Several years ago, artist and lecturer Shady El Noshokaty realized something about Helwan University’s art education curriculum: it was old-fashioned, restrictive and plagued by a scatter-shot approach that did little to foster creative thinking.
First, while students were forced to study traditional art forms like painting and drawing, they weren’t allowed to specialize. And second, the curriculum completely ignored new art forms, says El Noshokaty, a lecturer at Helwan University’s College of Art Education.
Frustrated, he decided to set up a workshop where students could experiment with newer mediums like video, photography and sound design that would run independent of the government’s official curriculum.
“The idea was to create a program that would give students the freedom to choose what they wanted to, away from marks and from the routine of a system, says a road-focused El Noshokaty, as he drove through rush-hour traffic in his Lada. Since its beginnings, the Faculty of Art Education’s Experimental Media Workshop Program has become a yearly tradition, where students gather to tinker, experiment and create. Five years of student output, from 2000 to 2005 (only a small session was held in 2001) are on display at the American University in Cairo’s Falaki Gallery.
The show runs until March 31 but the video elements will only run until March 20.
More than 200 students have taken part and over the years, El Noshokaty has brought in like-minded artists such as Hamdy Reda, Youssef Ragheb and Shereen Elansari to conduct sessions on everything from comics to performance art.
“It’s all experiments that came out of a free, liberal educational system, says El Noshokaty.
The workshops run on a budget of almost nothing and receive no government funding.
“[The ministry of higher education] still can’t understand why we would make a new media workshop, says El Noshokaty, noting that many of his colleagues also feel that vital, new art forms like experimental video have no place in a student’s art education.
“Many of them don’t see media as an art, he says, noting that putting on the annual sessions is “a big struggle.
The show gives students a chance to survey their collected works, and the fact that the collection is being shown at AUC means an opportunity for exchange and interaction between AUC and Helwan students.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity for students from both programs, says El Noshokaty, noting that the two programs have students that have “a totally different background and culture.
While art students at AUC have better facilities, more funding and greater artistic freedom, “most of them don’t really know what they want, says El Noshkaty, pointing out that the show is a testament to creativity and perseverance despite limited resources.
“They do this work with nothing, he says of the Helwan’s student work, stressing that much of the video output at the show was shot using old fashioned “low quality cameras and edited manually – a long and painstaking process.
“I hope that the AUC students come and learn, he continues. “Things can be done if you have patience and aim to do them with your own human experience.
The workshops have given many young artists the chance to dig into a completely new medium. Such is the case with Yomna El Banna, a photographer and artist who took part in a 2004 contemporary photography workshop, which was conducted by Hala Elkousy.
Before she took part in it, El Banna “knew nothing about framing, color and focus. Since then, she’s shown her work at the Contemporary Image Collective.
“She showed me everything, says El Banna.