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Cairo Gets Its First Contemporary Art Salon

/ 09 Nov 2021

Cairo Gets Its First Contemporary Art Salon

After what one participant described as a 30-year wait, Egypt’s first Contemporary Art Salon opened in Cairo on November 3. The majority of the exhibited works looked as if they had come from a period the world had left behind.

There is no universal definition of Contemporary Art. Most critics agree that it combines the performing arts, complex figurative forms, the use of video, and spatial installations, based on philosophical foundations. But is hard to say precisely when it began.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London was founded in 1947. The website My Modern Met says Contemporary displaced Modern Art in the 1970s. The organisers of the four-week-long Cairo Salon take the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as their starting point.

Artist Mohamed Abla told Al-Fanar Media in an interview that the salon was “at least 30 years late”, but added: “It is better to come late than never.” He noted that this is a foundational session, and said “perhaps things are going for the better.”

The salon seeks to provide “a new and different experience … to revitalize the artistic movement.”

Khaled Sorour   Head of the plastic arts sector at the Egyptian Ministry of Culture

The salon was opened by the head of the plastic arts sector at the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, Khaled Sorour, at the Palace of Arts in the Cairo Opera House complex.

In a statement, Sorour said the ministry wanted “a new and different experience … to revitalize the artistic movement.” (See a related article, “Art as Memory Dominates Egypt’s General Exhibition.”)

Different Generations and Trends

Dalia Mostafa, the official in charge of the exhibition, said the preparation committee chose works by 25 artists “to represent different generations and artistic trends.”

For Al-Fanar Media’s critic and reporter, however, the majority of the works reflected traditional methods. The few exceptions were works by artists such as Mahmoud Hamdi, Ayman Lotfy, Sayeda Khalil, Mohamed Eid, and Jamal Al-Khashin.

Hamdi scattered various materials used in oil or mural painting over a large area, and presented them in a three-dimensional treatment. The effect was to highlight the anatomy of multiple cells.

He told Al-Fanar Media: “The main bet for this experiment is to attract the viewer to interact with the work, as he does not enter the exhibition area until after he puts gloves on his feet, similar to the foot gloves used in intensive care rooms, to avoid transmission of infection.”

Mohamed Abla too collected many tools and devices to formulate the vocabulary of his work, presented under the title “Auction”. In his case, the selected items echoed the past.

For example, he placed cassettes of Umm Kulthum songs, along with an old tape recorder, a set of typewriters and hand cameras, and put them up for auction inside the hall, with suggested prices next to them.

Abla says that the main idea is to “highlight the idea of ​​getting rid of the burdens of memory,” notably things that have been superseded by smartphones.

Installation in Space

“The main bet for this experiment is to attract the viewer to interact with the work, as he does not enter the exhibition area until after he puts gloves on his feet, similar to the foot gloves used in intensive care rooms, to avoid transmission of infection.”

Mahmoud Hamdi   One of 25 artists featured in the salon

Mohamed Eid, a teacher at Helwan University and one of the youngest participating artists, thanked the Ministry of Culture for organising the salon and said he hoped for more specialised sessions in the future.

He called on art colleges to set up scientific departments to study “the arts of installation in space,” saying that if this had been done before, there would have been “a strong artistic harvest.”

Eid’s work presented a set of suspended cylinders, covered with transparent blue fabric on which he depicted the different stages of life. Lines of intimate communication are also printed on the cloth, but they move in the form of air waves, and resemble stairs.

“I wanted to depict the various stages of life in the form of tidal waves, and the presence of stairs shows the desire to resume life, continue to rise and face failures and regressions,” he said.

The sculptor Ahmed Asqalani displayed models made from straw alongside a sculpture of a pharaonic sarcophagus lying at the entrance to the exhibition hall. He told Al-Fanar Media that his works “show the images of communication with [ancient Egyptian] civilization in a simplified way, free of glamor and images of parade, and using raw materials, perhaps poor, but available to everyone.”

Creating a Parallel World

“The place fascinated me as a plastic space full of many signs, as it is on the outskirts of cemeteries surrounded by the silence of death, in confrontation with the hustle and bustle of daily life.”

Samaa Yahya   Describing her work inspired by Cairo’s Sayeda Aisha district

The artist Samaa Yahya used things sold in the flea market in the Sayeda Aisha district of Cairo to make her work “The Gate of Lady Aisha”.

“The place fascinated me as a plastic space full of many signs, as it is on the outskirts of cemeteries surrounded by the silence of death, in confrontation with the hustle and bustle of daily life,” she said.

She said she “chose signs from this world, to emphasize the irony, and to emphasize the richness and diversity of popular vocabulary, by creating a parallel world” to draw attention to the neglect of heritage items. (See a related article, “Modern Architecture in Cairo: An Unsung Treasure.”)

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Jamal Al-Khashin’s work, “Biting the Apple”, shows human life in the form of an apple, “a symbol of cosmic struggle.”

He told Al-Fanar Media he was inspired by a drawing on the cover of an English magazine, in 1941, showing Hitler and Mussolini biting the map of the world, in the shape of an apple, at the time of the rise of Fascism.

“From here, I started linking my project with Adam and Eve,” he said. The aim was “to show some people who tried to engulf the world with wars,” such as the Islamic State militant group and others.




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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام