Into the tunnel
Amira El-Naqeeb steps into an intricate world of faces and places
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Clockwise from top: a painting of protesters in Tahrir; an intricate set of emotions are portrayed in the painting of the overthrown president; at the Sadat Metro exhibition;the innocent smile; and the laughing eyes
"That was my son, you know?" said the man standing next me, pointing at a pencil sketch of a young man. Over the top of the picture are the words: "Martyr of the Revolution: Shehab Siam El Dien".
His words shook me to the core. I wavered before I said, "Rabena yerhamo." ("May God bless his soul).
The experience was unique. I had seen it in my travels through Europe, but to see art work plastered on a metro station's walls was something novel in Egyptian culture.
The exhibition was held at a very significant place, the Sadat Metro Station in Tahrir Square. This is the second initiative since the 25 January uprising. The first took place on 12 May, and also had the revolution was its main theme.
People from all walks of life were viewing and judging the art work. Then there were the others, those who were not there for the art: a few young Egyptian men were seizing the opportunity to check out the array of females present and drop some cheesy pick-up lines. It can only be said that the idea of an exhibition in a public place is new to our culture, and it will take some time before society understands that art goers have human rights too.
In this case art, instead of waiting for people to make a conscious effort to see an exhibition, is coming to the people. I was very excited at the notion. I studied people's faces as much as I scrutinized the exhibits. Some were interested, and some were judgmental, and some were just curious. Overall it was a refreshing experience, and in this way ordinary metro commuters can find culture on their doorstep.
The artwork varied between photography and paintings, but the dominant theme was the Egyptian revolution. That was not the only theme, however. When Egypt was portrayed it was mostly as the archetypal Female Egyptian Peasant. There were numerous portraits of Egyptian faces. One that caught my eye was a portrait of a girl wearing a hijab (head covering) and a beautiful smile. The close-up was on her face, but it was clear from the veil and clothing that she came from a modest background, but the innocence in her smile and features was sweet and sincere. It was the emotion, rather than the face, that stood out.
There were also pencil sketches of some of those who gave their lives in the uprising. An interesting section was the "Museum of Shehab", named after one of the martyrs. This section showed some graphical portraits of the young man, portraying him lifting weights, on the beach or as an angel with developing wings. It was very poor graphically and looked like a tribune made for him by his friends, but it was the gesture that counted.
A few of the pieces had landscape themes, and some were impressionistic to set off the dominant political theme. The quotation, "Every bird that soars high will eventually fall," is written on top of one of the plastered flyers with the faces of members of the fallen regime. The photography section laid an emphasis on the stirring emotions of the uprising and documenting scenes from Tahrir Square.
The idea of transforming public spaces into art galleries is becoming a trend. A few years back there was a similar attempt at the Opera House Metro Station, but the exhibitions ceased for unknown reasons. Are we on the verge of an era of flaunting art in public spaces? A question that yet remains unanswered.