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How Egypt is making the art grow fonder

The local art scene is getting bigger and attracting a international input This year has seen a flowering of the local art scene boasting diversity and fresh names as well as new collections from acclaimed artists. For famous modern artists in Egypt like Farghali Abdel Hafiz, Farouk Hosni and Gazbeya Sirri, new productions of their …


The local art scene is getting bigger and attracting a international input

This year has seen a flowering of the local art scene boasting diversity and fresh names as well as new collections from acclaimed artists.

For famous modern artists in Egypt like Farghali Abdel Hafiz, Farouk Hosni and Gazbeya Sirri, new productions of their abstract painting were exhibited throughout the year.

But 2006 may be best remembered for the incredible growth in the contemporary independent art scene which has been on a constant increase in the past few years. These young artists have merged with the global trend of conceptual art.

As the name implies, conceptual art is art in which the concept or idea involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns.

Art Galleries in Egypt like the Townhouse, Mashrabia and newest member CIC (Contemporary Image Collective) contributed to this transformation, giving artists an outlet for presentation of contemporary ideology of art that may not be acceptable in other ateliers.

It is also one of the main reasons Cairo is increasingly becoming a stop for touring international artists, thereby encouraging culture exchange and more opportunities for local artists to take part in international exhibits.

According to American artist Daniel Joseph Martinez who was in Egypt showing at the 10th International Biennale, Egypt is starting to become part of the international art movement by letting go of local art and embracing western style.

“You look at artists in Egypt and they have their own history in art but what they are attempting to do is to remold themselves in western form using the same language as everyone. I would probably argue that Egypt is in the beginning of that stage, he says.

Martinez is one of many artists who have come to Cairo since the beginning of the year.

Highlighting the artistic endeavors of this year was the brilliant Kairotic exhibit which saw the curatorial debut of German Egyptian artist Susan Hefuna. The title is a philosophical term which means ‘the right moment in time’ which Hafuna feels is now as Egypt has become so international.

This show included Egyptian Canadian artist Karim Rashid whose family immigrated to Canada when he was two years old, and hadn’t been back until his exhibit of nine pieces inspired by hieroglyphics. Each piece in the collection epics a story of modern life, using the same concept as the pharaohs documenting their lives through drawings. He used his family as the centerpieces performing everyday functions like shopping, exercising – reflecting contemporary trendy life.

In March, the Townhouse had yet another hit with Lebanese/French/Egyptian artist Lara Baladi’s instillation entitled “Roba Vecehia (or the “Wheel of Fortune ) which was a walk-in kaleidoscope.

The idea behind this extraordinary art instillation came to Baladi as she was playing with a toy kaleidoscope, which she finds “completely fascinating. She found that when she passes it on to people, it only occupies their attention for a few seconds, as it is only glitter and little shapes of stars and moons. So when she created her own version, she made the details a little more interesting.

In her very own Kaleidoscope, Baladi replaces the colored material with 2188 images. Nearly 96 percent of the images are her own still photography and the rest are pictures she has taken of photographs and posters, postcards, stickers and designed papers she had brought from Japan to make paper dolls and some, very few, from the internet.

So, by using glass and mirrors and constructing them in the shape of a pyramid, Baladi was able to project these images into the prism, with the outcome being the same effect of a Kaleidoscope.

Walking into the Kaleidoscope, you can see your own reflection multiplied inside the instillations, enabling yourself to become a variable in the art piece.

In the summer, the Arab world was shaken by the war in Lebanon and the art world was no different. When the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah ended with a ceasefire, attention shifted to ways in which to help the devastated Lebanese economy and its people. The local cultural scene decided to play a part in helping out.

Aleya Hamza, Mohammed Yousry, Laila Soliman and Hala El-Kousy, who are all either artists or work in the cultural field, put together the Li Beirut (For Beirut) Solidarity Campaign for Lebanon, which involves singing, poetry reading, film screening and exhibitions.

“We felt like the reaction in Egypt was very weak – in terms of cultural events and demonstrations, everything was small in number and low in voice. We felt like something else bigger had to be done, explains Soliman.

With that ambition in mind, they decided to host a series of cultural events and began by contacting a variety of venues. They received support from CIC, the Townhouse Gallery and Ebdaa Gallery, which are all hosting the events.

The campaign ended up raising LE 60,000. They received an average of 200 people in the audience for every event, along with excellent media coverage.

Egypt’s second city Alexandria also saw an artistic rebirth of its own, with Hoerbelt and Winter’s “Mahmoudiya Cratehouse standing out among them.

The crowd gathered along the Mahmoudiya canal, in an industrial part of town, to celebrate the unveiling of this city’s latest piece of public art: an avant-garde installation by the German duo of Berthold Hoerbelt and Wolfgang Winter.

The crate house was built from 969 pink milk crates which looked like a big piece of pink candy glowing in the evening twilight.

A joint project of the Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum (ACAF) and the Goethe Instituit, the “Mahmoudiya Cratehouse is also a major coup for Alexandria’s small but growing art scene, which is just starting to emerge from Cairo’s shadow as a vital center for modern Egyptian art.

“It’s a very small scene here (in Alexandria) and it’s prone to a very classical way of thinking, says Bassam El-Baroni, co-owner of ACAF. “But what we’ve tried to do is to open up to new developments and try to get in sync with what’s going on in the rest of the world. Alexandria can feel like a very isolated place.

With 2006 rounding out as a year of successful artistic enterprise, it is expected 2007 will go even further. Michael M. Kaiser President of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C visited Egypt in November to discuss a culture exchange forum with Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni.

Kaiser is coordinating the Arab Art Symposium expected in April 2007 in Cairo. The point of this seminar is to present and promote art by strengthening strategic planning, marketing and fund raising.

The plan is to make this symposium an annual event, moving it from one Arab country to the next every year.

“Egypt seems like a natural heart of this activity, there is so much great culture here, so much great history and so it seems like a natural place to start, says Kaiser.

During his stay he met with various business leaders who are potential donors to the arts. Sponsorship of art is now rare in the country. Kaiser is optimistic about increasing private philanthropy, but acknowledges there is much work to be done.

Topics: Gamma Islamiya

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