A group exhibition, “To Egypt with Love,” is the newest presentation organized by Safar Khan Gallery showcasing the photographic talents of three young artists: Alaa Taher, Hossam Hassan and Bassem Samir.
Each artist has managed to capture moments during the 18 days of the January 25 Revolution from a multitude of perspectives. Most of the artists’ works articulate the hope and determination of the protesters through positive imagery; and the few in the exhibit that express otherwise do so with a delicacy that serves as both a record and a reminder of the more trying and tense moments of the revolution.
Both the artists and the gallery owner Mona Said had anticipated the rife pictorial expressions that emerged during those momentous times. The exhibition’s title is a highly appropriate declaration of nationalism considering that it captures the revolution and is intended to be a fundraising effort — all proceeds from the sale of the prints will be donated to charity.
It became apparent whilst discussing the works with the three artists collectively before the opening of the exhibition that each took his camera to the street, not knowing how the day’s events would unfold or what images they might walk away with.
Taher’s previous work has always focused on commercial, landscape and travel photography. “I’m not a photojournalist and I have no connection to it, but I wanted to do something slightly raw like photojournalism with a more creative angle. I tried to portray the spirit of hope and high morale through unconventional photojournalistic angles, abstracting everyday images of the revolution.”
In Taher’s images we see one man amongst a group of protesters walking with his arms raised, gesturing to the sky not in prayer but in an exclamation of what one reads as hope. Another scene is a mosque pictured at sunset and reflected in a pool of water that formed from a burst pipe. The picture is imbued with serenity, emphasized by the wide expanse of sky reflected in the pool.
The strength of Taher’s imagery lies in his success at capturing something that is unconventional in its poetry. A tree stripped of its leaves with branches splayed out stands in the background while in the foreground a car burnt to a cinder rests upside down. People are situated amongst the two, and seemingly nonplussed.
Yet it is the image of a man carrying a large Egyptian flag shot from a tilted angle that points to that positivism Taher hoped to capture: The flag is billowing overhead and for a split second, one can feel the pride and hope of Tahrir Square.
Whereas Taher concentrates on single moments, Samir’s pieces are more conceptual: “I didn’t focus on shooting still images but rather creating a concept and working within it, focusing on its layers to produce something particular. I started collecting all those photos so that I can create sequences.”
Samir’s pieces are best viewed in their order of pairings as exhibited. A number of images though break the mould such as the graffiti-style portrait of a 16-year-old martyr. The portrait is on a lone wall with a fallen street sign that once pointed to Tahrir pointing to the portrait. The statement is subtle yet nevertheless forthright and direct.
Samir’s photos are infused with plenty of commentary; long panels of shop windows closed and boarded up differently can be read symbolically if one chooses to; a man resting in front of the word “Facebook” scrawled on a wall is a reminder of the role of social media in the revolution, and the pictures of graffiti on the street is a moment of art imitating art.
Hassan’s work is visually more complex, layering images and stacking them almost haphazardly at times to challenge viewers to look even closer. One image has the Mogamma’ building symbolically taking up half a canvas, set as an imposing background overlooking all the moments in Tahrir pictured beneath it.
“Initially I had started taking pictures while protesting as a personal record, then I started taking pictures and considering how is it that I was going to translate these images into posters or onto canvas. My work is a combination of text, photographs and calligraphy,” explains Hassan. Many of his pieces require a concentrated study in order to pick out each element.
His ability to deftly diffuse the tension inherent in one image of policemen and protestors clashing is realized by inversing the colors to appear as though it was a large undeveloped film negative — neon colors and white replace blacks and grey shades. Hassan’s technique of employing bright color in such a particular manner makes it easier to view the images and softens the impact of the experience.
The strength of the show lies not only in the diverse styles on offer but also in its cohesion. Though three artists and sets of eyes have recorded the same historic moment, they offer different and fascinating angles.
The exhibition will run until April 9, open Monday through Saturday, 10 am-1:30 pm and 5-9 pm. Each image is a print from a series of five.
Safar Khan Gallery
6 Brazil St.,
Tel: (02) 2735 3314
Bassem Sammir, photography.
Alaa Taher, photography.