'Supermarket' is one of the most adventurous and progressive art exhibitions currently on show in Cairo. The exhibition at Al-Gezira Art Centre is sponsored by several independent cultural organisations, including the Gezira Arts Centre and Studio Khana for Culture Development.
'Supermarket' includes conceptual art works by 19 young artists, and according to Ibrahim Saad, the general commissar of the exhibition, the aim is to address the relationship between the local approach to consumerism and the actual needs of Egyptian society.
As one enters the exhibition gallery one is instantly hit by the impression of being in a hypermarket. The rooms, while connected, are each divided into several sections, each dedicated to an artist and reflecting that artist's concept of the theme of 'Supermarket'.
While some artists opted to discuss the reality of consumeristic modes, others resorted to exploring the ideology behind them.
The concept of the exhibition, which is organised by Studio Khana in cooperation with a group of independent artists, is based on the discussion of the surrounding consumeristic reality through an imitation of the supermarket model, exploring the ideas thrown up that relate to the philosophy of consumerism, and transforming these into consumerist commodities.
"This group of artists collaborated previously in a similarly progressive exhibition, 'Shift Delete 30', which was held last January at the Saad Zagloul Cultural Centre in Downtown Cairo," Saad told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The group plans to have a new exhibition every six months, and we are looking forward to forming a movement to reflect the new artistic vision by the new generation of artists in Egypt."
It took the group some time to discuss the ideas related to consumerism. "We held a number of brainstorming sessions to discuss the theme and its multiple dimensions," Saad said. "The discussions went further to discuss using human beings as commodities, and controlling their consumerist preferences, and how necessary it is for people to say 'no' when they are faced with commodities they neither want nor need."
Almost all the exhibits are in the form of video art and installations, and it seems the two techniques are the most compatible to the theme.
Saad believes that one of the aims of his group is, "to provide the audience with ideas that shock and so motivate their imagination."
He goes on, "Art should be more related to society and its critical issues and dilemmas. Art is no longer a piece where rich people hang on the walls of their salons."
A black and white caricature-like drawing by Bassem Youssri is stretched across three walls. It features repeated small boxes with typical figures inside them; the boxes are similar in size to the wooden squares built into the ceiling of the gallery. The boxes decrease in number until they reach the mouth of a military dictator seated on the throne of power. The work seems to reflect a political vision, but Youssri, a graduate of the faculty of fine arts in 2003, believes that the installation is closely related to the supermarket theme.
"The idea of the supermarket is comprehensive, and my installation is closely related to 'stereotyping' people and their needs and ideas. Political propaganda could also be seen as a commodity where people, at times of elections, are forced to accept the agenda of one political candidate or another," he told the Weekly.
Youssri is also a creative filmmaker, and he suggests that the exhibition has more of a global theme because the majority of Egyptians have no experience of the spiralling consumerism in the country, since they do not have the luxury of buying superfluous commodities.
Just a few steps from Youssri's installation is another thought-provoking work, this time by Ahmed Abdel-Fattah. It depicts a white dining table with two white wooden chairs; while on the well hang serving plates, one decorated with head of a man, another with human organs cut in a way that invites one to draw closer to the table despite the stomach-churning sight.
It could be the contrast between red and white, or the absurdity of the peaceful coexistence between these two odd items: butchered human organs and a romantic dining table.
Alaa Abdel-Hamid opted to address the concept of logos and their powerful influence on people and their imagination and dreams. He has built glass shelves on two adjacent walls; on each shelf is a number of innocuous white statues of males holding logos of internationally renowned brands such as McDonald's, BMW and Lacoste.
The scene is quite cynical, and the number of similar white statues reminds one of the packed shelves of a real supermarket where in a moment one's vision becomes hazy because of this inexorable repetition of rows of similar commodities.
One of the most interesting works is the maze by Nour Ibrahim, a fresh graduate of the American University in Cairo (AUC). Her work is a simple, red-painted door; once you open the door you find yourself in a maze of narrow corridors, with one leading to another. While you are forced to move forward, the corridors grow narrower and the ceiling becomes lower. And then at the end you find another door with a small banner saying, "The maze starts here". The other door leads once again to the other gallery sections. As I moved cautiously through the maze, I felt as though I was in a real adventure, which I hope ended safely. Ibrahim believes that once we are born in this life, we are subsumed in so many events that it is like being lost in a maze. "It is much like an experience in a supermarket, but it is not just about a supermarket. My installation discusses this sense of being lost in a maze," she said adding, "I decided that I want to subject the audience to an experience within an empty space. The audience would come out of the maze and tell me it was really exciting, or that it was disturbing. I believe that how they felt after the experience revealed what was going on deep inside them, either worry, sadness or happiness.
"I also wanted to make people understand that once they were aware that they were lost in life, they could restart in a different way to manipulate their lives once again," and her smile broadens.
At the end of the exhibition, Ibrahim Saad's installation 'Safe Exit' illustrates some of the explosive tools that an immigrant might use on his way back to his home country, as a suicidal way to end his life when he finds out that he has lived his life the wrong way.
The exhibition is too rich to be digested in one tour; similarly, in a supermarket you cannot buy all the stuff you need in one visit. The audience will definitely need more time to spend in such a crowded supermarket, so make sure to visit the exhibition before the supermarket closes its doors on 4 July.