CAIRO: “What I always love about Huda’s work is that there is a lot of intelligence because she has the background and knowledge of all religions and of the local culture . But not in a stiff way, it is extremely creative and artistic, says young artist Malak Helmy while admiring Huda Lutfi’s new exhibition at the Townhouse Gallery. The new show, entitled “Arayis (Dolls), is the first of it’s kind and a new direction for Lutfi, who as well as being an acclaimed artist is also a lecturer of Middle East history and cultural art at the American University in Cairo.
“I use the doll as a medium to make a comment and statement about Egyptian society and concept, says Lutfi, whose artwork is always backed up by immense research and ideas; in this case, two years of preparation were needed.
According to Lutfi, she chose dolls in order to represent what she is trying to say as well as to experiment with a new medium. Dolls are not well respected in the art world, as it has always been a woman’s tradition, not art. Lutfi, however, decided to prove that it can be integrated well into contemporary art.
Fellow artist and publisher Paul Geday enjoys viewing and analyzing the exhibition and feels there is much variety within the idea. “I think she really developed the themes of Arayis in many different ways. She really opened up the concept, he says.
For example, Lutfi uses tongs in the shape of women that are used to move the coals in a shisha (water pipe). After a great deal of time spent figuring out how to use these interesting “gender cultural objects, she designed an instillation where she lined up the tongs in a labyrinth fragile construction.
“It’s about the human condition, not just about the woman, that we are all bound by the structures that we super impose on ourselves and that these boundaries are very fragile and could collapse at any moment, she says.
Another object used in one of the instillations is the obab (classic wooden slippers no longer made). She chose to use them as a symbol for femininity, and imprinted the Islamic star on each one, placing them in the pattern of the Mandela, the circle of creation and death which is continuous.
The exhibition is quite large and features many different uses of the dolls, using instillations, paintings and sculptures and a great use of color in them. All of the pieces have deep cultural meaning, as well as being aesthetically pleasing.
“The appearance of the doll in multiple shapes and media throughout the exhibition eventually de-naturalizes this ubiquitous and often overlooked object, instead identifying it as central to historical, social and cultural discourse, says Clare Davies, associate curator at the gallery.
Lutfi’s work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions in Egypt, France, Holland, the U.S. and Germany since the mid-nineties. Her work belongs to such collections as the Museum of Modern Art The Hague; the American University in Cairo; the Indianapolis Museum, Indianapolis; the World Bank Egypt and Fortis Circustheater Foundation, The Hague, among others.