performances, multimedia, electronic, interactive installations - without forgetting painting - unlike much of the Western world. They, however, have produced art-works strongly communicative and able to reveal, one may say, a â€œwhole worldâ€?, in private and social, to show a cultural landscape, to convey a powerful narrative to express, and almost suddenly, came another point of view. The artists who were are able to seize the moment and emerge are many, among them a number of remarkable women: some of whom have always lived abroad
(such as Mounir Fatmi, Ghada Amer and Emily Jacir) but others (Khaled Hafez, Amal Kenawy, Nermine Hammam, Huda Lutfi, Akram Zaatari, Lamia Joreige and many others), have remained in the Arab world, which they have fueled not only by their talent but also with their knowledge, their demand for discussion and change and, last but not least, remarkable organizational skills. Many artists, in fact, make up for local deficiencies, if not direct boycott of the public institutions, opening their studies, founding associations and promoting first-hand forms of renovation and cultural promotion. An exciting situation in which soared two strong poles of production, discussion and cultural development centers are; Cairo, from which they take off a lot of great artists and even, few years later, the first curators internationally well-known, including the curator of this exhibition, and Beirut, where the war officially ended in 1991 and at that moment, until 2005, dominated by the shining star of Rafiq Hariri. Exhibitions and
In Italy, one of the first event dedicated exclusively to contemporary Arab art was - South East Mediterranean Encounters, curated by the author of this article, at the HorcynusOrca Foundation, Messina in 2005.
then books and essays multiplied all over the world: among international curators, such as Catherine David who opens the dance and dedicates to the Arab world a very rich and complex project at the Venice Biennale and then in Barcelona. DisOrientation followed suit, Africa Remix, Egyptian Art in Holland, Word into Art, and countless other exhibitions,1 set up in major museums and exhibition spaces in the world. Many artists, properly promoted and made visible on the market and on the international stage, reach important positions, but often, even for the most part, thanks to art-works by an explicit political, “denunciation-like” content, certainly more appreciated and more understandable by international audience, that in the Arab artists have always rewarded, first and most willingly, more explicit and “easier” sociological or political art-works: Emily Jacir, for example, won the Golden Lion at Venice in 2007. In the meantime, it has developed a lot in the internal situation: to those first
Egyptian and Lebanese emergencies, followed other countries, other cities and cultural centers. Jordan enjoys relative political stability and the catalytic action exerted by the Foundation at Darat al-Funun, active since the early nineties; Syria, where, until recently, despite the inaction of the censorious and repressive apparatuses of power, a lot of talented artists work; Jerusalem and Ramallah, in the Palestinian Territories; Tunisia and Morocco in recent years, where spaces multiply, institutional and private, and remarkably interesting artists emerge, as the previously mentioned Mounir Fatmi, or more recently, Nadia Kaabi-Linke; and finally, after the “disappearance” of Iraq from the map of the centers of artistic production, the Emirates radically changed, before it served as a peripheral isolated oasis in the desert oil, and now, perhaps, central places not of artistic production (not yet) but certainly of cultural organization and market. And even in the Arab world were created, as everywhere, circuits of preferential promotion and exclusion of the artists; center of power
and control of fundings and resources; friends, and friends of friends. It is a fact that the world becomes everyday more and more similar everywhere; even the art world. And now? Arab art has been, and maybe still is, really “fashionable”. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of artists have been re-known, appreciated, bought and sold, although, in terms of commercial success, (especially in the rich markets of the UAE) are still above all painters, and in particular the pioneers of modernism, the ones who have received most significant bonuses. In the meantime, and particularly in recent years, many young artists started to organize themselves into collectives, open groups, actions and processes, exchanges and “residencies” that may help to minimize the meaning of the work as an object than as the experience as a process. And this just at the time when, in the whole world, comes a deep crisis: economic, political and of values, which inevitably affects also the global art world, severely compromising
the possibility of absorption of new artists, of cultural production and of enterprise capacity. History has started running again: After a long period of acquiescence, the Arab world became the scene of significant and violent changes that attack harassments, abuses and the established order. In fact, a few months later the early upheavals that led to the overthrow of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, caused a terrible civil war in Libya and an almost unprecedented massacre in Syria, as well as strong protests elsewhere, it seems quite clear that the so-called “Arab Spring” is actually a highly diversified mosaic of situations and that it may still be a Winter, and one of the coolest. Among the confused and deeply questionable actions of Western countries, that interfered in Libya but not in Syria; among the hesitation of other states, especially Turkey, which seems to aspire to regain its leading position in the Arab-Mediterranean region; among the complicated internal issues of the countries that have man-
2 Guy E. Debord, La società dello spettacolo, 1967, First Italian Edition, Stampa Alternativa, 1974.
aged to lead the revolutionary action to the end, in which the main political and religious forces are preparing to condition as much as possible the new regional structures and balances; and it is among all these factors, perhaps it makes sense to wonder what spaces, experiences, hopes might compete to contemporary Arab art in the near future. The artists, it must be said, have played this game long and hard with awareness, pride, enthusiasm and great generosity; they have believed and invested their resources, energy and even life in the attempt to put an end to corruption, immobility, oppression; they believed in the democratic action. In Cairo, always worth remembering, Ahmed Basiony, to whom the Egyptian Hall in the 54° Venice Biennale was dedicated, died in Tahrir Square; in Tunisia, the mobilization and commitment have been high and led to the construction of social spaces and of public action for the arts, as well as to an almost immediate “re-start” of dynamics and open situations as the
“symbolic” Festival de la citoyenneté: citoyennement votre! organized just for the month of September 2011 in Tunis. Even in Syria, where people risk their life every day, among the artists there are included some of the most courageous and indefatigable actors of denunciation and dissent. But, of course, that’s not all. If the issue of civil liability is important for the artist as a person, as a citizen, and, in special circumstances such as the ones of the recent months, it is also likely to assume for many a robust all-encompassing; there still remains the problem of art, of its spaces and its specificity. In my opinion it is not longer acceptable, as it seemed possible to Guy Debord almost half a century ago,2 that artistic action is resolved in the revolutionary action. As a tool for politics, art is and always has been singularly weak, and also as a media it does not goes further that to a disgraceful state of pseudo-journalism, working instead, if anything, as propaganda, when properly directed by a serious totalitarian power.
I am referring to a book I appreciated a lot in addressing this matter; S.Kassir, L’infelicità araba, 2004, trad.it. Einaudi, Torino, 2006.
Its proper field of action, in my opinion, is unique; maybe it is reductive to call it aesthetics, in order to sound understandable. Art, visual arts, eventually produce things and visible forms, forms related to sensitivity. It sunk a knife in the living body of reality. It’s a chance to make sense out of the world, with special means that create always awareness (and, from this point of view, are always political) but that, at another level, simply exist and are unique. Plots/weaves which touch, inspire, illuminate, roots deep in the particularity of a world and branches reaching for potentially universal sense. Precise gestures, in their own way perfect, which do not look like anything else, which reverse the order of priority of meanings, values and looks. I think it’s time to wonder whether contemporary Arab art has reached this level of synthesis, beyond any possible “fashion” which helps one day and reset all the next day. The condition of “being Arab”, which deals with the artists but, in the end, also affects their work and that the
Lebanese critic Georges Rabbath3 has recently defined a “state of mind” in the absence of any structure that can give consistency and solidity to this notion, this condition, inevitable, unavoidable, may be a limit to the art. Applauded and loved until it has responded to some form of “aesthetic of war” (boring) or of abuse; pursued perhaps sometimes more as “Arab” than as “art”, now, in this state of crisis that promises not to leave quiet and undisturbed almost nobody, anywhere, it is time, perhaps, to raise the problem, not only being artists (many already have been doing it with intelligence and great talent, for years) but from our side, being curators, theoreticians who will have to make their voice heard in the near future in an Arab world that I hope with all my heart can be “happier” than in the past4. This, in my opinion, is a central issue for an aesthetic and a culture of the near future, which, born Arab, inhabits the world, which founded in a specific time, continues to exist beyond it. Martina Corgnati, Turin, August 2011
PREFAZIONE da Martina Corgnati
Nel tentativo di proporre uno sguardo generale e di conseguenza accettando anche di correre qualche rischio di superficialità, si può dire che l’arte araba sia emersa all’interesse generale subito dopo l’11 settembre e dopo le “mode esotiche” che hanno riguardato prima gli artisti russi (dopo la fine dell’URSS) e successivamente cinesi e africani, sulla spinta, nel primo caso, di un dirompente sviluppo del mercato interno e, nel secondo, delle ricerche effettuate specialmente da un gruppo di ricercatori francesi a caccia di linguaggi contemporanei ma intrisi di tradizione; culminate, queste ultime, nella celebre mostra Les Magiciens de la Terre. Dopo tutto questo, è stata la volta del mondo arabo, di cui gran parte degli addetti ai lavori del sistema dell’arte in Europa e negli USA, per lo più, non sapevano nulla: in Italia per esempio, soltanto una decina di anni fa, l’arte araba veniva confusa con quella “islamica”, molti pensavano che l’Iran fosse un paese arabo e delle ricerche artistiche contemporanee
sulla riva meridionale del Mediterraneo e nel Golfo si ignorava finanche l’esistenza. L’unica eccezione a questa regola era rappresentata probabilmente da Mona Hatoum, da tempo presenza rispettata e nota sulla scena artistica inglese e internazionale, da cui aveva tratto buona parte dei propri linguaggi e, di conseguenza, del proprio appeal e della propria attualità. Nello stesso mondo arabo infatti, prima del 2000, la formazione artistica era ancora largamente monopolio di istituzioni pubbliche e seguiva per lo più “protocolli” generalmente piuttosto conservatori; non sorprende pertanto che pittura, scultura e cosiddette “arti belle” si trovavano ancora in una posizione di assoluto rilievo, a volte esprimendo punte di vera eccellenza (Adam Henain o Adel Siwi), che però stentavano a farsi riconoscere sul piano internazionale come espressioni artistiche davvero contemporanee. Però la domanda di aggiornamento e di confronto era latente, potentemente favorita da sistemi di comunicazione diffusi su scala globale, a cominciare dal web. L’attenzione internazionale, sopraggi-
unta quasi improvvisamente con potenti riflettori puntati non solo sugli artisti arabi residenti in Europa e negli USA ma sugli stessi centri di produzione in Medio Oriente, ha catalizzato questa domanda e l’ha amplificata velocemente e a dismisura: in un arco di tempo sorprendentemente breve si sono moltiplicati gli spazi espositivi, le associazioni culturali private, gli studi, i festival aperti; e un numero straordinario di artisti giovanissimi o giovani hanno saputo aggiornare potentemente i loro linguaggi, producendo video, performance, installazioni multimediali, elettroniche, interattive, ma senza dimenticare la pittura – a differenza di gran parte del mondo occidentale – Costoro, in ogni caso, hanno prodotto un’arte fortemente comunicativa capace di rivelare, si può dire, un mondo intero, nel privato e nel sociale, di mostrare un paesaggio culturale, di convogliare una narrativa potente e di esprimere, quasi di colpo, un altro punto di vista. Gli artisti capaci di cogliere l’attimo ed emergere sono moltissimi, e fra essi
un numero notevolissimo di donne: alcuni vivono da sempre all’estero (come Mounir Fatmi, Ghada Amer o Emily Jacir) altri però (Khaled Hafez, Amal Kenawy, Nermine Hammam, Huda Lufti, Akram Zaatari, Lamia Joreige e molti altri), sono rimasti nel mondo arabo, che hanno alimentato non solo col loro talento ma anche con la loro consapevolezza, la loro domanda di confronto e di cambiamento e, last but not least, una notevole capacità organizzativa. Molti artisti, infatti, suppliscono alle carenze locali, se non al diretto boicottaggio delle istituzioni pubbliche, aprendo i loro studi, fondando associazioni e promuovendo in prima persona forme di aggiornamento e di promozione culturale. Una situazione entusiasmante su cui svettano due poli forti, centri di produzione, di discussione e di elaborazione culturale: Cairo, da cui prendono il volo moltissimi artisti di grande interesse e anche, qualche anno dopo, i primi curatori che si affermano a livello internazionale, compresa la curatrice di questa rassegna, e
In Italia, fra le prime manifestazioni dedicate esclusivamente all’arte contemporanea araba c’è stata South-East.
Beirut, dove la guerra era ufficialmente finita nel 1991 e in quel momento, fino al 2005, splendeva l’astro di Rafiq Hariri. Le mostre, e poi libri e saggi, si moltiplicano in tutto il mondo: apre le danze, fra i curatori internazionali, Catherine David, che dedica al mondo arabo un progetto assai ricco e articolato, alla Biennale di Venezia e poi a Barcellona. Seguono a ruota Dis-Orientation, Africa Remix, Egyptian Art in Holland, Word into Art e innumerevoli altre1, allestite nei più importanti musei e spazi espositivi del mondo. Molti artisti, adeguatamente promossi e resi visibili sul mercato e sulla scena internazionale, raggiungono posizioni importanti, spesso però, anzi per lo più, grazie a opere dall’esplicito carattere politico o di denuncia, senz’altro più “gradite” e più comprensibili dall’auditorio internazionale, che da parte degli artisti arabi ha premiato sempre, prima e più volentieri, lavori dal carattere sociologico o politico più esplicito e più “facile”: Emily Jacir, per esempio, vince il Leone d’Oro a Venezia nel 2007.
Nel frattempo, si è trasformata anche moltissimo anche la situazione interna: a quelle prime emergenze egiziane e libanesi fanno seguito altri paesi, altre città e centri culturali: la Giordania gode di una relativa stabilità politica e dell’azione catalizzatrice esercitata dalla Fondazione Darat al Funun, attiva già dai primi anni Novanta; la Siria dove, fino a tempi recentissimi, nonostante l’immobilismo censorio e repressivo degli apparati di potere, lavorano moltissimi artisti di talento; Gerusalemme e Ramallah, nei territori palestinesi; negli ultimi anni Tunisia e Marocco, dove si moltiplicano gli spazi, istituzionali e privati, e da cui emergono artisti di interesse notevolissimo come il già citato Mounir Fatmi o, più recentemente, Nadia Kaabi Linke; infine, dopo la “scomparsa” dell’Iraq dalla mappa dei centri di produzione artistica, cambiano radicalmente gli Emirati, prima oasi periferiche isolate nel deserto petrolifero e oggi località centrali forse non della produzione (non ancora) ma certo dell’organizzazione culturale e del mercato. E anche nel mondo arabo si sono creati, come dappertutto, circuiti
preferenziali di promozione e di esclusione degli artisti; centro di potere e di controllo di finanziamenti; amici e amici degli amici. È un fatto che il mondo si assomigli dappertutto sempre di più; anche il mondo dell’arte. E adesso ? l’arte araba è stata, forse in parte è ancora, oggetto di un a vera e propria “moda”. Decine, forse centinaia di artisti sono stati ri-conosciuti, apprezzati, comprati e venduti, anche se sul piano del successo commerciale (specie nel ricco mercato degli Emirati) sono ancora soprattutto i pittori, e in particolare i pionieri del modernismo, ad aver ricevuto i bonus più significativi. Intanto, e in particolare negli ultimi anni, molti artisti giovani si sono organizzati in collettivi, gruppi aperti, azioni e processi, scambi e “residencies” che forse concorrono a minimizzare la portata dell’opera come oggetto rispetto a quella dell’esperienza come processo. E questo proprio mentre sopraggiunge, nel mondo intero, una profonda crisi: economica, politica e di valori, che inevitabilmente
interessa su scala globale anche il mondo dell’arte, compromettendo pesantemente le possibilità di assorbimento di nuovi artisti, di produzione culturale e di capacità imprenditoriale. E la storia ha ricominciato a correre: dopo una lunga fase di acquiescenza, il mondo arabo è teatro di trasformazioni significative e violente, che attaccano i soprusi, gli abusi e l’ordine costituito. In realtà, a qualche mese di distanza dai primi rivolgimenti che hanno portato al rovesciamento dei regimi in Tunisia e Egitto, scatenato una tremenda guerra civile in Libia e un massacro quasi senza precedenti in Siria, oltre che forti proteste altrove, non può non apparire chiaro come la cosiddetta “primavera araba” sia in realtà un mosaico di situazioni fortemente diversificate fra loro e potrebbe ancora rivelarsi un inverno, e dei più freddi. E, fra le azioni confuse e profondamente discutibili dei paesi occidentali, che intervengono in Libia ma non in Siria, fra i tentennamenti di altri stati, in particolare la Turchia che sembra aspirare a recuperare la posizione leader nell’area arabo-mediterranea; fra le complicate questioni interne nei paesi
Guy E. Debord, La società dello spettacolo, 1967, prima edizione Stampa Alternativa 1974.
che sono riusciti a condurre fino in fondo l’azione rivoluzionaria, in cui le principali forze politiche e religiose si stanno preparando a condizionare il più possibile i nuovi assetti ed equilibri regionali; fra tutto questo, forse ha senso chiedersi oggi quali possano essere gli spazi, le esperienze, le speranze che saranno di competenza all’arte araba contemporanea e del prossimo futuro. Gli artisti, va detto, hanno giocato questa partita dura e difficile con consapevolezza, orgoglio, entusiasmo e grandissima generosità: hanno creduto e investito nella fine della corruzione, dell’immobilismo, dell’oppressione; hanno creduto nell’azione democratica. Al Cairo, come sappiamo ma giova ricordarlo, Ahmed Basiony, cui è stato dedicato il Padiglione Egiziano della 54° Biennale di Venezia, è morto a Tahrir Square; in Tunisia la mobilitazione e l’impegno sono stati massimi e hanno portato alla costruzione di spazi sociali e di azione pubblica per l’arte, oltre che alla “ri-partenza” quasi immediata di situazioni produttive dinamiche e aperte come l’emblematico
Festival de la citoyenneté: citoyennement votre! organizzato proprio per il mese di settembre 2011 a Tunisi. Persino in Siria, dove si rischia la vita tutti i giorni, fra gli artisti si annoverano alcune delle figure più coraggiose e infaticabili della denuncia e del dissenso. Ma naturalmente non è tutto. Se la questione della responsabilità civile è fondamentale per l’artista come persona, come cittadino, e, in circostanze speciali come quelle che si sono date negli ultimi mesi, è anche probabile che questa responsabilità assuma per molti una consistenza totalizzante, resta il problema dell’arte, dei suoi spazi e della sua specificità. Secondo me non è molto credibile infatti, come sembrava possibile fare a Guy Debord quasi mezzo secolo fa2, che l’azione artistica si risolva nell’azione rivoluzionaria. Come strumento per fare politica l’arte è ed è sempre stata singolarmente debole, e anche come mezzo d’informazione essa non accede che a un povero stadio di pseudo-giornalismo, funzionando invece, semmai, come propaganda, quando opportunamente diretta da un bel potere
Sto pensando a un libro che ho amato molto, S.Kassir, L’infelicità araba, 2004, trad.it. Einaudi, Torino, 2006.
totalitario. Il suo campo d’azione proprio, secondo me, è esclusivo; forse è riduttivo chiamarlo estetico ma proverò a fare così, per intenderci. L’arte, alla fine, produce cose e forme visibili, sensibili. È un coltello affondato nel corpo vivo della realtà. È una possibilità di dare senso al mondo, con mezzi speciali, che creano sempre coscienza (e da questo punto di vista sono politici) ma, a un altro livello, semplicemente esistono e sono unici. Trame commoventi, singolari, illuminanti, radici affondate nella particolarità di un mondo e rami protesi verso un senso potenzialmente universale. Gesti precisi, a loro modo perfetti, che non assomigliano a nient’altro, ribaltano l’ordine delle priorità dei significati e dei valori e degli sguardi. Credo che sia arrivato il momento di chiedersi se l’arte araba contemporanea abbia raggiunto questo livello di sintesi, al di là di ogni possibile “moda” che favorisce al momento e resetta tutto i giorno dopo. La condizione “dell’essere arabo”, che riguarda gli artisti ma alla fine coinvolge anche il loro lavoro e che il
critico libanese Georges Rabbath3 ha recentemente definito uno “stato d’animo” in mancanza di ogni possibile struttura che dia consistenza e solidità a questa nozione; questa condizione, inevitabile, imprescindibile, rischia di essere un limite per l’arte. Applaudita e amata finché ha risposto a una qualche forma di “estetica della guerra” (noiosissima) o del sopruso; ricercata forse a volte più come “araba” che come “arte”, adesso, in questo stato di crisi che promette di non lasciare tranquillo quasi nessuno, è tempo, forse, di porsi il problema, non solo da parte degli artisti (molti già lo fanno, con intelligenza e grande capacità; da anni) ma da parte nostra, degli operatori, degli addetti che avranno voce nel prossimo futuro, in un mondo arabo che ci si augura con tutto il cuore possa essere più “felice” che in passato4. Questa, a mio parere, è questione centrale per una cultura e un’estetica del futuro prossimo che, nata araba, abiti il mondo, che, nata in un tempo, possa esistere oltre quel tempo. Martina Corgnati, Turino, Agosto 2011
22 A Liminal Space for an Emergent Arab al-kimi
“I have to speak for a generation who can’t speak out or for those that are afraid or for those that give up hope. Life is never guaranteed to be safe; we better use it when we are still in good condition.” Ai Weiwei, Podcast, The Guardian, U.K., 18 March 2010.
“There’s something about watching everything from a distance that reminds me of being an artist.” “The Novel of Nonel and Vovel”, Oreet Ashery and Larissa Sansour, CHARTA, 2009.
Photograph of Mahfuza Banu (second from right) taken without her knowledge in Autumn 1971 at London’s Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner where she had gone prepared to speak about Bangladesh’s War of Independence at the height of the conflict. Six years later the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper used the image (anonymous, unattributed, uncredited, with no acknowledgements or permissions) to illustrate an article headlined:”Love is … a blind date and a colour TV: Asian girls in Britain are often caught between two cultures”. At the time the picture was taken Banu was state-less, 39 years old and had been a pioneering ‘Black/Asian/Female/Muslim’ broadcaster at the Voice of America in the USA in the 1950s. Published in The Guardian, October 13 1977.
The Novel of Nonel and Vovel Published by Charta 2009, 188 pages with colour illustrations throughout Nonel and Vovel is a multidisciplinary project run by the artists Oreet Ashery and Larissa Sansour. Israeli born Ashery, and Palestinian born Sansour, have started their collaboration in 2007, culminated in the publication of their highly experimental political graphic novel, The Novel of Nonel and Vovel, published by Charta in June 2009. This special graphic novel raises questions on the nature of artistic practice, agency, authority and authorship, and offers an eye-opening take on Palestine. Nonel and Vovel are the artists’ alter egos, compromised superheroes who contract a virus during an art opening, resulting in a chain of encounters that leads them to save Palestine with extensive help from local ninja women. The Novel of Nonel and Vovel presents a bold mixture of art, politics, graphics, games, sci-fi, story telling and other experiments. Two essays by the curators Reem Fadda and Nat Muller have been specially commissioned for the book.
Never more so in times of flux and change, the socially liminal status of the artist is a potent agency (“Liminality and the Social Location of Musicians”, Katherine Butler Brown, twentieth-century music, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2007; “The liminal status and practice of ‘magician’ in the court of Emperor Akhbar”, aladin, lecture-demonstration, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 11 February 2009). Artists are exceptionally well placed to map, interrogate and speculate on the prevailing conditions of indeterminacy through which they and civil society have to negotiate. Practitioners such as Ai Weiwei, Ashery and Sansour go further still, being anything but passive chroniclers or witnesses to change – they are actively implicated as partisans, mixing brick bats (including conceptual ones) with production. Reading their words (ironic in the case of Ashery and Sansour) palpably invokes the risks and costs associated with giving expression to what needs to be seen, heard or stated. Today’s liminal Arab state (extending from the Middle East through to North Africa and mediated by 1001 other states) gives rise to the Changing Room Project, which presents work emerging from a region ‘in transit’, grappling with complexities and dualities. It is a challenge to find compass in such times, even at the semantic level; the conflation of ‘Arab’ with ‘Islamic’ or of ‘stability’ with ‘democracy’ being obvious examples: it all
25 depends on hue of cartographer or lexicon. Given the project is given harbour in a European city – Venice - historically associated with the gestation and dissemination of ideas, it is apposite to be reminded that “the Arabs have a history going back thousands of year before [the advent of] Islam. They also have a history of world penetration parallel to that of the Europeans. Islam’s first outward movement was towards the West as much as (or more than) the East… Islamic learning and ideas changed the course of European development, whilst Arab powers – and their ideas – continued to rival European overseas expansion until the modern era.” (“Out of Arabia: Phoenicians, Arabs and the Discovery of Europe”, Warwick Ball, East and West Publishing, 2009). Nor can one skirt around the corrosive impact of the persistence of the Occidental–Oriental conflict of Weltanschauungs where ‘Western’ intervention for the maintenance of its influence in the Arab world is depicted as ‘stabilising’ “whereas if a Middle Eastern country does so the U.S. calls it destabilising”. (“Power and Terror: Conflict, hegemony and the rule of force”, Noam Chomsky, Pluto Press, 2011). The Changing Room Project unites Arab cultural practitioners as catalysts and cartographers of profound transformations being wrought across the Arab World. The exposition takes place independent of but in parallel to Venice Biennale 2011, signalling both the displacement of artists formerly attached to national pavilions of the Biennale which were disrupted by the flux among Arab civic institutions and also reflecting the need for a relatively unrestricted site for creative production emerging in the Arab
cosmos in the spirit of self determination and representation. On a personal note, decades ago my own parents were ‘freedom fighters’ in a conflict of self determination pitting Muslim against Muslim; for a brief moment our family took safe haven in Europe. My mother was at liberty to draw attention to the bloody realities of ‘the struggle’; my father undertook diplomacy from closer to the battlefield. My identity is as variegated as those of several of The Changing Room Project’s artists – my mother Mahfuza Banu is of Indian origin while my late father Abul Fateh had Syrian and also what became known after 1971 as ‘Bangladeshi’ heritage. I have lived in cities ranging from Baghdad (from where we fled to London) and Algiers to Washington D.C. and Paris. Forty years on, I am joining with others of similarly atypically ‘diverse’ background to uncover stories which need to be heard. The unpredictable course of production inevitably entailed transcultural negotiations, multiple dialogues, disappointments, a few decisions and fewer finalities, as is the case with the intricately interdependent social ecosystem that is the (transnational) ‘Arab World’. The outcome is a Changing Room Project which places Arab indeterminacy, heterogeneity, heterodoxy and al-kimi of the moment at its core. aladin. London. May 2011
THE THE THE
ROOM FLAG INTERVIEW
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Larissa Sansour, Palestine Kader Attia, Algeria Adel Abidin, Iraq Khaled Hafez, Egypt Sama Alshaibi, Palestine/Iraq Steve Sabella, Palestine Nermine Hammam, Egypt Ibrahim Saad, Egypt Khaled Ramadan, Lebanon Ines Jerray, Tunis Anas El Shaikh, Bahrain Ahmed El Shaer, Egypt Marwan Sahmarani, Lebanon Karim Al Husseini, Palestine Bassem Yousri, Egypt
28 32 34 36 86 38 84 42 88 46 50 54 58 82 60 64 68 78 72 80 76
108 112 116 118 128 140 150 162 166 172 184 192 200 204 212
28 Larissa Sansour A Space Exodus
A Space Exodus quirkily sets up an adapted stretch of Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey in a Middle Eastern political context. The recognizable music scores of the 1968 science fiction film are changed to arabesque chords matching the surreal visuals of Sansour’s film. The film follows the director herself onto a phantasmagoric journey through the universe echoing Stanley Kubrick’s thematic concerns for human evolution, progress and technology. However, in her film, Sansour posits the idea of a first Palestinian into space, and, referencing Armstrong’s moon landing, she interprets this theoretical gesture as “a small step for a Palestinian, a giant leap for mankind”. The film offers a naively hopeful and optimistic vision for a Palestinian future contrasting sharply with all the elements that are currently eating away at the very idea of a viable Palestinian state. In A Space Exodus, Sansour does finally reach the
moon, although her contact with Palestine’s capital is cut off. This five-minute short is packed with highly produced visual imagery. The arabesque elements ranging from the space suit to the music are merged within a dreamy galactic setting and elaborate special effects. A great deal of attention is paid to every detail of the film to create a never before seen case of thrillingly magical Palestinian displacement.
A Space Exodus, 2009 Video, 5:24 mins
30 Larissa Sansour Cairo Taxilogue
This project consists of four frame grabs and one movie poster for the imaginary film Cairo Taxilogue. Based on actual conversations with Cairo taxi drivers, these staged photographs constitute quasi-glitzy re-enactments of taxi rides presented as colourful and kitschy images superimposed over street scenes from the megacity. The technicolour images and the overacting of the protagonists in the photographs augment the discrepancy between social and political insight and the state of affairs. Cairo Taxilogue is shot on location in Cairo with the help of local actors and taps into the currents leading up to recent events.
Cairo Taxilogue, 2008 Photos and movie poster
32 Kader Attia Couscous Aftermaths (3000 years old movements)
Human Beings produce an infinity of signs gathered in an “order of things” (to quote Michel Foucault‘s famous essay); a vocabulary to communicate with each other and be gathered around thoughts and beliefs. By thoughts, I mean philosophy – an endless improving project of a way of thinking life, and by beliefs, I mean an endless process of improving life as a path to eternal and infinite existence. From Tradition to Modernity, Islam is one of such paths. Since my first lessons at the Madrasah, when I was a teenage boy, I had always kept this in mind. In the video Couscous Aftermaths an Algerian Muslim woman, at the twilight of her life, is mixing both her memories with broken mirrors. For those that have seen its traditional preparation, her body movements evoke the preparation of couscous, a Maghreb dish that today
symbolizes the Arab Muslim world. The way she moves the mirrors, mixed with images of her life, provokes reflections of what one could call “the illusions of her life” that slowly goes by until it will end. Couscous Aftermaths is a re-appropriation of a very bad luck symbol in North Africa and in many other places: Broken mirrors. The more she’s mixing them, the more it seems that the contrary is happening. Although this movie ends by the disappearance of her husband, she gives life again to mirrors that have been broken. As if she’s starting to perceive a life of eternity.
Couscous Aftermaths (3000 years old movements), 2009 video stills, 12 mins, images courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Christian Nagel
34 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. 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. 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 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 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.
Bread of Life, 2008 Video still, 6:34 mins Image courtesy of the Artist
36 Khaled Hafez
11.02-2011: The Video Diaries
11.02-2011: The Video Diaries is threechannel video (3-screens) of an identical timeline duration of 5 minutes 30 seconds each and they play beside each other horizontally. The work documents my personal perceptions of moments i have lived during the Egyptian revolution in January and February of 2011. In this project, through video footage i took, and through stock footage from social media and old film as well as through music, the idea of “revolution” is romanticized, as the real footage of collective doing, and sometimes violence, is assembled to create several parallel narratives that intertwine on the three screens. Music adds a simulated fictitious atmosphere to the very real footage, to represent intimacy and personal nostalgia. The flux of information disseminated by the media footage, the lack of structured dialogue combined with real sounds from the Tahrir Square --where the 2011 revo-
lution takes place--, all are pasted with the sound of solo guitar music. Like previous video projects, I extraxt and reconstruct TV footage from the Egyptian Television as well as from cable satellite images --the process and practice that Alfredo Cramerotti and Khaled Ramadan coined as aesthetic journalism (1) and constructed media (2)—and build them alongside a panorama of real life professional and amateur video footage to formulate a personal perception of a particular moment. The single screen adaptation (of the three screens) in which all three screens are displayed alongside each other on one screen) is 6 minutes in total duration with credits.
11.02 - 2011: The Video Diaries, 2011 Video Stills, 5:30 mins Three channel video, condensed to a single channel for exhibition purposes Image copyrighted to the Artist
38 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 loca-
tions 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, his-
tory, 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.”
Thowra, 2011 Video in a white-framed box, with a white matt and glass covering the matt/screen, with a circle cut showing the video; Size: 16x20â€? large
42 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
46 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
50 Ibrahim Saad Without Cover: 5 Squares
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 (From the novel “The unfortunate lovers,” Ibrahim al-Koni)
I’m trying to search home, maybe near me, away from me, beside me but could not feel myself. Probably I could discover the real beauty of it or something less than what it was. Let us search for our home, maybe we’ve enough honor that 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 him 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.
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.
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 up my horizon 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.
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.
In this experiment, I would like to focus on the discarded, forgotten and neglected, to show my work in very small areas
Without Cover: 5 Squares, 2011 Digital Print (no. of pieces vary) size of each work: c. 70 x 90 cm Including one video screening of “Without Cover” video, 14:10 mins
54 Khaled Ramadan The Skype Project
Is Lebanon a cultural nation without a national culture?
The ownership of history
In 1920, the Lebanese countercultural poet and philosopher, Khalil Gibran, declared an unachievable dream about Lebanon with his famous phrase “You have your Lebanon and I have mine”, which he addressed to the Lebanese public through poetry. Gibran at least managed to verbalize, and therefore archive, his position in history, but his Lebanon to this day remains a state of mind. He continues, “You have your Lebanon with its problems, and I have my Lebanon with its beauty”. His metaphor for freedom remains a dream, supposedly unachievable. However, from a contemporary perspective, perhaps it is not unrealistic to think of his statement as a possibility. Do people have the liberty of collectively having ‘their own Lebanon’ if it is indeed a state of mind? Now, in which context can we today ex-
amine Khalil Gibran’s statement? In Lebanon, Gibran’s values are being seized and copyrighted by different groups mostly for political propagation and not for cultural or intellectual consumption. Jacques Ranciere speaks of this phenomenon in his book, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, “how are we to make sense of the fact that poetic or fictional phrase that ‘take shape’, have real effects, rather than being reflections of the real?” (35) One of the questions relating to Gibran’s moral principles is how can his values transcend the restrictions set by the various groups that claim its loyalty, to triumph as the essence of a potentially collective state of mind? The Lebanese maintain that their strength lies in the country’s weakness and their unity is in their diversity, “we are united because we are divided”.
While this allegorical nostalgia remain a blank nationalistic lyrical, almost every group in Lebanon claims loyalty and care to the motherland and the ownership of the Lebanese dream, the Lebanese values and the State. But most groups seam to focus their contest over political and nationalistic values, ignoring or forgetting that values are not only about politics but very much about culture and art, but the question remain whoâ€™s culture and art when yet again the question of consensus on these substance is still absent? Perhaps that what makes of contemporary Lebanon a cultural nation without national culture? Perhaps that gives the country another strength, which lies in its weakness? AC: so you are telling me that: Apparently the concept of cultural nation / national culture, poses one of the major problems in Lebanon since there is no consensus on how to define it among the countryâ€™s inhabitance. But what is this notion all about? Who
owns what and who run where? KR: ok let me explain a point in this relation: In brief, a base line would be to say that the members of a cultural nation are aware of constituting an ethical-political body together, which is differentiated from others by the members sharing a number of defining cultural features. Those features can include language, religion, tradition, or shared history. All this can be taken as a sign of a historically evolved distinct culture. The question whether a nation needs to have an associated territory is subject of debate. In the case of Lebanon I will say we do have a distinct geography / territories, but when it comes to the notion of a united ethical-political body this particular cultural features are absente, so you see something is missing to complete the maze. AC: Ok, this inception is start to look like a maze, but let me tell you that:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_group http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Flag http://www.arab2.com/gibran/f/your-lebanon-mine.htm http://www.larp.com/jahavra/gypsylaw.html http://www.cedarseed.com/water/lebproverbs.html Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,903893-1,00. html#ixzz1B0Y870n6 http://www.nysun.com/new-york/met-chief-to-discuss-hot-pot-in-rome/22903/
The concept of cultural nation is normally coupled with a historical doctrine taking as a principle that all humans can be divided into groups called nations. In this sense, we are dealing with an ethical and philosophical doctrine, which is at the basis of the ideology of nationalism. So, the members of a nation are distinguished by a common identity and generally by a shared origin and the sense of common ancestry. You know like almost what we have and are as Italians. But I case that is not the case with the Lebanese? Or is it, you tell me. KR: not exactly, you Italians have something more to grasp to, from the Roman time till your modern history, the notion of specific features has cemented nationalism and patriotism, in acceptation to the northern part of Italy maybe, but in any case I know that: National identity specially refers to the distinction of specific features of a group. A vast array of different criteria are used, with a range of different applications. Like this, small differences in articulation or different dialects can be sufficient to categorize someone as a member of a different nation. On the other hand, some persons can have diverging personalities and beliefs, live in different places and speak different languages and still see each other as members of the same nation. I don’t know does this make any sense to you?
AC: well, ok somehow, but let me add one furthermore thing: There are cases in which a group of persons defines itself as a nation not based on the features they have, but for the features they lack or dislike. KR: Aha, ok now that is interesting. AC: Yes, well of course, you know: The feeling of belonging to a nation is then used as a defense against other groups, even if these other groups would appear to be closer in matters of ideological cultural practices. Members of a nation can emphasize their common history despite ethnic and linguistic differences, as is the case of Switzerland, which sees itself as a “Willensnation” (nation by will). The United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia all display national pride based on their common history rather than on a common geographical origin. Ok, what do you think, are we getting into the cultural nation and the state of a State argumentation now right? So as a Lebanese I mean, what do you think? KR: ok, I like point you mentioned about some groups defines themselves as a nation base not on features they have, but for the features they lack or dislike. Well now in Beirut I would like to hear from the audience if this can apply on Lebanon?
http://tajerna.com/index.php?option=com_wyn&wynview=profile&entryid=119308&w yn_lang=en&Itemid=107 http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:epciixx77w4J:www.lebanonwire.com/0401/04012607DS.asp+Dikran+Sarrafian&cd=20&hl=en&ct=clnk Ranciere, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics: the Distribution of the Sensible. Trans. Gabriel Rockhill. http://www.lgic.org/en/history_4000.php http://www.barborana.com/newsdetails8c00.html?id=343
But Ok, a state, which identifies itself explicitly as the home of a cultural nation is a national state I will say. Many of the modern states are in this category or try to legitimize their existence in this way, although there might be disputes and contradictions as to the appropriateness of this. Because so many of the states are nation states, the words “nation”, “country”, and or “state” are often used synonymously, as you know. If the cultural nation is conceptualized as exclusively ethnic, and not as requiring a territory, a number of nations without land can also be found, I have to say. An outstanding example would be the so called “gypsy nation” the Roma people right? You have them right? In some countries they are like ghost nation, involuntarily appear and disappear according to political needs, right? We have seen that in the Scheck republic. So you see a cultural nation can exist without having an independent state, and not all independent states are cultural nations. Many independent states are simply administrative unions of different cultural nations or peoples. AC: OK now you brought the issue of Roma people or the gypsy nation, let me directly ask you this from an Italian to a Lebanese, do you feel the same with oth-
er examples of cultural nations without states like the Jews before they have the state of Israel? KR: well, we are in Beirut now, so let me give an accurate answer precise and concise, I don’t know about the manufacturing of the state of Israel, this is a unique nation state project which is sill in the making, period. AC: Ok, ok, got the point. But you know on the other hand, we have states like Belgium which consist of several cultural nations, most prominently Flemish and Walloons. The question of whether the state of Canada harbors one cultural nation or two (I mean the British Canadian and Québécois) has been object of political debate as well. I can also say that the nations of the English, Scottish and Welsh are also nations without states as you know they exists as a larger sovereign state known as the United Kingdom. KR: I can see we are not the only unsettled geography and history in this world but we still react on the issue in different manners. If a state is about a geopolitical and a nation is a cultural and / or ethnic entity then, we assume that Lebanon is a cultural nation with ambivalent history and geography but still in the making. Which makes Lebanon the cultural nation without a national culture, a much stronger State or does it.
58 Ines Jerray Etiquettes
The project Etiquettes takes place in my research on the moving image and on how things get animated. The price stickers were initially chosen because of their disposal on a roll. Indeed, quite often I use soft surfaces that wrap around an axis to match drawn and painted graphic elements. The rolls remind me somehow the organic body and its process of memory and perception. I use rolls as a support and a reading device. This arrangement is reminiscent of the process at work in mechanical or analog systems such as film or magnetic tape for instance. But rolls also evoke the notion of loop that closes on itself, that sweeps away the starting and ending points of a cycle in the flow of its interpretation. My reflection on the concept of animation and the practice of stop-motion ani-
mation caught my eye on this little roll of price stickers found in a bookstore. On the surface of these empty labels, pre-cut and joined together like the frames of images, I imagined the composition of fictional and relational ensemble. What motivated my purchase is primarily the diversion of this purely utilitarian element, for using it as a material for manufacturing an imaginary and animated narrative. Of course these stickers virtually refer to the price, they are normally used to â€œsupportâ€? them. The reference to the economic factor in the consumer society, the market exchange market, but also the reference to digital media where each value is encrypted and becomes a standard tool; all of these factors necessarily seep into the content of this project. Yet,
I place the economical reference in this project as a background of my approach. The choice of placing the animated drawing, which its content is trivial and mysterious, on the surface of the price tickets was affirmed by the need to fill that roll with figures and animate them in a sequence. The small size of the stickers allowed me to project my imagination into a miniature space, confined and secret. Thatâ€™s why the character, a little girl, seems locked in her flat boxes, playing in empty spaces and narrowly fluctuates in the void, a void that seems shared by others that smother her. To the animation drawn on the stickers is added a stop-motion animation of a real landscape, the one of a beach in Tunisia. The two images are overlaid with a transparent surface. The camera captures
both of the stickers and the beach spaces. The beach is located in the background of the plastic surface where the stickers are glued. Changes in light, the crossing of pedestrians in the area of the camera shooting then, shows a fragmented sort of documentary moment. The film describes a kind of window in the window, or screen in the screen, showing the visual and filmic coexistence of formal and narrative dimensions which are radically different, but that are captured together in a same space and time. These two dimensions, two animations, are rudimentary staged so that on one hand the physical presence in the real place during the shooting is kept visible, and on the other hand the gesture of pasting and taking off each sticker for each new image is guessed.
60 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
62 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
64 Ahmed El Shaer 8-Bit Portrait
8-bit is part of the systems programming computers in its infancy, the late seventies and early eighties was used to programming games Atari and is the most famous video games in time and was the first Games Atari fad emerged in the United States in the early seventies and the turns eight-bit is the extreme version Computer scientists in the design of games in terms of form was the characters and game play elements are designed as a Color Collection not more than 12 colors and is a collection of peixls (pixel is a unit of graphic in computers) monolith consisting of a game.
Portraits of the 8-bit this technique came and went and were not included elements or characters from our region and especially our Middle Eastern which was my experience on how to deal with portraits accepted and put forward the question is if the added portraits of the personalities of our history as the Games of how will and what will be the game of Atari Games and the famous try through my experience with Atari Games that analyze it and try it through a set of portraits of 8-bit technology, which became part of the digital arts in the world.
66 Ahmed El Shaer Nekh
[Latin type fused with Arabic script] Use of this word is mainly by the owners of Camels when they give the order to “sit down”. Without this order, the camel will not freely decide to sit – hence he is a monument of control. In the Egyptian culture, we use the word “Nekh,” in mockery when we want to tell someone to surrender or that they gave up on what it was they were trying to control in the first place. Phrases used in the day of the Camel Battle enforced by a previous government who were trying to terrorize the youth (an IT-active society) for “change” so we said to the government “Nekh!” in order to surrender to our resistances. The Artwork will be kind of digital nostalgia reflected by the situation between the protesters & exit of the Egyptian Government during the day of Camel Battle when the government tried to make peo-
ple run from Tahrir Square by attacking them by camels & horses during the time protesters were also using internet & alternative technology in hopes of destroying the then regime. The final works will be digital prints using 8bit techniques. Inspired from what I saw in Tahrir Square with the details offered from my own vision of what I had to experience during the Egyptian revolts.
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 Karim Al Husseini
In Husseini’s work “North West Nirvanty,” from the In Search of Eden series, he addresses what defines his understanding of paradise: Nirvanty – or My Nirvana, by creating a patch of flowers occupying a section of the space in glass soda bottles. Husseini’s North West, is the direction that occupied his military training when in the American army, based in the North West region of the United States. Arranged in the shape of an eightpointed 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 haphazard harmony of color. The north western bearing given to the 8-pointed star, uses a palette of army dress codes and pointing towards one of eight directions, bringing the artist closer to finding that path of what he hopes ‘nirvana’ would be.
When I was in the military, we were trained to find our bearings. That was the time where I felt secure, more so than when being in-between civilians, where situations are less controllable. I am under control, and I could help control what was happening around me. To find my Northwest means to find my guided horizon. Without crowding and redefining the space it lays below, the patch of paper flowers sit innocuously on the ground rising in glass soda bottles, revealing his perception of solitude. Husseini’s 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 when he was 26. With such a composite identity, Husseini has a drive to show the world where he comes from.
Illustrations of soda bottle installation. Left: North West Nirvanty, Right: South Nirvanty
Size of installation: 1.5 m diameter 8-pointed Islamic star Number of bottles/paper flora variable. Each work will be showing in a different part of the world, assigning a bearing with its location.
North West Nirvanty, Turino (Italy)
South Nirvanty, Cairo (Egypt)
76 Bassem Yousri Homage
Egyptian identity, shaped almost 5000 years ago, has evolved to become, for me, a hazy face with a confused mind. Cairo, as I know it, is a city full of opposites and contradictions; 2000 year old neighborhoods are adjacent to high rises, poor ones are adjacent to the fanciest hotels, and decadent cars from the 50s run side by side with the most recent Mercedes. Amidst it all, the youthâ€™s quest for identity is straddled between two extreme opposites: religious fundamentalism and cultural westernization. I reflect on the complexity of this situation by creating spaces where different disciplines, dimensions, and surfaces intersect. Videos, in experimental forms as well as in the documentary form, reveal commentaries on the social and political situation, and contribute to questioning my personal role within that context. Additionally, after living in the United States for 5 years, the issue of the audi-
ence has become more relevant to my practice. I began investigating the possibility of addressing a situation specific to my home country and at the same time engaging a viewer with a completely different history, situation, and different problems. Therefore, I became more aware of the space and the relationship that exists between my work and the spectator. In my different practices, I draw influences ranging from ancient Egyptian murals and pre-dynastic Egyptian figurines to influences from contemporary mass culture like TV shows, Internet, and comic books. I try to criticize how the culture industry manipulates the viewer emotionally and, consequently, intellectually by means of visual seduction reinforcing stereotypes. Thus, I try to achieve what Susan Sontag calls â€œthe consciousness of formâ€? 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”. 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.
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.
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG Marwan Sahmarani, July 2011
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.
The President and His Flag, 2004 Oil stick on paper, 75 x 50 cm
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG Karim Al Husseini, September 2011
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€™ So I considered the Unification of all Arab countries, under one flag. Breaking the borders, between Arabs and brothers, to resolve my case: Palestine. 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.
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG Ines Jerray, August 2011
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.
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG Sama Alshaibi, August 2011
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG Khaled Hafez, August 2011
“I would change the structure of the flag categorically: I would have the red stripe on top but a thinner stripe, and an equally black thin stripe in the middle, and leave a remaining 80% of the flag to be white and then you would have only the Eye of Horus instead of the eagle in the middle. In my humble opinion, the eye is the only thing that unifies Egyptian-Christians, Muslims, Jews, Bahaa’i’s, and atheists. It’s the only icon that would be acceptable by everybody.” >> READ MORE ON PP. 127
DESIGN YOUR OWN FLAG Steve Sabella, July 2011
STUDIO Amira El Ahl in conversation with Khaled Hafez
AE: Tracey Emin recently exhibited thoughtcollages in the Hayward Gallery in London. Is the motto here: I think therefore I am an artist? KH: It is a “Me-too-phenomenon”. This discourse of putting your thoughts on paper and exhibiting it, even if it is not really what is traditionally known as a piece of art, is a discourse since the 1920s. It is a discourse since Marcel Duchamp started his urinal and exhibited it. It never stopped, this idea of an artist as just an idea. And it does not need to have a lot of technique or a lot of things. The peak was in the late 1960s with what is known as conceptual art. Conceptual Art is all about the thought provoking statement whether we have something or not, an artwork that is craftily made or perceived or created or not. AE: So how do you think the role of an artist has changed in the last decades? KH: In fact roles of artists have changed from the late 19th and early 20th century. Since the 1960s when artists were starting to have political positions and with the creation of the term contemporary art, meaning art that is documenting for our time, more and more artists are getting politically and socially involved. The artist today engages more with the public. If you look at art history --especially painting as practice-- it started in ancient Egypt as art to serve a function and then in the Renaissance it was art for aesthetics, even if it served a tiny function and then as of the late 1950s art became
more engaging. We have seen pop-artists who are contesting and actually revolting against the war in Vietnam. Artists today are much more engaged in their own societies, much more than their “White Cube” predecessors in the early-till-the second-part of the 20th century when being an artist was prestigious. AE: A society is affected by wars and revolutions - and even by the absence of social transformations, by stagnation. Is involvement beneficial for creativity or does an artist need to create a distance in order to reflect on it and start a creative process? KH: It is actually both ways. When we demonstrated early January, almost all of us fell into doing paintings and photographs and installations about what we physically saw in TahrirSquare. This is tricky because usually the result of such early commitment is lousy art. Lousy in terms of there is nothing more than what you would see on TV. One model that never fails is after having assimilated everything, that all those experiences be reflected somehow in an artwork without falling into the trap of the literal, and to actually work on the metaphorical level. This is much more interesting because these propositions in the artwork are witty, intelligent, more-than-aesthetic and at the same time the artwork works on different layers. AE: Nowadays artists use more and more media tools for expression. They use pho-
tography, video, Internet. So how do you distinguish an artist from a journalist? Where do you draw the lines, how do you define the roles? KH: Do we need to define? Blogging, the Internet, E-Mails, tweeting â€“ all those are tools and they exist because there is a need for them. We need them to express, we need them to document, we need them to better write history. And art is all that as well. Art has a slight element of documentation, even if it is an abstract painting. What we live is history, what we do is history and among the things we as artist do are artworks, but we also tweet and blog and demonstrate. All those are tools for expression. More and more artists are using digital media as a tool for expression. Indeed because it is a tool of this age. And in the end of the day an artwork is an expression of some sort. AE: How did artistic video and photography practice change? KH: I would say that the arsenal of tools increased, multiplied by ten. Its like creating weapons: we have more art-supplies and among them are cameras and the Internet and iPads and iPhones. AE: Do more people become artists because they can use these media tools for expression and it is closer to their reali-
ties then painting? KH: Indeed. They have better chances of discovering their own talents, this is one thing, but at the same time the drawback is that you have more and more de-skilled artists, they donâ€™t have the skill and the craft of creating an artwork that is skilful. But does that make a difference? At the end of the day we have an art production that manages to stir certain emotions in the viewer. AE: Lets get back to the idea of documenting. As a journalist I find this very interesting. I use photography for my journalistic work but I do not define myself as an artist. But what distinguishes me from an artist who uses photography and video as a tool of expression? KH: Only perception. Look at Henry Cartier-Bresson and Irving Penn. The perception of those photographers in the 1950s was not that of artists. Irving Penn was treated like an artist only in the 1980s. But he has always been a photographer. So I think the only problem is perception. AE: So Henri Cartier-Bresson in his time was a photojournalist. Nowadays we see him as a photojournalist/artist. We said it is only a matter of perception. So if I change the terminology and say I am an
artist, not a journalist, there would be no difference? KH: If you do a production of photographs that are equally aesthetic and informative, yes of course you are. As a journalist you write, you are a writer. I have a massive problem with boxing. Isnâ€™t a writer an artist as well? AE: This is a good question. I would argue that there is a difference between an artist and a writer. Is a writer an artist for you? KH: Yes, definitely, a creator is a creator. Look at artists, in the beginning they were painters and sculptors, but now with the installation artist who might play with nothing else but rubble, he is also an artist. So eventually a writer is. And a photographer is. The only problem here is with this democratisation with titles, labels or descriptions. Democracy comes with its drawbacks, its mistakes.
KH: No, it comes with openness. If you allow more and more practitioners it is exactly like football. The swimmer deals with the watch, this is the criteria you cannot cheat. But for football, you have two exceptional players and the rest are good players. But how good are they? You cannot measure it. In music, on a piano for example, a note is a note and the criteria are there. But then there is no criteria in visual art today. AE: So the borders get more fluid. Thinking it from the other side it means that an artist who uses media tools is also a journalist or a media propagator as much as I could be an artist using photography?
KH: That everybody is equal. So you have the good artist and the less good artist but he is still a practitioner, and still an artist.
KH: We started our dialogue with Tracey Emin. Eventually she is a social propagator, a media propagator and ever since her first work that she got recognised with, this was her intention. Her artwork is about intervention and about thought provocation more than visual aesthetics. We can allow that now. Artists like Tracey Emin would not have gotten into the club 100 years ago. Tools of expression then were either painting or sculpture or anything in between, drawing and printmaking.
AE: So you think that this democratisation comes with a de-valuation of art?
AE: What is the difference to today then, why do we need other tools for expres-
AE: Which are?
sion? KH: Need is defined by society. They need alternative tools of expression because the problems are different then 100 years ago. They are more complex. AE: So now we have a movement of visual artists who use video and photography. There is a need for it and it is being answered. KH: There is a need for it for one reason: Because it is the new language. The way I was educated at school is not the same you were educated or my son is educated. To me there was nothing called a ‘computer,’ but somebody who is 18 had a physical computer at his desk in school. AE: Would you say artists and art expression change when society changes or do artists change society? KH: No, I don’t believe that. This is the massive myth. Artists participate with their own roles by just expressing what they think or what they do. Me in my studio I have a certain circle of influence. Among my viewers, with my gallerists and with the students I teach, all this becomes my circle of influence. This is the extent of how I can change society full stop.
AE: How do you see the artistic movement in Egypt and the Arab World – considering the social and political upheavals of this year – changing? KH: I will speak about certain samples of artists I have known and people I belong to. Younger artists, I know a bunch of them who come to my studio, who actually spend two weeks out of the three sleeping in Tahrir Square, aka the field – or the Midan. I know of other older artists who were also there, or were not there but they were and are helping with the coalitions that were forming afterwards, or by being part of committees and writing projects for cultural policy reforms– like Adel Siwi, Mohammed Abla or myself. These artists are part of coalitions; I am part with Huda Lutfi and Adel Siwi and Basma el Husseini in a coalition to submit a model for cultural policies as part of the next constitution. This is a type of contribution as well. And there are people who decided to watch everything from outside before they contribute. And I am sure they are contributing with something or the other. And you have others who are against it totally. It works. The world is big enough to tolerate everybody. AE: So will this change artistic expression?
KH: There is a certain circle of influence that those people are exerting in their entourage that will help, among zillions of efforts of other groups in other fields to move society forwards. AE: So the artist plays a different role during such times? He is not anymore artist but he becomes a role model? KH: A role model as an artist, a citizen and a demonstrator or a public worker. A citizen who votes and reforms, because with all those committees the principal objective is to reform something. So this is not just sheer citizenship, but trying to reform by putting your expertise as an artist into public use. AE: Do you see that during this period artistic work is less important and being a citizen and working on a social and political level is much more important? KH: All of them are equal. Ever since the revolution my studio became a political platform where there is a massive exchange of ideas. Someone proposed the name “political Studio” and it became the name for my studio. My studio serves a different function now. Plus I am still doing my art. It will be catastrophic if you stop doing your job simply to be in the street. That is what we are all renouncing. The most important thing is to be in
the street and to also produce and not to stop production. AE: So both is possible at the same time? KH: All is possible at the same time and it has to be that way. And this is the only way to be influential and a role model and have a wider circle of influence. AE: So all these roles that we play – the socially engaged citizen, the artist, blogger, tweeter– you are all at the same time on the same level. And it influences each other? KH: They feed into each other. Let me give you an example of the younger generation of artists who are born in the digital media. For the past four years I have been encountering many of them in my studio. Those people are at the same time members of the 6th of April movement and the Baradei movement and the “We are all Khaled Said” movement. Those people were artists before the revolution and they were socially engaged before the revolution. They arranged for these demonstrations, they were there from day one. AE: A filmmaker I talked to told me that he was not able to go down to the square during the revolution and film. He needed to be there not as a filmmaker but as a
citizen fighting for his rights. KH: I agree. I had two cameras on me all the time but the first time I started using my camera was on the morning of the day Mubarak stepped down. AE: Why do you think that is? KH: Because I was there as a citizen and it was meaningless to shoot pictures, meaningless to shoot bad pictures. I would have used the camera if I had a photojournalistic approach, like Ahmed Basiony. Somebody got sniped beside him and he used his camera and this is probably how he got shotgun bullets in his face – he used his camera to trace one of the snipers and then suddenly someone else shot him. The idea is, Ahmed Basiony was documenting from day one; he was taking sounds with his camera beside the act of documenting with his video. AE: It does not seem as if it is the artist who is there but the citizen who documents as a citizen journalist what he is seeing. KH: There is proof for that. In his last comment on Facebook he said: Go down to the street tomorrow, take cameras with you, shoot and do not be afraid. This was his role.
AE: So roles are shifting. During the revolution artists turned into citizen journalists because they used cameras to document, not to create an art piece. Everybody became a journalist. We were there as journalists documenting and reporting and the citizens were there documenting too. And we as journalists were also relying on the reports of citizens who were documenting the events during this time. So it is all intertwined. Roles are shifting, art is changing, journalists become artists and artists become journalists… KH…mediators. I never knew this value until I had this political studio. In the Cairo Biennial last December, I showed snipers and a few military images and exactly six weeks after the opening the revolution happened. And someone created the best term I heard so far about the work: premonition pieces. 2006 I made a video called Revolution and 2007 I made one talking about four presidents and 2008 and 2009 about elections and democracy - so the word “premonition” makes sense. And I think many artists, especially younger artists, were doing premonition projects too. In literature many people wrote things that would be premonition. And I think the “Yacoubian Building” of Alaa Al-Aswany was one of those in which he was probably documenting through fiction the last five min-
utes before the revolution. And so many works were about that. They were mentioning the Security Police, police treatment of citizens and other social abuses. AE: …look at Yousef Chahins film “Heya Fawda”. KH: …exactly. There were a lot of premonition pieces like that. People could feel the last five minutes – metaphoric last five minutes. Literature, film, videoart, painting and I am sure several other mediums were speaking about the same things. About treatment of police, demonstrations, students, religion, presidents, elections, corrupt Parliaments. I mean this is not a coincidence. AE: It reminds me of the name of this project – The Changing Room. This kind of subtle realisation that something is changing, it is not yet done and when exactly the change will happen is not clear. And then there is also the changing rooms we talked about in roles, the way roles are shifting. KH: What I like about this Changing Room title is that it reflects something I have lived in this society in the past few years. In which there was this wish from certain people to arrange their own rooms, to arrange their house. And this I have seen in so many fields and sectors.
Seeing all those artists documenting the last five minutes before the explosion I think it had to happen now. And I think it only succeeded because this was the time for it to succeed. No system could stand in front of it. AE: You are being very optimistic here. The “changing rooms” have yet not succeeded in Egypt. We are in a process and we have no idea what clothes we will come out with. KH: Absolutely. What I like about this show as a project is that only two kids, two adults, two countries changed their rooms. We still have 20 family members who may or may not decide to change something. Some of them have their rooms arranged more than others. We know nothing about that, we are right in the middle of it. I would like to see this particular project five years from now and to see what happened in those five years with other countires, other family members. Maybe we arranged the room in a way that may need that we explode it later. Maybe we changed furniture or the whole house. That is the beauty of it, having all those energies of people who are living between one step inside the older environment and one step towards what they want to be. AE: What does The Changing Room,
what does this project mean to you? KH: What I like about it is that many of the artists in the changing room project met and exhibited in the past together - in the last five minutes before the explosion. We witnessed the explosion together. It would have been predictable had we met after the explosion. But then to meet in the last five minutes before the explosion â€“ and I am sure each one of us probably participated with a nanogramm of effort in having those changes made â€“ I think it means a lot. It gives a different meaning, it gives legitimacy. I would like to see The Changing Room as a project happening in five years from now and see what is happening then â€“ the legitimacy here is double. First because we had met
before and then we had witnessed during and then we are changing together afterwards. I think this is the interesting thing about it now. AE: You said you would change together. How do you mean that? KH: I mean it in the metaphorical sense. Because still I believe that it is a myth that an artist can stand alone and develop an idea and the world changes. This does not happen, never happened and will never happen. No matter how good the artist is. At one point in time it will be mentioned that we met at this time, that we did this together and the whole thing was part of a bigger, significant, popular, social movement.
100 PROTESTORS’ ART Cairo’s New Graffiti Scene by Heba Elkayal
The most visceral and immediate reaction by participants in the January 25th revolution in Egypt was to create new art. From powerful chants in Tahrir Square while protesting to slogans written in calligraphy that evolved into graffiti, art was the protester’s weapon of reaction and action.
ary 25th is a new art scene whose players are determined to be taken seriously, but not too seriously they claim.
Today in Cairo, certain neighborhoods are dotted with recurring graffiti characters, slogans and whole vignettes too. What has risen to the surface post Janu-
Graffiti in Egypt like any other country is considered an illegal act, but the inherent state of anarchy in Egypt and the lack of policemen on the streets after the
The graffiti scene in Cairo is indicative that the direction of art will change, that themes and the use of mediums will evolve, and that the work will be bold.
revolution resulted in many young artists seizing the opportunity to paint on large public walls with no concern for selfcensorship. Direct critical statements are made against the current ruling military council with spray paint and stencils. The technique of some of the graffiti artists lacks skill, but almost always the messages and ideas are witty, smart and sarcastic. The graffiti community is growing purely as the work appears and fans begin try-
ing to track down the artists through the channels of social media; graffiti artists to promote and share images of their graffiti work have utilized Facebook and Twitter. Just as the revolution was sparked by activity and organization on Facebook, seemingly the revolution of art in Egypt is taking place on the net as well and what this means to the artists and their fans is the democratization of art in Egypt. Art is now on the streets and online, it is no longer kept hidden in gated museums with heavy security or private
galleries that were once supported by the Ministry of Culture. The dictatorship that presided over the art scene is Egypt is slowly crumbling away as young artists seek to produce an alternative form of art for an alternative audience. This audience is composed of people both young and urban, as well as middle-aged blue collar workers who are chancing upon this art in the street, seeing art of some sort perhaps for the first time. The artwork is made by a handful of artists, some who choose to keep their identity hidden from the press and general public, and others who embrace the media, asking fans to come help cut stencils and spray at night. The artist Mohamed Fahmy, whose tag name is Ganzeer has started a series of public murals to commemorate martyrs of the January 25th revolution, the first of which appeared in front of the Supreme Court of Justice mere days after the revolution ended. The juxtaposition of a large portrait painted in red, yellow, black and white ink against a neoclassical building was a powerful sight to see. It was the first public work of art and the decision was made not by the municipality or an art board, but by a young man who decided we had to pay immediate
homage to these young heroes. Though heâ€™s faced difficulties with his work on the martyr murals, having had to repaint several murals when they were painted over by residents of the neighborhood as a form of censorship, Fahmy continued to paint and work, unwilling to be affected by such a reaction. Not even when was arrested for hanging a sticker mocking the military council was he swayed. Released mere hours after his arrest, his image went viral on the web and the joke was on the person who turned him in to the police and the military council for their attempt to censor him. The irony was in and of itself amusing to Fahmy. His second major work was a work entitled Tank Versus Bike; a large military tank faces a young man riding a bike balancing baked bread on his head, the latter being a scene very common in Egypt. The novelty of course is the powerful image of the tank facing the young delivery boy, the statement is clearly criticizing the army and with it the current ruling military council. As opposed to being united with the people, the military tank challenges the Egyptian people and with it, democracy. The figure of a pensive and morose panda, the trademark figure of the secretive artist Sad Panda was later painted on the same wall, and a vignette was formed.
The panda stares at the biker who faces the military tank and the apparent confusion of all is then more pronounced and articulated. Though it seems so out of context to have a panda on a wall in the middle of Cairo, Sad Panda appears in various forms around Cairo that collectively, create a complex character with interesting political commentary. There are other artists too whose work is appearing on the streets of Cairo. They keep their identity a secret but embody a certain persona through their artwork. The artist who dubs himself Keizer relies on Disney-like stylization to exaggerate his key messages for the need of political participation by the public, the take over of Egypt by corporations and other capitalist ideals, and the need for former public figures to take responsibility for their actions. Keizerâ€™s larger than life ants crawl on the walls of the city as if about to feed on and take over Cairo. What has been most interesting to witness is the reaction and interaction of various graffiti artists to one another vis-Ă -vis their respective works in this manner. Though one can infer that an escalating rivalry between some graffiti artists is taking place (things are being painted next to previous works or else over it) the conversation through painting and imagery is an ongoing conversa-
tion of political commentary. Coupled with some interesting art work of various styles and techniques, it is hard to argue that this is not an art movement taking place in Egypt. As a young writer on art who is of the generation that catalyzed the January 25th revolution and who is counted amongst the peers and social acquaintance of some of these graffiti artists, I straddle two different art worlds. I have been writing and interviewing figures from the contemporary Egyptian art scene whose work of standard painting or sculpture were exhibited in private galleries, mostly visited by the bourgeoisie. The other art world is free from the politics and restrictions of the formal fine arts galleries and associated institutions. This world of young urban art is by far more exciting and more relevant than anything that has been exhibited recently in galleries in Egypt by traditional contemporary artists. This street art is more reflective of the average Egyptian person with its references to Egyptian pop culture and the local political scene. Both prompting questions and offering a satirical take on things, Egyptians can finally have a good laugh, or else, enjoy a bit of art. This time, for free.
104 INTERVIEWS A RENAISSANCE MAN Father William Sidhom in conversation with Heba El Kayal My introduction to Father William was through the artists Ibrahim Saad and Khaled Hafez. I was told that Father William was a great character, and one of the revolution’s most active participants during the eighteen days of the January 25 revolution. What I came to discover when I met the man himself at the Sacred Family Jesuit school, at which he teaches in the old Cairo neighborhood of Fagala, is what can only be described as a renaissance man - in the most classic sense. A philosopher, teacher and Jesuit, Father William is also a man with an active interest in his community. With a motley crew of young artists who have dedicated their time to a cultural NGO Father William had helped found in the neighborhood of Fagala, he encouraged art, theater, music and expressionism within a poor community. When threatened by state security for such activities, he fought back, taking the art into peoples’ home and onto the streets. The former regime rightly considered that when telling people to express themselves, they Father William is a real life caricature of a once recurring motif in the narrative of Egyptian society; that of the rabbi, priest and sheikh who are both friends and colleagues in their community. Father William embodies that spirit of camaraderie both spiritually and personally, calling for religious tolerance and the tolerance of others’ spirituality in Egypt.
Heba Elkayal: Were you always politically active? Father William Sidhom: Politics was always taboo for a man of the priesthood, particularly for an older man such as my-
self. I once didn’t know what to do, and the answer came to me in the form of a letter from the Jesuits of Latin America. Christianity is founded on the principle that Jesus was a liberator of human beings, not just a spiritual liberator, but a
social and political and economic liberator and so I took to studying documents that discussed such ideas. There was a time when I even considered avoiding the priesthood because I found it to be bourgeoisie, particularly in Egypt. Yet I was determined to always work with people regardless of their own ideological inclinations. Beards and clothing shouldn’t matter in Egyptian society. In 1992 I was writing a book on human rights, during a tense period in Egypt which included underground terrorist activities and sectarian tension. I asked a colleague of mine to write the prologue, and I was advised against publishing my book. As a young boy, I remember watching Israeli planes shooting at Palestine in my village ‘Ara’oz which is a short distance outside of Luxor. At the Jesuit school which I attended, we were taught nationalistic songs, that was the general attitude of the day. My parents were simple and kind people with no political inclina-
tions and this affected me, particularly by the wars of ’67 and ’73 when planes were shooting at the suburbs of Cairo. HK: What did you think of the January 25 movement that in turn, catalyzed the revolution? FWS: The January 25 revolution represents the numerous struggles, desires and search for peace, prosperity, freedom and justice by Egyptians. The revolution embodies my desire to see change in the Egyptian people, the search for transparency, culture, politics, human spirituality, and to free the Egyptians from the enslavement of the former regime. We were in a struggle, and we still are; the more man becomes conscious of his struggles, the more his pain increases. Every day in Tahrir was a struggle to witness because it was a matter of witnessing peoples’ struggles. Since the revolution, no one from state security has called him! I’m a free man? Why should I care about state security?
Because of his work with painting in the street, creating home theaters, for bringing art to the poor. What made me go to Tahrir was my realization, inspired by tenants of the Bible: of doing well, not lying, love thy enemies, what’s available in all religions. It’s political. The religious ideals of the Jesuits is that we care for the spirit of man as a human being, that in this world we do whatever brings us closer to God, that’s our guiding spiritual principal as Jesuits. Anything that distances us from God we distance ourselves away from. We saw God in everyone and when I am alone with God, I see everyone. Our prayers are life and life is prayers. And that’s in line with my character. I was born with Jesuit presence in my village. They were an example of modernity amongst and they heavily influenced me to join the priesthood. They took the priesthood and its ideals and developed it to become a fully integrated part of one’s life. When I discover that the baker cheats his customers with bad flour, that goes back to the ministry of health. That’s political. When a student’s father, who is a lawyer, takes advantage of his position and tries
to bump his son up a grade, that’s political. You can’t talk about society without talking about politics. To me, the revolution was about doing whatever one can do whether it’s from art which can give people pleasure, and create awareness. Not just any art, but art that can give beautiful experiences, that can inspire and delight such as theater and music. As part of the NGO’s activities we used to go out to peoples’ homes, coffee shops in the provinces and the Egyptian state security hated us for doing this. HK: The only time I felt this was in Tahrir where religious differences weren’t apparent. FWS: Tahrir was a school where I sincerely felt this as well. Unfortunately, the Salafis want to break this symbolic connection between Muslim and Christian. We want to extend that sense of unity throughout Egypt” HK: What was the first feeling you had when you walked into Tahrir? FWS: I’ve been waiting for this revolution to happen and I thank God I didn’t die before witnessing the revolution. I used to read a lot about oppression and I used to suffer too from watching the
suffering of others and dealing with the meddlesome state security. Yet, I have faith in the youth of today who are tech savvy, active on Facebook so as to organize protests. I have great faith in the Egyptian revolution, and in the other Arab revolutions. I have great faith in young men and women of today who work for their communities for nothing in return. The people who attack the protesters and activists are those who are part of the counter- revolution and they are sacrificial victims of their own mental and intellectual limitations and they need to be treated for their mental illness, particularly those who do it in the name of religion. The Muslim Brotherhood teach their followers to swear allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood, not to their own personal selves as beings. When a person’s heart opens up to the world, that is what God intended. When a person doesn’t open up his heart to the world and to other beings, I consider this person to be insulting God and the rest of mankind. People considered perhaps more simpleminded who live in the 5000 villages
outside of Cairo might be simple but they pray and know God even if they do believe in some stupid provincial superstitions. HK: How were you able to emotionally handle the struggles of living in an oppressed regime and satisfy yourself? Had you ever thought of leaving if matters were to continue? FWS: I am composed of this air and from the dust of Egypt. I could never imagine living anywhere else. I have male cousins in France and the United States. We three were raised together in the same village. One is now a doctor and the other a psychiatrist. Both left and I refused to follow them. I couldn’t even say good-bye to them when they were leaving. We were meant to stay here. I continued with my studies of philosophy and started teaching. I preferred to stay here in Egypt, serve my country and my countrymen, rather than be a second-class citizen elsewhere. There are people who prefer living elsewhere; I’m just not one of them.
108 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.
110 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
111 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.
112 INTERVIEWS Wafa Gabsi discute avec Kader Attia Le passé avec ses premières solitudes et ses souvenirs conserve la mémoire. Il y a une clé pour en pénétrer l’énigme de sa force. C’est l’univers précieux de l’histoire familiale. Cette histoire redessine un espace temporel où se confondent présence et absence, souvenirs et mémoires, silence et poésie. Kader Attia est un artiste qui offre dans son travail un recueil poétique de réflexion et d’émotion. A travers son œuvre Couscous Aftermath, il relate une histoire qui se meut dans la dévotion et qui dévoile les secrets et les lieux intérieurs qu’il porte en soi. Dans des images tirées de l’album de famille, défilées sur la vidéo, l’artiste redessine le paysage de son univers familial-de ses proches, les jardins secrets de sa vie en Algérie, les lieux intérieurs habités de mémoire et d’héritage, si précieusement préservés. « Cette histoire est née de mon intimité. Je griffonne, je rêve et j’imagine » KaderAttia. Couscous Aftermath est une œuvre qui se concentre sur l’aspect poïétique de l’art. Un voyage intérieur que l’artiste ne peut mesurer que par ses émotions, par le besoin de « l’écrire » en art. Une
histoire propre et intime mais aussi une œuvre d’art qui dans sa conception métaphorique invite le spectateur à se plonger dans un monde flottant entre la vie et la disparition. La mise en scène de cette vidéo met en lumière une apparition élogieuse de la mère Attia. Vêtue d’un costume traditionnel rouge, elle se penche sur la préparation du couscous à partir de fragments de miroirs brisés. Suivant les mouvements de son corps qui dessinent l’aura de ses gestes dans l’espace, l’artiste redessine ce mouvement dynamique, habituel de la préparation du couscous. Cette fois, prenant une toute autre dimension avec les miroirs brisés. La préparation du couscous est synonyme d’un rituel familial-social incarné comme habitude dans le quotidien d’une famille algérienne ou maghrébine. Il n’y a pas donc de remise en question de cet habitus tel que l’entend Bourdieu, à savoir qu’il n’y a pas de véritable conscience de son danger. Avec l’intégration des fragments de miroirs brisés, la préparation du couscous prend une autre dimension métaphorique : l’espace préconçu pour la préparation d’un aliment nutritif, devi-
ent un lieu de réception de nouveaux éléments ; les fragments de miroirs. Dans les traditions et les coutumes Nord africaines, certaines pratiques et croyances (superstitions), souvent d’ordre religieux restent très préservées. L’histoire des miroirs brisés en est une. En effet, selon les croyances incorporées et les histoires reprises et racontées sur l’héritage des superstitions, la symbolique du miroir brisé est interprétée comme un mauvais présage. Brisé, le miroir fuse une lumière intense, qui par appropriation de la métaphore de cette superstition, symbolise les esprits malveillants, annonçant l’approche d’un décès ou d’une disparition. Il s’agit alors de la réappropriation d’un symbole de malheur. Chez Kader Attia ces références sont incontestablement des croyances incorporées, appropriées comme des produits de l’histoire d’une communauté. Hormis cette dimension affective et violente à la fois, l’artiste inspire l’idée d’une construction d’une nouvelle dimension. Une dimension fictive par laquelle il implique l’acteur (sa mère) dans un espace virtuel où elle transpose ses souvenirs, les restes de malheureux souvenirs, la
blessure, les séquelles (Aftermath) d’une mémoire fragmentée. Par la disposition de l’acteur dans cet espace, l’artiste le fait participer dans un rite initiatique, certes douloureux, puisque ses gestes de bienfaisances se sont associés malgré sa volonté à ce qui provoque la blessure et la douleur. L’énigme de couscous Aftermath est ainsi dévoilée. Ayant le souci du détail, l’artiste concentre une force visuelle par la fine insertion de la couleur rouge qui contraste avec la neutralité du cadre de l’œuvre. Cette couleur, forte, lumineuse et intense porte la symbolique de l’identité de la vie, de la blessure, de la naissance, de la disparation. Des significations auxquelles renvoie peut être l’énigme de cette œuvre. Jouer avec les paradoxes est ainsi l’une des plus fortes caractéristiques de ce travail. L’artiste Kader Attia aime dissocier les objets de leurs fonctions d’origine et en créer par la suite des paradoxes. Ce qui l’intéresserait souvent dans l’expérience de son art, c’est d’engager une réflexion sur la manière dont les contradictions sont mises en jeu. L’enjeu de ce dispositif est alors de révéler la complexité inattendue de la réalité de l’œuvre.
114 INTERVIEWS Entre présence et absence, cette œuvre a fini par créer un espace rythmé par un ordre bipolaire de paradoxes et de complémentarité entre lequel se positionne la pensée.
losophy – an endless improving project of a way of thinking life, and by beliefs, I mean an endless process of improving life as a path to eternal and infinite existence.
En effet, il y a une volonté manifeste de l’acteur à reconstruire un royaume transcendant en ravivant ses souvenirs, qui sont par ailleurs radicalement absents. C’est comme si la mère serait en quête d’espoir pour remémorer le passé et faire renaitre son présent douloureux, affecté par la mort de son mari. Elle souhaiterait donner à cet espace-temps (le passé) la chance d’exister dans une vie, autre, qui serait traversée par de brillants soleils : une vie d’ailleurs, d’éternité. De ce fait, l’origine perdue de cet état de malheur, pousse l’acteur à sans cesse reconstruire son passé et le rendre présent.
From Tradition to Modernity, Islam is one of such paths. Since my first lessons at the Madrasah, when I was a teenage boy, I had always kept this in mind.
Entre présence et absence, notion “diptyque” de Derrida, cette œuvre est peinte dans l’intimité, l’affection, la douleur de l’être perdu, la finitude, la présence de l’espoir d’une vie éternelle, comme une poésie d’un silence strident, et une invitation au voyage dans les limbes de l’infini…
Kader Attia Human Beings produce an infinity of signs gathered in an “order of things” (to quote Michel Foucault‘s famous essay); a vocabulary to communicate with each other and be gathered around thoughts and beliefs. By thoughts, I mean phi-
In the video Couscous Aftermaths an Algerian Muslim woman, at the twilight of her life, is mixing both her memories with broken mirrors. For those that have seen its traditional preparation, her body movements evoke the preparation of couscous, a Maghreb dish that today symbolizes the Arab Muslim world. The way she moves the mirrors, mixed with images of her life, provokes reflections of what one could call “the illusions of her life” that slowly goes by until it will end. Couscous Aftermaths is a re-appropriation of a very bad luck symbol in North Africa and in many other places: Broken mirrors. The more she’s mixing them, the more it seems that the contrary is happening. Although this movie ends by the disappearance of her husband, she gives life again to mirrors that have been broken. As if she’s starting to perceive a life of eternity.
116 INTERVIEWS 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.
118 INTERVIEWS Khaled Hafez in conversation with Heba Elkayal
Heba Elkayal: Did you foresee the events in the Middle East? Khaled Hafez: No I did not foresee the events in the Middle East at all. In fact I thought it couldn’t work until I was led into the field by the younger artists, and it did not cross my mind that in my lifetime I would be part of a revolution, not as a witness, nor as a member of the audience nor as a player at all. We are speaking about the Middle East and the Arab world, which comprises 22 Arab countries but when speaking about Egypt, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Moreover, should a revolution erupt in any other Arab country, I was solidly sure it would have never touched Egypt. I think that whereas Egypt was full of internal flaws with regards to local and international politics, and the social deg-
radation of the past, there was –and has always been-- solid infrastructure to keep the country going forwards despite corruption. Egypt is a country that doesn’t stop. Eventually, what happened was phenomenal --and phenomenally positive as well-- because it was not a revolution made out of hunger but it was a revolution that was instigated by the desire to retrieve dignity, to retrieve social justice and social equity. Heba Elkayal: Could you have imagined yourself living again in the old corrupt regime had the revolution been crushed for another 5, 10, 15 years? Khaled Hafez: Yes I could have seen myself working in my studio for another 30 years if the revolution never happened
and if this revolution collapsed and failed. Had this revolution collapsed we would have all been in deep trouble, including myself, because I was part of the demonstrations with other artists and my studio comers, the phenomenon of Tahrir Square. Our State Security police, this fascist illegal organization, would have definitely tracked down every single individual in Tahrir Square, even if we were three or four million, they would have gotten us all. I imagine myself definitely working in my studio, opening my studio for all those young artists every single Friday, but not revolting. That’s the difference in my programming, and the programming of the younger generation like yours. I remember one of those Fridays in my studio a young artist was asking why our young artists don’t vote, and I told him
we don’t vote because we simply know the results in advance and it is an absolutely obsolete activity to go vote because it’s a waste of time and effort and I would rather that you work in your studio and produce and influence other people. It will be helping other people much more than going to vote when you know the results in advance. I am not at all sure of that anymore. I had a paradigm shift after what happened in Tahrir Square and now I know that actually I can help and influence other people by being a citizen, not forcibly as a teacher or as an artist. You can equally influence and change if you are a citizen who goes and demonstrates and revolts and decides to ask for your legitimate rights and for social justice. HK: Going back to what you mentioned
120 INTERVIEWS The National Democratic Party was the former regime’s party, which during the revolution relied on thuggery and brutish tactics to intimidate demonstrators in Tahrir and their supporters.
about the fascist Secret Service in Tahrir Square, while you were in Tahrir, did you think it was going to be a success or did you take a risk going down to Tahrir? KH: I must say I didn’t take the risk first hand, I didn’t go down on the first day, (the 25th of January), I went down on the 26th of January out of curiosity and I would never have believed there would have been a 27th or a 28th. I passed by downtown on the 27th with my car but I could not go in on the 28th because it was clear that streets around Tahrir and the entrances to the square were full of thugs and state police civil informers who formed gangs to terrorize potential demonstrators. I was alone with Hany, my driver and assistant; we decided after having a brief look whilst in the car to turn around and return to my studio. We discovered four days later –on February 2nd- that our friend and colleague video artist Ahmed Bassiouny was killed on the 28th. It was probably the 30th or 31st of January that I decided to go down to Tahrir more often, but it was only on February 4th that I was able to make it for slightly longer periods of time. I managed some days and some days I could not, but I was working with Maha, my wife, as of the third of February with the Medical Syndicate to collect blood
for the field hospital and deliver blankets to the field. I quit medicine in 1995 and my relationship with the Syndicate is not quite severed, but almost. I still keep my license but I don’t practice. The Syndicate had a room to collect blood donations in the field hospitals in Tahrir Square and I campaigned for that on the Internet when services returned and on landlines, so we managed with the people I work with to get 55 liters of blood. With my wife we bought blankets and we were able to slip them through the NDP’s1 thugs and gangs to the campers inside and lousy secret service that used to fill the side streets and square itself. So if you ask me if I were a hero and took a risk, no I wasn’t and I didn’t take a risk, but I started to take a risk when other people started to lose their lives for people like me, younger people lost their lives for elderly people like me who did not believe that it would be made, and that it could be done. So all those younger creators who come to my studio: the younger peers, younger artists and young mentees, all are those who I consider that led me to take this risk; it was not a massive risk in comparison to what they were doing. HK: If you were a superhero, what power would you have, and how would you use it during this transition?
121 KH: If I were a superhero I would save lives, and I would save all those lost lives, and if I were a superhero I would bend all those rifles and take care of all those snipers who were on rooftops; I would take care of them without killing them, but I would kick them where it would really hurt, and inflict sustainable pain in their chests. HK: Would you go back in time to do this? KH: I would do it, but see we’re talking about a different parallel universe. If I were a superhero I would do that yes, I would save lives. If I could have several lives I would go back to medicine just for that day, so I can help. As an artist I could not help because I was a simple citizen, but as a doctor I could have helped as a healer and physician. Anyway, it was a choice I made to be an artist and I would make it a hundred times again to be an artist, and consequently not just a doctor and nor a citizen. So to get back to the question, yes I would have loved to be a superhero out of my own paintings. 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? KH: I would want a totally secular Egypt.
In French secular means “laic” which means total abolition of any influence of religion in the daily affairs of the state, and as a citizen I would fight for that. You know, with beautiful writers of my generation like May Telmissany who lives between Ottawa and Cairo, May and I were talking about that, and she gave me the idea which I’m adopting now: not to join a political party unless something disastrous is happening –something like having any fundamentalists or any religious force take over power, any organized religious group or entities of the sort-- it would be then that I join one of the liberal, secular, probably socialist parties, with the objective of working to topple those down and get a civilized and civil progressive country. But as a citizen, what I’m doing now is I practice citizenship in my studio. I work with a couple of those young artist citizen coalitions that worked, camped and spent their nights in Tahrir Square during the revolution. Some of them are changing the structure of the Syndicate of Visual Artists, and others are just working in smaller communities or joining some of the new political fronts to protect the gains of the revolution and fight for a civil state, a civil progressive modern state that will not lead us to the religious dark ages.
Digital image from The TV Diaries, 2011 Image courtesy of the Artist
124 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? KH: Well, it would not be an impossibility to say yes or no. Every single artwork will have an essence of what I have witnessed myself in Tahrir Square. I have no idea how long this will take. All I am hoping for is not to fall in the trap of literal description of what I have seen; I aspire for deeper thought provoking works that inspire from the Tahrir Square events more than describe them. My principal project since the mid-90’s, if I can put it into one word, is to explore the complex nature of the Egyptian “identity.” This question of identity has been obsessive in my painting and my video projects. When I teach or wrote, I describe this identity as “The Big Mac Theory of Egyptian Identity.” This is multi-layered: it’s the AfricanEgyptian, the Mediterranean-Egyptian, the Middle-Eastern and Egyptian, the Arab-Egyptian, plus the identity that is tainted or topped by sauces (seeing as we’re talking about a Big Mac! )The toppings are the sauces of Judo-Christian or Arab-Islamic essence which are paramount and which give the taste of this multi-layered meal. It is indispensable to address all those layers at once.
Problems start in my opinion (and this is what I’m exploring in my work) when a certain group of people decide to take some or subtract from this sandwich, this multi-layered culture, a certain layer such as the Arabo-Islamic, and treat it as the sole identity for the whole country, for everyone. I think this is crap, stupid by all means, and I’m not being intolerant because I will say the same thing if you say Egypt is only Mediterranean or only African- which is not the case. Egypt is all of the above, and Egyptian-ness is unique. It is in the mind and it is genetically embedded with all those cumulative occupations and cumulative additions that have happened over 5000 years – plus-- now. HK: What do you think are some of the potential obstacles to art that’s coming out along with this freedom of expression and this fearlessness, what we’re experiencing right now is a reaction to what’s going on. We don’t know what’s going to happen within a year or two so what sort of opportunities are you trying to take advantage of right now? What do you fear might happen in the future? KH: I’m extremely optimistic by nature, so I’m always looking at the glass half full. The 20th century for the Egyptians I would say was a century of oppression. I am not a believer of the 1952 revolution, which I consider to have been a military
125 Ahmed Zewail won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1999. Mohamed El-Baradei won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
coup d’état. I think the revolution of 2011 killed and burned the first republic which killed everything post coup d’état of 1952. In the first half of the 20th century the Egyptian monarchy was trying to gain independence from the British and the later half of the 20th century it was an experimental phase, full of subjugation, oppression and violation of human rights, full of military defeats and disappointments. The 20th century also bore witness the collapse of several ideologies such as pan-Arabism and it was also the last years where the catastrophic rise of right-wing religious fundamentalism --and I mean all religious streams of thought, even the moderate ones-throughout Egypt and consequently in many of the Arabic-speaking states. I did not say the Arab world, because I believe that every Arabic-speaking state has its own cultural specificities. Egypt is one of those whose cultural specificities define its “Egyptian-ness” because Egyptians have never been neither nomads nor tribal, they’ve been farmers in settled communities for over 7000 years around the Nile. The Egyptians created communities, the Egyptians are the first nation in the world to invent organized religion, and they invented writing, and the painting practice, as we know it today. They invented wine, beer and organized armies, so this “Egyptianness,”
did not happen in one country east or one country west or two countries east or two countries west. I am not being in any way racist here but I’m just stating something that is merely factual. Egyptians never liked traveling, emigrating, brain drain or living in different countries. So when we talk about the past fifty years in Egyptian history. The age of pseudo-liberation, we witness the biggest wave of brain drain to have ever occurred to Egyptians. The pseudo-concept of independence that was –of course-- not true, as independence can neither be constricted by a soviet model of socialism, nor by absolute free economy that follows economic hegemony and transcontinental corporate dictation. We have four Nobel prizewinners in the past thirty years, all born in Egypt, and educated at the Egyptian universities. Two of them decided not to live in the country2 to follow their international careers in a more nurturing atmosphere. The other two never left the country, and they both lived and died here3. We’re the only country in the region to have come out of the last 30 years with four Nobel Prize winners with a local debut. Indeed I am optimistic by default because I believe in the genetic genius of this “Egyptianness” and then this does not make any of the cultural specificities any less. Egypt that has had enough manpower
126 INTERVIEWS to produce 3 Nobel Prize winners in 30 years of corruption perhaps can produce 20 Nobel Prize winners in 30 years of no corruption. What I hope does not happen in the future is the linking of religion to the stateâ€™s affairs, because I donâ€™t believe that religion should interfere with anything that has to do with day to day civil dynamics. To me, religion is between one and her/ his God. In terms of art, what I hope to happen will be the cancellation of all sorts of censorship and letting it happen as it happens. I would love to see Egypt as developed as the north of the Mediterranean states: Italy, France and Spain. We deserve to be as developed as Turkey and as strong as no less than the United States. HK: Do you extend this belief and optimism to all the Arab speaking states equally? KH: Only if you preserve their cultural specificities, yes. Syria, Lebanon and Palestine are also ancient civilizations and they always had enough infrastructures to progress development, and I think it is only a question of time. Palestine has a particular case of course that hinders its progression but this will not last. Iraq is a magnificent ancient civilization but it has its own cultural diversity and modus operandi. Those Arab-speaking coun-
tries have an exchange between them. I do believe this exchange is inspiring and encouraging to all. HK: What do you think of the Ministry of Culture (MoC) now, as it has played a very dominant role in the art scene in Egypt for around 5 decades? KH: I think the Ministry of Culture should only have the role of producer, and they should not give their opinion --and should not even be consulted-- on any art production. They should only be a source of money and support, help to produce art. Should this be the case, the MoC becomes like any ministry in Egypt: as servants for the activity and for the creator. This will never change unless the people in power believe they are servants to the sector they work for, in other words servants to the Egyptian public and its citizens. Again and on the other hand I think the Ministry of Culture should sustain existing as cultural producers without interfering with content. Interfering with content means a degree of censorship, and guiding/directing in the way mainstream culture is going; this proved historically to be ineffective and obsolete, as you cannot simply stop the waves of the ocean from flowing forwards. You can stop it for a while by different gadgets but you eventually collapse because it will turn
127 into a tsunami. Similarly, you can’t stop the direction in which creators and people are leading culture. The Ministry of Culture should defend artists and their artwork; defend against dark political powers, censorship and prohibition, and religious regressive fascist idiots. HK: If you could, would you change the design of the Egyptian flag? KH: I would. If one could describe it verbally, I would not change the colors of the flag, I would have them as they are. Not because of anything, but it’s the flag that actually came up during the revolution and it should not be forgotten. It’s also the flag that came up during the winnings of all the African World Cup wins, and the flag that came up when the Nobel Prize winners won, and when all the professional athletes became world champions. I wouldn’t touch the national anthem either. I would change the structure of the flag categorically though: I would have the red stripe on top but a thinner stripe, and an equally black thin stripe in the middle, and leave a remaining 80% of the flag to be white and then you would have only the Eye of Horus instead of the eagle in the middle. In my humble opin-
ion, the eye is the only thing that unifies Egyptian-Christians, Muslims, Jews, Bahaa’i’s, and atheists. It’s the only icon that would be acceptable by everybody and if some regressive forces don’t like it, well…. Let them f… themselves. The interesting thing is that every time the Egyptian flag has changed in the 20th century --which is several times, perhaps no less than 5 times--, never was the flag voted for. I categorically refuse a voting for the flag, but rather a flag that’s inflicted because it’s this flag that the armed forces, president and parliament will all swear to, and everybody will become a citizen below it and defend it. It should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, contain any religious element. HK: That’s very interesting, I never thought of it that way. KH: Thank you- but it’s paramount! The Turkish model has so far preserved with slight modifications for over 200 years ago. They’ve just made modifications along the way to match up with the expectations of different times. In my opinion with the collapse of the first republic of Mohamed Naguib, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Anwar El- Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, I think we deserve something better on all fronts, a flag that is really perfect and representative of our 7000 years Egypt.
128 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 thatâ€™s my basic thoughts on it right now. AE: Brilliant, itâ€™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 canâ€™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
130 INTERVIEWS 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 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
131 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 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
132 INTERVIEWS 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 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
133 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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
134 INTERVIEWS 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. 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
135 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-
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 itâ€™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 â€˜productâ€™ as an artist. Not wanting to be in a place where they are too controversial
136 INTERVIEWS – 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 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 single 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
137 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. 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.
138 INTERVIEWS 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 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 your-
self, 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
140 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
142 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-
143 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
144 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
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
148 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
149 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!
150 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.
152 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.
153 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-
154 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.
155 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
158 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
159 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
160 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
161 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?”
162 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.
166 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
168 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.
169 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-
170 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.
172 INTERVIEWS Entretien avec Inès Jerray Par Wafa Gabsi Née à Sousse en 1977, Ines Jerray vit et travaille en Tunisie. Titulaire d’un Master d’art de l’image et art contemporain à l’Université de Paris 8, elle a précédemment une formation pluridisciplinaire en dessin, sculpture et cinéma à l’Académie des Beaux-arts de Brera à Milan. Elle est également titulaire d’un post-diplôme en recherches interactives de l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des arts décoratifs de Paris.
en France (en 2003), dans le cadre de l’exposition Jouable 3 à l’Ecole Supérieure des arts décoratifs de Paris; en deuxième lieu, au Japon (en 2006), dans le cadre de l’exposition les femmes rient (traduction du japonais), au Maejima art center (Okinawa). Enfin, en Tunisie (en 2009), dans le cadre des Jeptav (Journées d’Etudes et de Pratiques Théâtrales et d’Arts Visuels) au centre culturel Mohamed Maarouf de Sousse.
L’artiste pose au cœur de son œuvre le corps sensible comme frontière poreuse entre l’individuel et le collectif. Elle guette sa manifestation dans l’espace intime ou public en le considérant comme un réservoir inépuisable pour l’imagination et la construction des réalités. Elle utilise des images, des éléments graphiques ainsi que des objets et des sons pour interroger les relations physiques et affectives tissées entre l’animé et l’inanimé, l’actuel et l’imaginaire.
Depuis 2007, elle a enseignée à l’Institut Supérieur des Arts et Métiers de Sousse, Désormais elle travaille à l’école des Métiers d’Art de Kairouan.
Depuis plusieurs années, elle mène entre l’Université de Tunis et l’Université d’Artois (France), une recherche théorique et pratique sur l’œuvre d’animation en tant que lieux d’expériences cognitives et sensorielles (films, installations etc). Une de ses recherches a été publiée dans la revue cinématographique Iluminace. Son travail a été exposé en premier lieu,
WG : Après dix années passées en France vous avez choisi de revenir vivre et travailler en Tunisie. Comment s’est passé le retour définitif ? Avez-vous pu facilement incorporer le « nouvel » environnement ? IJ : J’appréhendais beaucoup le retour mais j’avais très envie de rentrer. On est toujours ambivalent par rapport à la Tunisie, je ne sais pas pourquoi. La Tunisie me manquait terriblement et à chaque retour en France, j’étais toujours triste. Je cherchais un moyen pour revenir en Tunisie pour y travailler, pour être dans la vraie vie active et surtout auprès de tout le monde. Quand je suis revenue pour m’y installer, je sentais que je n’avais plus de repères
; ce sentiment s’est surtout révélé quand j’étais admise dans le milieu professionnel de l’enseignement. J’étais complètement perdue. Je sentais que c’était un peu sclérosé, je n’étais pas vraiment à l’aise au début, pourtant en France ce n’était pas mieux. Institutionnellement, on sentait que c’est lourd. Je peux dire aussi que je ne me sentais pas dans mon élément. Et puis c’était aussi difficile de trouver ses marques.
IJ : Franchement non, ou plutôt disons pas de cette façon. On sentait bien que ça n’allait pas, que la situation politique était mauvaise et préoccupante, je m’inquiétais moi aussi comme tout le monde. On en parlait, on sentait les choses qui n’allaient pas.
sont les photos du président qui se trouvent partout, au quotidien, surtout dans un métier comme le notre où l’image est le centre d’intérêt. Cela me mettait vraiment mal à l’aise, je trouvais ça à la fois tellement ridicule et effrayant en même temps. J’en pouvais plus de voir cette tête omniprésente, c’était juste un portrait, toujours le même, mais ça en disait long. Ce qui est encore plus difficile à assumer c’est le fait d’avoir toujours défendu la Tunisie auprès de mes amis français, je défendais même sa politique sans le vouloir, dans le sens où il fallait bien se positionner par rapport à un ordre mondial, qui n’est pas franchement réjouissant par ailleurs. Cela me faisait souffrir qu’on appuie là où ça faisait mal. Mais attention, je ne défendais pas Ben Ali pour autant, il ne faut pas confondre. Je tiens à discuter de cela car lorsqu’un regard étranger se pose sur la situation politique de mon pays, ce regard m’ennuie beaucoup : la Tunisie y est représentée soit comme un pays touristique, soit comme un pays où les droits de l’homme n’y sont pas respectés.
Lorsque l’on on vit à l’étranger et qu’on revient après des années, notre regard change, on remarque des choses qu’on ne voyait plus. On est plus attentif à tout ce qui se passe autour de nous. Ce qui m’a beaucoup marqué et dérangé par exemple, dès mon retour en Tunisie, ce
Nous sommes entrain de se battre pour trouver des solutions. D’un autre côté, il y a ceux qui ne veulent pas vraiment faire des efforts ou réfléchir à des solutions pour faire avancer les choses. Ils se rangent du côté de la facilité en construisant des discours redondants sur les Ar-
WG : Vous avez évoqué l’impression d’une certaine lourdeur dans le système institutionnel en Tunisie. Peut-être les récents événements en sont une conséquence. Suite au 14 janvier, est-ce que vous vous attendiez à un tel renversement en Tunisie?
174 INTERVIEWS abes. Cette réflexion est née à l’étranger, malheureusement nous l’avons progressivement adoptée. C’est vraiment terrible. C’est presque être raciste avec nousmêmes. C’est triste, nous véhiculons une valeur négative. Je pense souvent aux questions que posent les problèmes de « race », d’appartenance et de valeurs. Finalement, qu’est-ce qui a plus de valeur qu’une autre chose ? Comment en-est-on arrivé là ? Souvent les discussions anodines véhiculent de manière schématique une situation qui est résumée ainsi : plus tu as de l’argent, plus tu es blanc, plus tu as les yeux clairs, plus tu es grand, plus tu es mince, ... mieux c’est. C’est très simpliste certes, mais ce n’est pas rien ça! C’est quasi-nazi ! C’est horrible ! WG : Parlez-vous d’une construction d’un système de valeurs dans ce cas ? IJ : Evidemment ! On ne se rend pas compte. L’idéologie dominante finit toujours par être absorbée, c’est logique. Je ne peux pas m’empêcher de penser à cette question « qui domine l’Autre ? » Pourquoi il reste toujours cette espèce de caste qui va dominer les autres ? La Tunisie est un échantillon de ce qui se passe au niveau mondial, en schématisant encore une fois. WG : Comment avez-vous vécu les événements du 14 janvier ? Êtes-vous toujours attentive à ce qui se passe ?
IJ : Comme je l’ai dit auparavant, je ne pensais pas que les choses se dérouleraient ainsi. Je me posais beaucoup de questions sur le cheminement et le devenir des évènements. On était tous inquiets. On n’avait pas l’habitude de voir une telle fureur. Car on n’avait pas le droit de parler politique, c’est ridicule mais il n’empêche qu’on acceptait tout ça parce que finalement on était habitué, c’est comme un consensus général qui fait qu’on accepte, qu’on laisse passer les choses pour vivre au quotidien. Finalement, même à la fin des années Bourguiba, la situation était déjà mauvaise et quand il y eut le coup d’état en 1987, les choses n’ont pas vraiment changé aux yeux de la gamine que j’étais à l’époque. Je suis née à la fin des années Bourguiba, adolescente je voulais partir en France, pour découvrir ma deuxième patrie. J’étouffais un peu dans mon pays. Je ne me sentais pas libre au niveau des mœurs. Pourtant mes parents nous ont éduqués d’une façon libre mais je voyais d’autres filles autour de moi qui étaient différentes, cela me posait problème. Je ne me sentais pas vraiment libre, dans la tête oui mais en pratique c’était plus compliqué. En plus j’étais dans un cadre institutionnel (lycée) qui n’était pas adéquat, car séparé de la réalité tunisienne populaire. Je sentais un décalage de mentalité et je voulais partir vite. Maintenant avec le recul je me dis
175 que quand on est jeune on a envie d’expérimenter des nouvelles choses, de voir ailleurs, de connaître ses limites c’est normal. Mais il y avait aussi la soif de plus de liberté. Pourquoi les jeunes veulent tous partir ? Ce n’est pas seulement parce qu’il n’y a pas de travail, d’ailleurs, il n’y en a pas plus en Europe. Il y a quelque chose qui fait qu’on ne se sent pas complètement libre. L’enjeu des prochaines années est bien là. Je suis optimiste à long terme. Les choses changent lentement, la route est longue. WG : A quel moment avez-vous commencé à sentir le changement ? IJ : Depuis que je suis revenue en 2006 et bien sûr depuis le 14 janvier. Tout cela est trop récent, il est difficile de se rendre compte des changements, nous manquons encore de recul pour juger véritablement. Depuis dix ans des changements s’opèrent : un « nouveau climat » s’est installé. J’ai remarqué cela quand je suis revenue du Qatar (là où j’ai vécu avec mes parents pendant trois ans), déjà il y a une évolution dans la vie quotidienne. Mais au niveau de la mentalité c’est autre chose, il y a encore du travail de ce côtélà. C’est ce qui m’a poussé aussi à rentrer en Tunisie après 10 ans en France. Je voulais prendre la mesure de cette évolution à la fois positive et négative. Quand on est loin, on n’est pas confronté au quotidien avec les autres, on ne partage pas les activités professionnelles ou autres avec les gens, par conséquent on n’est pas vraiment impliqué.
Quand je suis revenue- j’étais frappée par le nombre de « fêtes » officielles organisées pour commémorer le 7 novembre ; le fameux « renouveau » de 1987. J’étais aussi envahie par les portraits du président déchu. Ils incarnent le mauvais goût. En plus, l’architecture à l’ère de Ben Ali était complètement inadaptée. Par exemple, à Sousse je n’ai pas vu de politique de préservation du patrimoine. Les anciennes maisons de l’époque coloniale par exemple, ils ne les rénovent pas, ils attendent qu’elles s’écroulent et les remplacent par des nouvelles constructions laides. C’est urgent de s’en occuper. C’est la mémoire du pays. Pour revenir à la question et aux événements du 14 janvier : quand ça a commencé, j’étais en France au mois de décembre pour quelques jours et j’étais surprise qu’on évoque la Tunisie à la radio. C’est tellement rare. J’étais alors tout de suite inquiète. Comme un an avant, il y avait eu déjà des événements dans le sud du pays, je me suis dit que ça serait pareil, que ça serait calmé ou étouffé et que tout redeviendrait calme. J’avais hâte de rentrer en Tunisie pour savoir réellement ce qui s’y passait. Je suis rentrée la première semaine de janvier. A ma plus grande surprise les cours à l’Université avaient été suspendus. Je ne réalisais pas vraiment ce qui se passait et je ne comprenais pas où on allait. C’était flou dans ma tête, je n’avais pas toutes les informations, je suivais les évènements depuis Sousse, puis les discours à la té-
176 INTERVIEWS lévision, et franchement je ne savais pas où me situer. J’étais un peu désemparée. Jusqu’au moment où il y eut le dernier discours, j’étais sonnée ! C’était vraiment inattendu et je commençais à me dire que c’était possible. Un si grand changement était possible. Je ressentais de l’euphorie car je trouvais la situation surnaturelle, tout s’est passé d’un coup, on a eu tout en même temps. C’était une superbe surprise. Une surprise mêlée d’inquiétude car nous ne savions pas vers quoi nous nous dirigions. C’était tellement condensé, tellement rapide, tellement vif, puis il y a eu la peur, une nouvelle forme de peur, celle de l’inconnu. La nuit où tout le monde a surveillé son quartier était incroyable, l’armée et les coups de feu dans les rues, les postes de police brûlés. C’était un jour que je n’aurais jamais cru que je vivrai de ma vie. C’était vraiment très très fort. Le soir même et le lendemain j’étais extrêmement fière de mon peuple, de la façon dont il avait géré cette situation à un moment aussi critique. J’aimais tout le monde, c’était fou. J’ai ressenti comme un moment de grâce durant lequel une sorte de fusion d’un groupe d’humains s’est opérée. J’avais le sentiment qu’on formait vraiment une famille. C’était très très impressionnant. WG : Si la révolution n’avait pas eu lieu, accepteriez vous de vivre dans un pays soumis à une dictature pendant 5, 10, 15 ans de plus ?
IJ : C’est une question à laquelle je ne peux pas répondre, parce que rien que le mot dictature quand tu es dedans, c’est triste à dire mais pour supporter d’y vivre tu es prête à accepter de croire qu’il ne s’agit pas d’une dictature. J’ai fait partie de ces gens qui ne croyaient pas aussi clairement être dans une dictature, je le regrette. Je ne faisais pas partie des gens qui avaient les informations ou qui sont allés les chercher, elles étaient bien cachées. Car si on n’avait pas quelqu’un de proche qui avait été directement touché par l’ancien régime et ses abus, franchement ce qu’on entendait officieusement demeurait flou. Je savais que le système était corrompu mais je défendais mon pays malgré tout, comme pour l’honneur. Et de découvrir après cette nuit du 14 les vrais dessous de ce système, me procurait un terrible sentiment de trahison et un peu de culpabilité malgré tout. Il y a aussi les occidentaux de l’autre côté, même si je n’aime pas mettre tout le monde dans le même sac. Il y a une histoire politique, ce bloc qui construit la pensée de l’Occident contre l’Orient ou en tous les cas contre le reste du monde. On est toujours en train de nous faire croire qu’on est complètement arriérés et qu’on n’est pas capables d’avoir des présidents ou des chefs- d’Etat dignes de ce nom. Pourtant, ceux qui nous dénoncent sont les complices de cet état de fait, c’est complexe ! Et quand vous me posez la question si je suis prête à vivre dans la dictature, qu’est-ce que vous voulez que je fasse ? Que je vive en France, en Eu-
177 rope ? Je pense que la question de vivre ici ou ailleurs, hormis cette problématique de dictature/ démocratie, est toujours là pour moi et elle ne sera jamais résolue parce que de par mon identité métissée je suis tout le temps entre les deux et j’essaye de ne pas perdre le pied d’un côté ou d’un autre. J’essaye d’exister dans ces deux réalités même si c’est difficile. WG : En tant qu’artiste-citoyenne, comprenant ce changement, quels types de changements espéreriez-vous et pour lesquels vous feriez des efforts en faveur de votre communauté ? IJ : Ce qui est prioritaire pour moi c’est d’arrêter d’opposer, de couper le Tunisie en deux. On retrouve ce type de situation dans d’autres pays comme l’Italie par exemple. C’est très présent en Tunisie cette séparation entre nord + sahel + la capitale plus riches et «développés» et sud + intérieur du pays laissés pour compte, même si je schématise encore une fois. Puis il y a une vraie différence culturelle, présente depuis le début de l’histoire de la Tunisie. Une différence qui s’estompe par moments et se renforce par d’autres. Le passé colonial est toujours là aussi, il n’est pas digéré et c’est normal car la république Tunisienne est jeune. Nous avons seulement eu deux présidents depuis l’indépendance en 1956, ils sont à chaque fois restés trop longtemps. Il y a alors une forme d’immaturité peut-être qui est naturelle. Néanmoins je trouve qu’on a beaucoup avancé. Personnelle-
ment, je suis toujours impressionnée par la Tunisie et son parcours. La priorité reste selon moi de nous débarrasser de cette façon ou cette habitude de catégoriser les différentes populations. Je veux participer au fait de rapprocher les gens de l’intérieur et du sud de ceux des côtes et de la capitale. Ceux qui n’ont pas la même culture, la même mentalité, et puis surtout qui ne sont pas sur le même pied d’égalité économiquement. Sur le plan artistique, j’ai beaucoup d’idées de projets collectifs. J’aimerais faire participer les jeunes notamment. Ils sont en demande. Néanmoins, les structures et les moyens mis à leur disposition ne sont pas encore satisfaisants. L’art comme moyen d’action et de résistance n’est pas encore vraiment effectif, ou en tout cas selon ce que j’ai pu voir. Je pense que ça va changer, ça a déjà commencé d’une certaine manière, et j’aimerai vraiment participer à ce projet avec toute la communauté. Je pense souvent aussi aux artisans qui détiennent un savoir faire précieux, celui-ci me tient beaucoup à cœur. Cependant il ne faut pas que ces pratiques se sclérosent. Il faut que les nouvelles générations se les réapproprient d’une façon intelligente. Concernant ma pratique, j’essaye d’’imaginer des projets qui correspondent plus à ma vision du rapport vivant aux images, aux objets du quotidien, au détournement qu’on peut en faire ou aux univers graphiques que j’aimerai leur faire habiter par exemple. Je note alors
178 INTERVIEWS ces idées de projets en attendant de trouver le bon moment, la bonne structure et les moyens de les réaliser. WG : Que pensez de l’incarnation d’un pouvoir d’un héros et sa transition à travers une œuvre en une symbolique très forte de recherche de propre héros dans le monde arabe ? Si vous agréez cette réflexion, que voulez-vous exprimer à travers cette quête ? IJ : Dans l’élaboration de mon travail et de mes recherches, je ne suis pas très motivée par l’idée d’un héros comme personnage dans mes créations. Je suis plutôt du genre à m’attacher aux antihéros. Pour moi, les héros sont fait pour se rassurer, ce n’est pas à moi de les transcrire ou de les fabriquer. Ils sont là de toute façon, ils sont présents dans toutes les cultures et la culture les fabrique par elle-même. Ce n’est pas cela qui m’intéresse parce que je trouve que ces héros nous habitent déjà assez, on en est déjà suffisamment envahis sur le plan individuel parce qu’on a ce besoin de se projeter dans quelque chose d’idéal, de « canon » pour revenir aussi aux normes de perfection. Dans toutes les sociétés, je pense qu’on en a besoin pour se construire et pour aller de l’avant mais je trouve que cela me pèse déjà assez comme ça, du coup je m’attache plutôt aux antihéros qui sont désabusés, pleins de contradictions et qui montrent plutôt les faiblesses de l’humain, qui permettent aussi de ne pas tomber dans la dictature du super héro parce qu’il est dominant et autoritaire.
WG : L’après-révolution ou le post 14 janvier a été l’événement déclencheur d’une réelle dynamique dans le domaine de l’art et de la création. Avez-vous suivi les différents événements organisés partout en Tunisie ? Si oui, que pensez-vous de ces nouvelles productions ? IJ : Personnellement je n’ai pas pu produire directement après les événements de la révolution. Par rapport à ce qui s’est fait à la Kasbah de Tunis par exemple : les graphes muraux, les photographies, je trouve cela bien. Tout ce qui était fait pendant la révolution, à Tunis ou ailleurs, je trouve que ça a beaucoup aidé à défouler, ça fait du bien, ça libère, c’est important. Avant on n’avait pas le droit de le faire. Pour donner un exemple : il y a quelques années j’avais voulu participer à un projet à Sousse, pour lequel j’avais décidé de composer une affiche à coller sur les murs. J’avais entrepris alors de collecter des images de l’environnement quotidien tunisien (identités graphiques de marques de consommation, motifs trouvés dans la ville, dessins personnels, etc.) et de les assembler, tous types confondus. En regardant les photos prises, je me suis rendue compte que j’avais intégré la photo du président puisqu’elle faisait partie intégrante de mon paysage visuel et de celui de toute la société, au même titre que les autres visuels de consommation. Mais lors de la proposition du projet, on m’a déconseillé de le présenter, de peur de m’attirer des problèmes. Ça ne faisait pas encore longtemps que j’étais
179 rentrée en Tunisie, je ne réalisais pas les conséquences qu’une telle utilisation pouvait me causer. Je pense qu’il y avait déjà une vraie dynamique artistique et là pour le coup après les événements du 14 janvier, ça va être fort et productif, on voit qu’il y a une envie de donner à l’art plus de place, il le faut. Il y a beaucoup d’artistes en Tunisie mais on ne laissait pas de place pour l’art, il n’y a pas d’encouragements, d’infrastructures, de crédibilité et d’aide. Ce qui induit que la situation d’un artiste mais aussi celle des différents acteurs du monde de l’art devienne précaire. Ceci dit, avec les récents événements, je suis prudente quand à la manière d’employer cette thématique, je me méfie du fait qu’on récupère ces évènements, même si je n’ai rien contre le fait de faire des œuvres d’actualité, donc sur ce sujet. Simplement comme c’est fait à chaud il faut être vigilant. La publicité a par ailleurs très vite récupéré le créneau, pour le pire et le meilleur. Il ne faut pas que les photos et les œuvres en lien avec la révolution tunisienne deviennent à « la mode », même si je trouve que c’est important pour les artistes qui ont besoin de le faire le fassent honnêtement, mais il ne faut pas juste surfer sur la vague de la révolution, du fameux « Printemps Arabe. » avec un contenu qui s’y réfèrerait systématiquement. WG : En évoquant le phénomène de mode, vous m’avez fait penser à la mode
des artistes « arabes », qui a beaucoup interpelé les commissaires d’expositions après les événements du 11 septembre. Peut-on approprier le fait qu’à chaque événement politique il y a comme une résurgence d’un mouvement artistique représentant, ou d’un nouveau marché d’art ? Partagez-vous la même réflexion? IJ : Je ne pourrais pas donner une réponse tranchée par rapport à cette question car cela dépend dans ce cas des artistes et des commissaires, ainsi que la démarche de chacun. Ce n’est pas parce qu’un artiste est littéral dans son œuvre par rapport à un événement politique ou historique que son travail est nettement moins bien qu’un autre artiste qui évoquait la même réflexion mais implicitement. L’art est forcément politique. En effet, il y a un fort rapport entre les actualités et les productions mises en avant sur la scène artistique internationale. Mais est ce que ça n’a pas toujours été le cas? Il faudrait que je me penche sur la question de façon plus approfondie d’un point de vue historique et politique. Et surtout il faudrait analyser les œuvres sélectionnées dans ce cadre ; qu’est ce qu’elles véhiculent en rapport avec les évènements contextuels? Franchement, je n’ai pas traité cette question. Mais ces évènements dans les pays arabes vont sans aucun doute avoir un effet sur les productions artistiques et le marché de l’art, ils en ont déjà une influence je présume. WG : Votre travail se trouve-t-il modifié
180 INTERVIEWS ou influencé par les récents événements ? IJ : Inconsciemment peut être mais pas volontairement car ma pratique n’a pas réellement changé. Pourtant, je ne peux pas m’empêcher en regardant mes projets de penser aux événements. Par rapport à mon œuvre le Chantier, je pense au projet de la construction d’un projet commun de la Tunisie à l’échelle nationale, comment on est entrain de se construire. Je travaille aussi sur un projet basé sur la symbolique de l’œuf, j’avais commencé le schéma de ce projet : c’était sur la question de l’enveloppe, de ce qui protège, et quand j’étais entrain de travailler la dessus quelques mois avant les événements, il y a eu le décès de ma grand-mère au même moment des événements de la Kasbah, comme si elle, enfin son décès était dans le mouvement collectif sans pour autant l’être réellement. Lors de ses funérailles, son tombeau m’avait marqué, et comme j’étais dans la réflexion du projet sur l’œuf qui doit briser pour éclore, j’ai fait toute de suite le rapport avec ce que je venais de vivre sur le plan personnel. Je trouve qu’il y a toujours une connexion constante entre le collectif et l’individuel, ces connexions sont, à mon sens, imperceptibles. Je peux dire que c’est le seul projet pour lequel j’ai eu une réflexion qui a un lien avec les événements, parce que c’était vraiment au même temps et je trouvais qu’il y avait de la continuité par rapport à
ce qui se passait. Il y a quelque chose qui se libère et qui se brise au même temps. Sinon dans mon travail plastique, je m’intéresse à l’écriture du mouvement et à l’idée de relater les évènements comme une présence dans le monde pris dans un contexte spatio-temporel commun. J’ai besoin que la relation à l’évènement soit brute sans une trop grande maîtrise des choses. Par les questions que je pose sur le rapport de l’animé/ l’inanimé, je m’interroge sur les interstices entre les instants (entre les images). Ces espacestemps invisibles et indivisibles rendent l’emprise sur le mouvement, sur la qualité de ce qui peut changer. Je m’interroge aussi sur le corps des individus au même titre que les objets qui habitent une société ; sur le fait qu’ils constituent la chaire sociale. C’est sans doute pour cette raison qu’encore aujourd’hui, la société tunisienne réclame justice pour les martyrs qui ont perdu la vie pendant les récents évènements. WG : Assistons-nous, aujourd’hui, au moment du « Printemps Arabe », à un changement des codes artistiques, devenus « révolutionnaires », qui saura dialoguer d’une manière différente avec le spectateur ou le public ? Que pensezvous des différentes manifestations artistiques qui ont présenté les œuvres de la révolution ? Risquera-t-on de tomber dans le banal de la représentation ? IJ : La démarche en elle-même peut être décrite comme opportuniste mais au
181 même temps pourquoi pas si ça peut être un moyen d’exposer des artistes tunisiens qui n’ont pas eu l’occasion de s’exposer, alors pourquoi pas si leurs productions sont de qualité et esthétiquement sont valables et peuvent leur permettre d’aller plus loin et d’être plus visibles ! Néanmoins, les commissaires veulent qu’on vienne voir leurs expositions, donc ils profitent pour exposer des sujets chauds donc pour celui des révolutions arabes, il y a vraiment de quoi en faire des choses. Mais risque-t-on d’instrumentaliser la révolution ? C’est possible. WG : En tant qu’artiste, quelles sont vos lignes de conduites, vos principales obsessions et en dernier lieu vos projets qui orientent votre pratique ? Est-ce que c’est quelque chose qui pourrait changer dans les circonstances actuelles ? IJ : Mes obsessions sont souvent liées au rapport à l’individu à son contexte direct, qu’est celui de son environnement social, familial. Le rapport de l’individu à son contexte inclue aussi, de façon prononcée, sa relation à son propre corps et les hybridations imaginaires et symboliques que cette relation peut engendrer. Mais ces questions sont souvent envisagées par une approche expérimentale qui met en avant ma propre relation au médium et aux dispositifs que j’emploie, ainsi qu’au processus créatif mis en jeu. Si ma pratique pourrait changer dans les
circonstances actuelles? Peut-être, je me pose la question sur mon travail en étant trop axé sur l’individu, sur l’intime, sur les questions des sensations par exemple, ou celles du rapport à l’environnement au niveau perceptible. Je travaille vraiment sur l’intime qui est d’ailleurs souvent entrepris par les artistes femmes, c’est sans doute en rapport avec l’éducation, avec la société et sa façon de gérer les genres et cela a déjà été traité même si j’avoue ne pas avoir encore eu le temps d’approfondir cette question qui m’intéresse. Je me dis souvent qu’il faut que j’aie plus d’accès au monde collectif et public plus clairement : s’ouvrir vers l’extérieur plus que vers l’intérieur. Mais en même temps Je ne veux pas m’obliger à le faire parce que je pense qu’en travaillant sur l’individuel je touche une limite qui englobe aussi tout le monde d’une certaine façon. Donc je veux que ça soit spontané. A un moment donné je me suis sentie perplexe par rapport à mon implication dans ce qui se passe autour de moi, face à la conscience aussi de cette collectivité, du rôle qu’on peut avoir en tant qu’individu citoyen, de son implication et du coup je me remets en question et peut être dans ma pratique ça va se retrouver. WG : Quel regard neuf, quelles approches originales, quels thèmes pourraient apporter dans le futur les artistes sud-méditerranéens contemporains ou « arabes » au reste du monde ? IJ: Pour les artistes « arabes » l’appellation est problématique, on com-
182 INTERVIEWS prend que l’art contemporain est une affaire occidentale. L’artiste sud-méditerranéen peut apporter beaucoup sur la réflexion sur l’Autre, l’énergie est là. Le reflet qu’il renvoie de l’art contemporain, il s’y trouve un réel enjeu politique. Je ne partage pas entre art occidental ou oriental, l’art est universel, néanmoins, il y a des codes en art qui ont été beaucoup imposés par l’Occident, des codes idéologiques, esthétiques qui sont profondément politiques et qui représentent une époque. On les retrouve ici chez les artistes arabes réappropriés d’une certaine façon. C’est justement une réflexion là-dessus aussi que ces artistes apportent : la valeur par rapport à l’ « Autre », qu’est ce qui crée la valeur de l’autre ? Qu’est ce qui crée la différence ? Parce qu’il y a une vraie rupture qui continue à être entretenue entre Orient et Occident, entre les deux rives ; le nord et le sud de la méditerranée, cette rupture est nourrie par plusieurs moyens qu’ils soient politiques, économiques, idéologiques, matériels, etc. Il y a toujours ce mur, cette barrière qui sont entretenus tout le temps, un clivage qui est bien là, bien présent, alors qu’il faut que ça circule et l’art est fait pour ça, pour montrer cette circulation et la fabriquer. - Réalisé en juin 2011, à Tunis. Par Wafa Gabsi
184 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.
186 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
187 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.
188 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
189 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.
190 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.
192 INTERVIEWS 1 Kefaya is the commonly used moniker for the Egyptian Movement for Change party that was founded in 2004. “Kefaya” in Arabic means “enough.” The party protested for and regularly opposed the potential transferal of power from former president Hosni Mubarak to his son Gamal Mubarak amongst other issues in Egypt.
Ahmed El Shaer in conversation with Heba Elkayal Heba Elkayal: Did you foresee the events that took place in the Middle East? Ahmed Elshaer: I was expecting it and particularly in Egypt, on the local scene, because of what my generation has recently been expressing in sentiment. I’m thirty years old, and since I was born I haven’t know of any other ruling order other than Mubarak’s. There was a slight glimmer of freedom recently what with the political movement named Kefaya1 which chose a strong word meaning “enough” to denote their frustrations, and the independent artists that would go out and try to create a new kind of politics and express that with art. It was expected that change was going to happen but when and how no one could foretell or predict. Simultaneously, the former regime in my opinion was getting stupider, particularly with their behavior and interactions with the Egyptian people, they adopted an outdated style and patronizing attitude when dealing with the public. They refused to believe that the Egyptian
youth and the Egyptian people would learn to use different tools such as the basic computer, Internet and other new technologies which people have been able to use to learn whatever truths were being hidden from the general public. I am of course talking about corrupt activities such as profiteering by businessmen, and the covering up of potential scandals. Although I felt that an explosion of sorts was expected, I thought this was going to happen by people who are poor and struggling to eat, not by the educated intelligentsia and I think that in all cases the revolution being sparked by the intelligentsia worked in everyone’s favor because if a revolution was initiated by the poor hungry classes, the revolution would have been impromptu and unorganized. The matter could have simply been a struggle to satisfy their immediate hunger and needs and perhaps, there would have been more volatile behavior resulting in more deaths. There could have been more destruction. During the revolution, we had an outbreak of thuggery and organized crime by people who were taking advantage of the anarchy taking place. Those who stole
during the 18 days of the revolution were originally thieves. In my opinion, if poor people had gone out they would have out of desperation and become thieves, and in this case it would have been a revolution prompted by thieves and the police would have been able to control the matter, thereby the regime would have controlled the situation and brought it to an end. Yet, I think it was the educated intelligence and cultured nature of the people who prompted it which caused it to be a success. It was peaceful, and people simply wanted to change the regime without any confrontation or aggression, without the spillage of blood or deaths because they didn’t want anything more other than the change of a regime. Heba Elkayal: Did you think that these events were going to happen in Tunisia and Libya? Ahmed Elshaer: Tunis particularly I didn’t expect because what I know of Tunis from Tunisian friends is that they have a large educated class and that Tunis grants its citizens opportunities for
travel and education, unlike Egypt, but Tunisians didn’t have freedom of expression. Yet, what happened in Libya was even more surprising to me because (with all due respect to Libyans) they don’t have a similar social class of intelligentsia because Libyan society is structured differently in terms of education. Unfortunately, Gaddafi cut off education and culture from his people for four decades. I don’t personally know of any Libyan artist unlike Tunis or Algeria. So what I expected in Libya to happen is what is currently happening in Syria or Yemen today. HK: If you were a superhero, what power would you have and how would you use it during this transition period? AE: Firstly I would try to change the ideas of people, I don’t know how as a superhero I could get people to change their negative thoughts but I would because I think changing peoples’ method of thinking is harder to change than changing peoples’ physical actions. When a person’s thoughts have no moral
grounds or principles it’s more dangerous, so to help someone change the way they think and perceive things is more beneficial in the long run for society. The first thing I would do as a superhero is that I would annihilate the Muslim Brotherhood (that is if I was going to use superhero powers) but if I’m going to use soft power I’ll create changes through thought. I wasn’t born during the Sadat era when the Muslim Brotherhood had more power. I was born in the era of Mubarak but when I got older, I became intimately acquainted with some conservative people of the Muslim Brotherhood and realized they were very close-minded and shielded themselves from the reality of society and interacting within it. I would get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood because they’re like bacteria in an organism: get rid of the source of the infection so as to cleanse the rest of the body. HK: As artist citizen, understanding 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? AE: As an artist, the thing I’d most like to feel change in is the freedom in art
and cultural expression. From the 1960’s since President Gamal Abdel Nasser until Mubarak, despite the independent institutions that were created recently with the pressure of Western influence and interests, there was control enforced by the Ministry of Culture on art. In Abdel Nasser’s era, it was then called the Ministry of Counseling and that is what happened then and continued in what was then renamed the Ministry of Culture. There was a constant counseling yet more accurately, dictation of what could be said and thought and we were often stunned. In the Youth Salon we were directed not to talk about politics, religion or sex in our art space - where are we then supposed to go? Whatever it is that is around me in my community that I want to change I will do through art, so of course I’ll have to touch upon one of those three topics and they always tried to control those subjects. They tried to repress contemporary artists because they have more space through their respective mediums to discuss the topics of politics, religion or sex. Curiously enough, it was the older generation of Egyptian painters as well (whose work was prevalent in the 1960’s) that
were in charge of the Ministry of Culture and they thought of video art as the devil’s work, sinful. Why? Because it wasn’t from our culture, that it derived from Surrealism. Yet strangely enough they recognized and respected the fact that all schools of art derive from Western schools of art. So how could they could justify denying me what I wanted to do, was absurd. I think that the Ministry of Culture has to be eliminated, and if there are going to be ministry-associated galleries or museums then it has to be independently administered with curators and administrators who are not minister employees. I wish there would be more of a connection between the general public and the culture scene in Egypt. When I visited the Venice Biennale in 2009, I noticed that the Italian public would be eager to visit the biennale to be cultured about art, know what new works are being presented and I hope that Egyptians become eager for art in the same manner because only then will we be able to defeat anyone trying to poison the ideas of our community. HK: How do you think you can contribute to the general art education of the
Egyptian public? AE: I have already started a few simple things that I think can help. I started translating some English art books into Arabic such as the books that I picked up while traveling in Europe on residencies and I upload the translations on the Internet so that people can read them and have access to books unavailable in Egypt. Additionally, I try to hold workshops and teach people about new developments in the art world so that they can stay updated and informed. I also recently set up my own studio and dubbed it “Toulon Studio” because it’s located in front of the historic Ahmed Toulon Mosque. I thought to myself of creating an archive of new media and media artists in Egypt because the control that the Ministry of Culture had over art in Egypt resulted in no Egyptian critics writing on new media art in Egypt including the works of the late Ahmed Basiony. So I thought of creating an online archive and I consider it important, possibly influencing the field of art in Egypt in the future. HK: Could you have seen your self living in an overcome regime (even if not one
of your own choosing) for another 5, 10, 15 years? AE: I’m from a middle class background. We have lived well, have been educated well and we have a big family house but the point is within the past 15 years, this middle class has been pressured in a downward direction and they don’t deserve that. Another point, when I traveled abroad to Austria, Switzerland and Italy it struck me how life in Egypt is so constraining. For me as an artist and with the desired mentality I wish to have and lifestyle I wish to live, the idea is not to be rich but to be able to live with my culture and my thoughts in a society that allows it. Egyptian society now keeps regressing with its lifestyle habits and thoughts, and I think if we continued under the old regime we would have reverted back to the dark ages. We have people who are hypocritical in their behavior, such as watching porn yet turning it off when the muezzin makes the call to prayer. So I think if the former regime had continued its dictatorship I would have immigrated elsewhere. I’m a father and concerned about my son’s quality of life and I have started thinking with seriousness about emigrating. I also have friends who are well off and educated and they too are complaining, it’s not a question about money
anymore it’s a question of social freedom and the quality of life. There is a state of misguided miscomprehension that the regime had also caused amongst many people living in rural areas of Egypt. If the regime hadn’t fallen and I stayed for another five years, I would have killed myself [he says chuckling]. The system killed people from the inside. HK: As Artist Citizen: What is your principle obsession/project/drive that leads your practice? Is that likely to change under the current circumstances? AE: I work with virtual art, also known as ‘machinima,’ and I think there’s going to be more freedom in exhibiting your work and I think that is what will help me. I don’t think I’ll change any of my work because I was never concerned in that sense. After the revolution I wasn’t concerning myself with what art I would produce in reaction to it as an artist because I felt that I had to digest and comprehend what happened so I can then produce something that is more thought out. A Danish-Egyptian curator tried to have us work on a project called Happy Arabia, and it got me thinking that seeing as I started protesting from the 25th of January, it was one day that stood out most to me of the 18 days of protests. I decided to summarize all my experiences
2 “Battle of the Camels” was the name given by Arabic media to the altercation that took place on February 2nd in Tahrir Square when protesters were attacked by thugs on camels, some of whom were wielding swords. The name was intended to both reference a historical Islamic battle named “Battle of the Camels” but more importantly, shed light on the absurdity of the event. Much of the Egyptian public and protesters present in Tahrir believe that it was a number of public figures loyal to the former regime who sent in these thugs into Tahrir Square.
and my reaction to the revolution with work that discusses the day of the ‘Battle of the Camels’2 because I felt that this day in particular was metaphorical of the people who initiated this revolution. The idea that protestors mobilized through Twitter and Facebook only to be met by camels and swords was so symbolic of this chasm between the ruling regime and contemporary society. It is 2011, and even if you were watching it on your TV screen, it looked as if people were entering the Battle of the Camels, visually mirroring the events of February 2nd which people and media have now named as the second Battle of the Camels. So I took the camel as an icon, and brainstormed until I reached the word “nekh” which is the word that a camel herder would say to the large animal when he wants the camel to sit down so that the camel can be ridden. In colloquial Egyptian Arabic, a person who compromises his principles for the sake of money or another personal matter is referred to as “nakh”, a person who has fallen in the eyes of the community. So I liked the idea of summarizing all these ideas in one word pun. The word “nekh” came to represent the weapon with which the former regime tried to retaliate with, and the word that the protesters said to the regime. All our intentions and feelings towards the re-
197 During the revolution, protesters used Coca Cola, vinegar and onions to combat the effect of tear gas when hit by rinsing their faces with coca cola or vinegar or breathing through an onion. 4
gime when we were chanting could be summarized in that one word, and for me, the camel really was symbolic of the regime: a regime that was dominated by old people whose ideas were outdated. It’s highly fitting that I chose the camel as a symbol to represent them. I’ve chosen a few other elements as well for my work that will then be transformed into video game art. This is the second video game art piece I’m set on programming as an interactive game. This game will be called “Nekh” and I thought to myself while working on this game, why not produce three stills? Each one would be representative of each stage of the game. The game is as such: you select whether you will choose one of two teams, either that of the protestors or the thugs on camels. If you’re with the protestors your weapons will be onions, a bottle of Coca Cola, vinegar, Twitter and Facebook4. If you’re with the camel thugs, you will have swords, rocks, camels and bullets. The whole point of the game rests upon the idea of fighting, like Atari 2D. Whether you play as a protestor or as a camel-riding thug, the protestors will always win the game because they were fated to win. It is essentially impossible to confront the brute force of camels with the intelligence of Twitter and Facebook technology; it’s not simply a question of muscle but mental might.
The first still is an 8bit pixel portrait of a camel with his body segmented with arrows pointing away from his body to the different weapons. His tail points to onions, his chest to vinegar, his throat to Coca Cola, and an arrow points from the camel’s mind to the Twitter logo. The word “nekh” is like a stamp on the still, I’ve manipulated the calligraphic forms of Arabic letters to write the word “nekh” in English. This stamp will be present in the separate stills or phases of the projects. The second still is “Media Nekh,” about the use of media against the protesters. Egyptian media came out and accused protesters of being foreign agents, Iranians in fact bribed by a free Kentucky Fried Chicken meal or whatever else they accused us of. I used the image of a camel to appear as the Golden Lion of MetroGoldwyn-Mayer and placed the camel in front of an old standby screen, which was emblematic of our childhood: back then, there weren’t satellite channels and we would wait for the TV station to air for the day, a standby screen would be visible for hours during the day before the shows were started. So I’ve called this “The Holy Nekh” because they used religious connotations in their counter attack against the protesters. Sheikhs leading Friday sermons in mosques were preaching about doing good and not unsettling matters by
protesting. They would declare strange things like saying protesting was haram, a sin. I remember people during the sermons on the morning of Friday the 28th of January, people got up in the middle and left when the imam was preaching not to participate in protests. So for my third still I created something with heavy religious connotations and symbolism. I’m manipulating the traditional design of the cover of a Koran book and have placed the word “nekh” instead of the word “Koran” and will redesign the traditional curlicues of flowers and geometric patterns in the borders to include the words “Coca Cola,” and repeat things like images of the camel icon. It’s a two-part project and these stills are the initial stage of the game I hope to create.
200 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.
204 INTERVIEWS 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.
208 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
209 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-
210 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
211 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.
212 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-
214 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
215 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.
218 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.
219 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.
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.
Khaled Hafez Born 1963 in Cairo / Egypt. Lives and works in Cairo / Egypt. From 1981 till 1990, Hafez followed the evening classes of the Cairo Fine Arts while studying medicine. He attained MFA in New Media from Transart Institute / Danube University Krems, Austria in 2009. International group shows include: 9th Bamako Encounters, National Museum of Art, Mali, 2011; 8th Mercusol Biennale, Brasil, 2011; Reframing Reality, Museum of Contemporary Art, Roskilde, Denmark, 2011; Miragem / Mirage: Contemporary Art in the Islamic World, Instituto Tomie Ohtake, Sao Paolo, Brazil, 2011; Windows Upon Oceans, State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece, 2011; 12th Cairo Biennale, Cairo, Egypt, 2010; Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain, 2010; Miragem / Mirage, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janero, Brazil, 2010; Resistance(s) III, Fondazione Merz, Turin, Italy, 2010; Resistance(s) III, Casa Àrabe, Madrid, Espagne, 2010; Modernities + Resistances, 3rd World Festival of Black Arts, Dakar, Senegal, 2010; CAVE: Contemporary Arab Video Encounter , Maraya Arts Center, Sharjah, UAE, 2010; IN/FLUX: Awkward Conversations, The 17th New York African Film Festival, New Museum, New York, USA, 2010;
The Presidents: Remix, Blancpain Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland, 2010; What’s Happening Now?: Contemporary Art from Egypt, Casa Arabe, Madrid, Spain, 2010; Tarjama/Translation, The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Icatha, New York, USA, 2010; Categorical Imperatives, The Guild Gallery, Bombay, India, 2010; Fuck Ups, Fables & Fiascos, Galerie Caprice Horn, Berlin, Germany, 2010; Tarjama / Translation, Queens Museum, New York, USA, 2009; Thessaloniki Biennale, Greece, 2009; Deconstructing Myths & Reality, Galerie Caprice Horn, Berlin, Germany, 2009; Icons Reloaded, Galerie ElyseeArts, Liege, Belgium, 2009; Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK, 2009; Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art, China, 2008; Breaking News, F&A Projects, Paris, 2008; Cairoscape, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin, Germany, 2008; Neighbours in Dialogue, Collegium Artisticum Gallery, Skenderija Centre, Sarajevo, Bosnia, 2008; Om Kalsoum la quatrième pyramide, Institut du Mode Arabe, Paris, France, 2008; Collectiepresentatie XXI, MuHKA Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium, 2008; Trilogie Méditerranéenne, Palais des Arts, Marseille, France, 2008; Italia: Arab Artists Between Italy & the Mediterranean, Italian Cultural Institute, Damascus, Beirut & Cairo, 2008; Gates of the Mediterranean, Palazzo Piozzo, Rivoli, Turin, Italy, 2008; Contact Zone, Bamako Museum of Art, Bamako, Mali 2007; The Present Out of the Past Millennia, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany, 2007; Recognize, Contemporary Platform, London, UK, 2007; This Day, Tate Modern, London, UK, 2007; Sharjah Biennale, UAE, 2007; Without Title, MuHKA Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium, 2007; Neighbours in Dialogue, Istanbul, Turkey, 2007; Singapore Biennale, Singapore 2006; Dakar Biennale, Senegal 2006; Images of the Middle East, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2006; Mediterranean Encounters, Messina, Italy 2005; Dakar Biennale, Senegal, 2004, (Francophonie Prize); Cairo Modern Art in Holland, Fortiscircus Theater, Den Haag, Holland, 2001. Public Collections: The Saatchi Collection, London, UK MuHKA Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium
Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art, Sarajevo, Bosnia Horcynus Orca Foundation, Messina, Italy Mali National Museum, Bamako, Mali Maraya Art Centre, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece.
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: 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.
Ines Jerray Born 1977 in Tunisia. Lives and works in Tunisia.
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).
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.
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.
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-
holt at the Schunck Museum, Netherlands; “Forms of Compensation” Sponsored by Bidoun Projects and Townhouse Gallery.
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) explored 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 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,
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. Steve Sabella was artist of the month of May with three featured episodes on IkonoTV.
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.
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
Ahmed El Shaer Born 1981 in Cairo / Egypt. Lives and works in Cairo / Egypt. Ahmed El Shaer is a multi-disciplinary artist (installation, photography, sound, video), with a particular interest in digital technologies. His videos combine Machinima, stock footage, 3D animation and experimental soundscapes. His work has been highlighted in numerous exhibitions and festivals, among which: Fugitive Video Project 2009 (International Festival for Alternative Film and Video, Dublin and Mantua, 2009); Under Current: Contemporary Art from Egypt (SAWA Gallery, Dubai, 2009); Orebro International Video Art Festival (Orebro, Sweden, 2008); International Biennial of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean, Bari, Italy (2008). He is the recipient of numerous awards and has participated in several residency programs, such as the Pro Helvetia Artist-in-Residence cycle (Zurich,
Switzerland, 2009) and the Summer Academy of Fine Arts (Salzburg, Austria, 2006 and 2007). 6/2011 screening with EDV distributors, Solus programs, Toulouse, France; 5/2011 Matilha Cultural, São Paulo, Brazil; 5/2011 VIDEOAKT International Video Biennale, Salt Gallery, Barcelona, Spain; 4/2011 screening the Presidents Remix, Salt Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey; 4/2011 Life Quartet Exhibition Alex Jesuits, Alex, Egypt; 4/2011 The Oakland Standard, Contemporary Arab Video Encounter (CAVE), Oakland Museum, California, US; 03/2011 Screening of IN/FLUX in collaboration with Performance Saga @ Neues Kino, Basel, Switzerland; 12/2010 Cairo documenta, Group Exhibition, enter active game, Cairo, Egypt; 11/2010 SanctionedArray video project, white box, New York, USA; 10/2010 Screening of IN/FLUX @ Museet for Samtidskunst, Roskilde, Denmark; 2010 50JPG: The Revenge of the Archive, The Presidents: Remix, Blancpain Art Contemporain Gallery, in collaboration with the Centre of Photography Geneva; 2010: Living Spaces The 2nd AllArtNow Festival for Contemporary arts; Damascus Syria, 2010 IN/FLUX: Awkward Conversations; The 17th New York African Film Festival Curated by Cedric Vincent and Dominique Malaquais New Museum, New York Axis Gallery, New York, May; 2010 Howmuch Contemporary Art Project / Nicosia; 2010 On Look Films Benefit: Featuring Films from the Middle East – Chicago – USA; 02/2010 CONTEMPORARY ARABIC VIDEOS SCREENING: WITHIN THE REGION- UCCA: A CATALYST FOR CONTEMPORARY CREATION IN CHINA; 09 /2009 the Cairo Box in the beehive experiment Amsterdam - Netherlands; 09 -11/2009 “ Solus & Guests “ Irish / Arabian ‘ Avant - Grade ‘ film tour 2009; 05/2009 “ Under Current “ Group Exhibition for Egyptian Contemporary Art at Art Sawa Gallery - Dubai; 04/2009 CIGE 2009 Special Art Project China International Gallery Exposition 2009, China; 04/2009 Fugitive Video Project 2009 International festival for alternative film and video Dublin and Mantua, Ireland; 02/2009 ( MidEast cut)International festival for alternative film and video Denmark & Finland; 02/2009 All art now 1st international video art festival in Syria; 01/2009 the final Exhibition of the Cairo – Alicanty media art
Workshop at Alicante Art Center – Alicanty - Spain; 11/2008 the final Exhibition of the Cairo – Alcanty media art Workshop at Gezer Art Center Cairo; 10/2008 ÖREBRO INTERNATIONAL VIDEOART FESTIVAL Sweden Art-Curator” Contemporary Practices Magazine; 10/2008 Biennale de Arte Contemporary de Seville Biacs3 - Spain Curator MEDRAR (Egypt) Within the region. 05/2008 Daleky Blizky Vychod 2008 Festival for short Films in Slovakia; 05/2008 The International Association of the Biennial of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean (BJCEM) Bari- Italy 2008; 03/2008 Dubai Art Fair, Video Art-Curator” Contemporary Practices Magazine” Sherif Awaad; 08/2007 Group Exhibition at Summer Academy for Fine Art in Salzburg Austria; 04/2007 2nd international Youth Salon At Alexandria Atiller; 03/2007 After Urban - Video art & architecture even Festival- University of Pennsylvania, 34th & Walnut - Philadelphia USA– curator Luca Curci; 08/2006 Group Exhibition at Summer Academy for Fine Art in Salzburg - Austria; 05/2006 2emes Rencontres de L’Image By French Culture Center in Cairo; 04/2006 1st international Festival for Short Films By French Culture Center in Port Said; 04/2006 1st international Youth Salon At Alexandria Atiller; 02/2006 1st international annual web exhibition At Egyptian Contemporary Artists site www.ecartists.com 11/2005 The Exhibition of “Form through Light 2” In Art of Palace; 07/2005 “Art communicates – across the world” project at the German Embassy Site; 11/2004 The Exhibition of “Form through Light” In Art of Palace.
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 Based in London, U.K., aladin works across categories. As an interdisciplinary artist and animateur his projects have been sited at: the Whitechapel Gallery, the ICA, LIFT, BAC, South London Gallery, Jerwood Space, Chisenhale Dance Space, London Design Festival, D+AD New Blood Festival, Portobello Film Festival, Pestival South Bank Centre amongst others. Between 2000-4 as Co-Chair of the Cultural Strategy Group at London’s City Hall he was instrumental in realising the world first integrated strategic plan for the development of the culture, media, sport, arts, heritage and tourism of a capital city. aladin also has backgrounds in strategy consultancy (advising global corporations and government bodies) and social practice (including work spanning 3 years in housing estates in South London and Montpellier, France). aladin is currently strategic counsel to Fogo Island Arts Corporation, Newfoundland, Canada in relation to regeneration of the region through social enterprise, geo tourism and arts. aladin’s practice across disciplines focuses on strengthening the process by which individuals and organisations go about their work. His fundamental approach is to break down barriers, subvert conventional practices and interrogate the status quo; he places importance on responsible and sustainable governance that recognises it is answerable to wider civil society. www.aladin.me
Martina Corgnati (Turin, 1963) is a curator and art historian. For many years dividing her time between academic activity (holding a professor chair in History of Contemporary Art at Albertina Academy in Turin), journalistic collaboration and critical involvement: writing not only for “Arte”, “Flash Art”, “Panorama”, “Anna”, “The Journal of Art”, “L’Indice”, “La Repubblica”, “Carnet Arte”, “Style” for which she was consultant director. Presently she has a column for “Chi” and writes for newspaper “La Repubblica”. She contributed to the first volume of the “California Italian Studies Journal”. She wrote, along with Francesco Poli, the Dizionario d’arte contemporanea (Feltrinelli, 1994) and the Dizionario dell’arte del Novecento (Bruno Mondadori, 2001); with the same publisher recently Artiste (2004), dedicated to researching female artists from Impressionism to the present. She curated numerous retrospectives dedicated to masters of avant-gardes and neo-avantgardes, such as Pinot Gallizio nell’Europa dei Dissimmetrici (Torino, Promotrice delle Belle Arti, 1992-93), Meret Oppenheim (Milano, Refettorio delle Stelline, Galleria del Credito Valtellinese, 1998/99), Gillo Dorfles il pittore clandestino (Milano, PAC, 2001) or Gianni Bertini (Pisa, Palazzo Lanfranchi, 2002). She also curated several monographs of contemporary art masters like the visual poet Lamberto Pignotti (Parise, 1996), Enrico Baj (catalogue résonnée, Marconi-Menhir, 1996), Mimmo Rotella (2000). She devotes special attention to the art of the Fifties and, from 2000 on, to non-
western art activities, especially Arab, and to the contemporary creative practices in the Mediterranean area and the Near East. In 2001 she was appointed a member of the International Jury of the VIII Cairo Biennial, in 2003 Italian commissioner to the Biennial at Alexandria (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), in 2006 she was appointed networking curator for the First Singapore Biennale and invited 3 artists from the Arab world; her texts are included in the short guide of the event and for the occasion she gave a lecture about present art situation in Lebanon. Later, on the same matter she curated several exhibitions and wrote several texts, scientific contributions and catalogues such as: Mediterranean Encounters – South Est (group exhibition including 11 artists from the Arab world: Samta Benyahia, Safaa Erruas, Mounir Fatmi, Khaled Hafez, Emily Jacir, Hala el Koussy, Walid Maw’ed, Moataz Nasr, Raeda Saadeh, Ahlam Shibli), Messina , Horcynus Orca Foundation, 2005; cat. Mesogea Visions of the Landscape – the glance of the “other”(workshops and exhibition including Akram Zaatari), Monza, Parco di Monza, 2006; cat. Silvana Italia-Italy. Arab artists between Italy and the Arab World (more than modern and contemporary 50 artists from Syria, Lebanon and Egypt who studied in Italy or presently live here), Damascus, Khan Assad Pasha; Beirut Villa Audi; Cairo, Horizon Gallery, 2008; and Arab Artists between Italy and Maghreb, Tunis, Maison des Arts, Alger, Museum of Contemporary Art, Rabat, Museum of Art; both exhibitions organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affair, curated by Martina Corgnati with the collaboration of Saleh Barakat ; cat. Skira. In July 2009 these two exhibitions were presented together in the “Sala della Regina”, Camera dei Deputati – Montecitorio, Rome (title changed in Mediterranean Crossroads, catalogue published by De Luca). The Gates of Mediterranean – Contemporary Art from Mediterranean worlds (group exhibition including artists from the Arab world: Sonia Balassanian, Nabil Boutros, Bourak Delier, Djamel Kokene, Mounir Fatmi, Khaled Hafez, Hala el Koussy, Steve Sabella, Mounira El Solh), Rivoli (TO), Regione
Piemonte, Casa del Conte Verde and other venues, 2008; cat. Skira. She took part in Art&Talks&Sensations, talk show: What Aesthetics Arab World is Expressing Today ?, Abu Dhabi, Palace of The Culture, in the context of Paris-Abu Dhabi Fair, 2008. In 2008 she was member of the International Jury of Cairo Biennale (chairman: Dan Cameron). She also curated several one-man show devoted to Arab artists and photographers in private and public galleries such as: Khaled Hafez (san Carlo Gallery, Milan, 2006 and 2008); cat Medhat Shafik (galleria d’Arte Moderna Spoleto, 2004; Castello di Umbertide 2007 and ot.); cat Ahmed Askalany (Magenta 52 Gallery, Milan, 2007); cat A photographer named Van Leo (Trieste, Castello di San Giusto, 2008); cat. Skira Ahmed Alaa Eddin (Napoli, Castel dell’Ovo, 2008); cat Nermine Hammam (Fondazione Horcynus Orca, Messina, 2009); cat Sanaa Tamzini (Tunis, Musée de la Ville de Tunis, 2009); cat Ali Hassoun. Between the two Seas (Siena, Magazzini del Sale, 2010); cat She is member of the board of the magazine “Contemporary Practices Journal, Art from Middle East.” Since 2000 she has been the consultant responsible for contemporary art at Horcynus Orca Foundation (Messina). She wrote the first monographic book in Italian devoted to Egyptian modern and contemporary Art: Egypt, Mesogea, ME, 2009.
refugees; Feb. 1992 Hessisch Niedersächsische Allgemeine Newspaper, Kassel (Germany).
Amira El Ahl Amira El Ahl is a journalist working as a foreign correspondent in Egypt for Deutsche Welle, Die Welt and GEO Magazine, among others. In her work, she focuses on topics in the context of Middle Eastern culture, politics and society. Being German/Egyptian, one of her aims is to foster inter-cultural dialogue. She also has a special perspective on the roles media can play in multi cultural contexts. Professional Experience includes: Oct. 2008 – to date Freelance Correspondent and Writer, Cairo (Egypt); Oct. 2006 – Sept. 2008 Der Spiegel (Foreign News department), Cairo (Egypt); • Foreign Correspondent, Near and Middle East; April 2006 – June 2006 Der Spiegel (Foreign News department), Cairo (Egypt); • Freelance writing and research; Jan. 2006 – March 2006 GEO (Gruner+Jahr AG&CO), Hamburg (Germany); • Worked for the magazines GEO Special, GEOlino and GEO Epoche; Jan. 2004 – Dec. 2005 Hessisch Niedersächsische Allgemeine Newspaper, Kassel (Germany); Worked as a trainee in various departments, including regional and international news, sport and culture; Oct. 2002 – Sept. 2003 Hessisch Niedersächsische Allgemeine Newspaper, Kassel (Germany); Internship at the regional news departement; July 2001 – Aug. 2001 GEO (Gruner+Jahr AG&CO), Hamburg (Germany); Research, documentation and writing for the production of GEO Special Egypt; June 1998 - Aug. 1998 Tobya Developers, Cairo (Egypt); Personal Assistant to the CEO; March 1998 – May 1998 St. Andrews Church, Cairo (Egypt); Teaching English as a Foreign Language to
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 Contemporary Practices Journal, and catalogues for shows curated by Daniela da Prato on art from the Arab World and Iran in Paris; Breaking News (2008), Golden Gates (2009), and Patrizio Travagli’s Monograph, MMX (Florence, 2010).
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.
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.
Wafa Gabsi Born in Tunisia, Wafa Gabsi studied Fine Art in Tunis and then earned her Master in Cultural studies from the University of Paris1, La Sorbonne. In the following year, Gabsi began more in-depth doctoral studies with the organization of an important field study concerning contemporary artists from Middle East. Actually, she’s carrying out doctoral research on contemporary southern Mediterranean artists in the international circuit of art and cultural globalization. The central question of her research is about the issue of “arab” identity. Gabsi works on two articles publication in 2011-2012: “Builiding netwoks of cooperation for research in the world of art. Case study in Tunisia” in REDES (Spanish scientific journal) and “La singularité artistique face au danger de l’apanage identitaire” in collaboration with the National Center for Scientific Research of Paris. Wafa Gabsi is also a researcher in the unity of “Art and globalization”-in the Museum of Modern Art, Georges Pompidou. Recently, she participated to the symposium Exploring Mobility in the Mediterranean –in Jordan. And in October 2011, she will present a conference in the case of The German Middle East Studies for Contemporary Research and Documentation and will be then in a residence of curatorial Studies in the Node Center of Berlin.
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. 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. 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.
Thank you to all those who were a part of this Project making it a great success. The Changing Room: Arab Reflections on Praxis and Times ÂŠ Finding Projects Association 2011
Exhibition at Spazio Qubi, Turin, Italy. Ina ssociation with Metroquadro Gallery and the Finding Projects Association.
Published on Aug 22, 2011
Exhibition at Spazio Qubi, Turin, Italy. Ina ssociation with Metroquadro Gallery and the Finding Projects Association.