In the middle of Cairo’s downtown bustle is a little café that doubles as a gallery space named “Kunst. With barely enough room to encompass its tables and chairs, the café has emptied its walls for artists to hang their work for customers and the general public alike.
Currently occupying the walls of Kunst café is the work of Yasser Mongy, an artist who has had a steady string of exhibitions from 2001 to present. The show is titled “Manakholia which is the medieval Arabic take on the term “melancholia : a term that refers to an imbalance in the body that leads to depression.
The term “melancholia has been endlessly discussed across various cultures throughout the centuries, using the theory of humorism, whereby Greek and Roman physicians contended that the human body consists of four humors: Black Bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood.
According to Greek philosopher Theophrastus, the successor of Aristotle, the balance of these humors result in particular temperaments: Those with too much blood were sanguine or optimistic, those with too much phlegm were phlegmatic or indifferent, those with too much yellow bile were choleric or doers, and those with too much black bile were melancholic.
The later state is what Mongy is tackling in his latest work. He uses the infamous print titled “Melancholy by Albert’s Dürer, Germany’s unsurpassed engraver in the early 16th century, as a base for his undertaking. Dürer’s print was a depiction of the mental state of the artist – and by extension, his own mental state – and he presented a myriad of elements that draw the connections between creative genius, melancholy and consequently insanity.
What Mongy attempts to do in this new exhibit is to deconstruct the print by Dürer into its individual elements and move onto grouping it back together through his own additions and perceptions of himself as an artist.
The majority of the 10 or so prints on display are quite interesting. With the exception of a couple too crowded with details, all the prints presented a strikingly different quotation of ‘melancholy.’ This is where the essence of the exhibition lies. Mongy includes his own self-portrait in the form of a blurred photograph; in the rest, he adds elements of his own graphic design work.
Most of the pieces are well composed. The elements are balanced in a way that allows the viewer to comprehend the meaning behind the paintings without spelling it out.
Mongy uses a significant amount of negative space in his layouts, more so than Dürer’s claustrophobic composition.
The medium used by Mongy can be classified as graphic design, and through it, he manages to maintain the printing effect created by Dürer as well as add a more contemporary edge to his works.
In some pieces, the use of a computer becomes too apparent that the end result loses its engraved feel and hence looks like a print gone bad. In other pieces, it becomes difficult to draw a distinction between the hand-made engraving and the computer-generated print.
The overall work is exciting to read. The idea behind the exhibition is an age-old association of artists, their creativity and their susceptibility to insanity.
The location of Kunst along with the concept behind the work exhibited in its space account for a very successful combination.
Café-galleries were developed all over the world in an attempt to bridge the gap between art, artists and the general public, as well as break the barrier that galleries and museums may present to potential visitors.
Having a cup of coffee in a place surrounded by Egyptian representations of Dürer’s ‘Melancholy’ makes for quite an intriguing experience.