Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 December 2011
Issue No. 1074
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The reddish line

Rania Khallaf is fascinated by a unique red area

Click to view caption
from top: Fady Ezzat; Heba Khaleefa; Randa Shaath;Mohamed El-Maymoony; Roger Anis and Thomas Hartwell

People: A Red Line" is the simple title of an exhibition of photography held last week at the Gezira Arts Centre in Zamalek. The one week-exhibition is a project by 14 photographers, most of them employed by Al-Shorouk newspaper.

Many photographic exhibitions have been held since the outbreak of the revolution, but this one was unique in many ways. Funded by the Al-Mawred Althaqafi, the Cultural Resource, the project took five months to set up; its aim was to document the revolution in its various phases.

The 150 photographs were taken at different stages in the revolution, which is now in its eleventh month: in January, February, July (the longest sit-in in Tahrir Square) in September, and lately in October with the Maspero events, which saw fatal clashes between the army and Copts in front of the Egyptian Radio and Television building a short distance from Tahrir Square.

There is an interesting tale concerning the exhibition's title. One of its sections was dedicated to revolution graffiti, and one of these curious pictures depicted a piece of Arabic calligraphy engraved in red on a wall of the Mugamma building in Tahrir Square, the main administrative building in Cairo. The calligraphy reads: "El sha'ab khat ahmar"; "People: a red line". The picture was taken by the established American photographer Thomas Hartwell, a long-time resident of Egypt. "It was interesting that people now understand that the red line is not the government any more. From now on, the red line is the people of Egypt," Hartwell told Al-Ahram Weekly. "And when we, the group of photographers, were thinking of a proper title for the exhibition after four months of working on the project, then this graffiti just bounced back to our minds and we thought that it really corresponded to the theme of the exhibition," Hartwell said.

The visitor to the exhibition can trace the first moments of the revolution and the development of events, and can also explore the future of Egypt. On entering the gallery you could be visiting parts of Tahrir Square, since the pictures themselves are exhibited in three rooms, each differently sized and each with a different theme.

One of the rooms, which is actually rather small, showed works by the brilliant young photographer Mohamed Hassan (1987 ê" 2010), who died a year ago. Among Hassan's many awards were a photo-journalism fellowship in Turkey and the Press Syndicate's Egypt prize which he won twice, in 2009 and 2010. Hassan's last work explored the launch of Gamal Mubarak's presidential campaign and El-Baradie's return to Egypt, two of the more significant events that helped fuel the revolution.

The largest room featured two different themes: confrontations between the police and revolutionaries, and features from the daily life of the revolutioniaries sitting-in in Tahrir Square.

According to Hartwell, the idea of the exhibition "is to reflect the spirit of the revolution in its different phases. And to show the audience unusual aspects of the revolution, in other words pictures with different point of view which have not been published in the press before."

A superb corner of the room shows the Egyptians' loyalty to their flag; red, white and black, the colours of the flag can be seen in a hat worn by a small child, a moving shot taken by Hartwell, and painted on the top storey of a building or on a gate of a boys' secondary school, two brilliant pictures taken by Fadi Ezzat. Randa Shaath, another established photographer, was also taken by the colours of the flag when she photographed a woman sitting on a pavement beside a tree. The three objects in the picture are decorated with the colours of the flag.

Photographers Eman Hilal and Fadi Ezzat focused on the confrontations between the security forces and unarmed civilians. The photographs, taken in the first two months of the revolution, show the challenge and enthusiasm of revolutionists compared with the stupidity and violence expressed by members of the police force. Burnt-out cars are recurrent in Ahmed Abdel-Latif's photographs and show the anger of protestors, while Gihan Nasr's picture of relatives mourning their dead at the Zenhum morgue on 28 October was very painful, displaying the grief of the parents of the those young protestors who were gave their lives for the cause.

Ezzat, who was shot in the stomach by riot police last week during the second wave of revolution, told the Weekly that he had grown more courageous and that he now pushed himself to the frontline of confrontation. Confrontation, it seems, is his favourite theme, as most of his exhibited pictures show.

In another corner, you can take a break from the revolution and return to normal life as you view some of the features of the protestors' life in Tahrir Square. One amusing shot taken on 7 February by Hilal shows a veiled mother changing her baby's nappy inside a tent. Ezzat took a picture of a group of young people playing cards in their tent on a winter night, also in the square and at the same stage of the revolution.

While all the photographs are of a documentary nature, young photographer Heba Khalifa opted for a collage technique blended with her photography in a unique spirit of experimentation. One of her remarkable images shows pedestrians walking peacefully on Qasr Al-Nil bridge, while around them and in other directions are lightly-coloured drawings of people, or, as she noted, the "martyrs of the revolution" who are still among us. In another work we see pharaohs walking among pedestrians, or a drawing of the journey of the Holy Family in Egypt. The photographs, taken in 28 January, echo -- as the photographer wrote on a small notice beside her section -- that: "Fear blends with joy. Civilisation flourishes again. In some way, we are transformed into martyrs or angels. The voyage of the Holy Family echoes again and history starts to change."

"Eyes for Egypt" is another section that shows pictures of some of those revolutionaries who lost their sight in confrontations with police during the uprising. Photographer Eman Hilal was taken by portraits of the unknown heroes, young and old, who were brave enough to be in the frontline facing the riot police. The photographs include one of 10-year-old May Nasser, who lost her left eye inthe clashes earlier this year.

Although the exhibition was very timely, the turnout could have been larger. The poor attendance, Hartwell suggested, was largely due to the fact that most people were either too involved or too afraid of the demonstrations and clashes taking place simultaneously in Tahrir Square during the span of the show. He thought future exhibitions might do better if they were relocated.

Hartwell told the Weekly that many of those featured in the photographs had been invited to the opening of the exhibition and were given the chance to tell their stories.

The show had far too much content to be savoured and consumed in one visit. It sent successive charges of mixed emotions: pain, hope, joy, sorrow -- but left you definitely proud of being a member of this peerless, great and tough nation, and ever more determined to resist blind violence and the mindless misuse of power by the military and police forces.

A red line between complete freedom and forced domination of the political power over the minds of Egyptians, I believe, is now more obvious than ever before.

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