Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 March 2012
Issue No. 1089
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Can you see the woman on the tank?

In celebration of International Women's Day last Thursday, Gallery Misr, one of Cairo's newest and most trendy art galleries, held an exhibition with the odd title of Tank Girl, Rania Khallaf writes

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The exhibition, which will be on show until 29 March, is the third by Nadine Hammam and focuses on the critical relationship between women and our parental society.

Born in 1974, Hamam is a graduate of English and comparative literature from the American University in Cairo and gained her MA degree from Central Saint Martins School of Art in London.

The exhibition is divided into two sections: "Heartless", which has about a dozen paintings and "Tank Girl", the most controversial piece in the exhibition.

The painting features an outline of a young woman driving a tank, all in pink, while pink rats scamper from the cannon to the ground to form two long lines linked at the end in a point under a painting hung in a prestigious position on a separate wall. On the other three walls of the room are three words printed in glittery red: "Go Love Yourself".

At the first fleeting look the rats look like the leaves of a tree, and the prevailing pink, as well as this ambiguous call for love, gives the viewer a vision or romance. On a second look, however, one starts to realise the second dimension of the painting. The pink denotes the fragility of the army and the position of military power in the eyes of revolutionists and nationalist Egyptians in general after more than a year since the beginning of the January Revolution.

As a keen participant of the demonstrations and sit-ins during the first year of the events , Hamam only reflected her passion and feelings towards the revolution two months ago.

"In the days of revolution I was so much involved in the events that I could not sit aside and use my brush," she says. "I was so confused; I didn't know exactly who the revolution's enemies were and who were its friends," she told the Weekly. "I can't hide the intensity of my early passion for the army when they first rescued the country from the fierce hold of the police who killed hundreds of demonstrators. They gained the revolutionaries' support, but all this has changed now that the army has proved its failure in controlling the country in the transitional period. This is why I am telling them now, 'Go love yourself', because nobody loves you anymore," she says.

"To be loved, one should express one's love and care for others. This is a simple rule, so what if this rule pertains to the relationship between the army and the whole nation?" Hammam asks.

The exhibition is in line with Hammam's passion for the issue of gender and political power and her eternal quest to explore the relationship between the private and the public.

The painting also challenges traditional notions about women's roles in our patriarchal society. Women, in her view, are entitled to a part in all roles, even in the most complicated fields. "Driving a tank is not a male-dominated job, and it is high time for women to challenge all traditional notions pertaining to their role in life," she says with a brave smile.

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