Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

My name is January

Artist Reda Abdel-Rahman told Reham El-Adawi how he decided to mark the second anniversary of the 25 January Revolution in his very own way

No to Facism
No to Facism
Al-Ahram Weekly

Currently on show at Al-Bab Gallery in the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art, the exhibition I in the Revolution is artist Reda Abdel Rahman’s expression of all the political and social upheavals as well as the accidents and catastrophes Egypt has witnessed since the outbreak of the 25 January Revolution in 2011. The title is apt: it not only reflects the artist’s active participation in the revolution since the early days but also his firm belief in it as an ongoing process that has yet to bear fruit. For the exhibition showcases a series of self-portraits in which the artist appears as the icons of the revolution, one by one; his face is literally identified with those who sacrificed their lives (or their eyes) to free their country of political, military or religious hegemony. Abdel Rahman shows up as Khaled Said, Mina Daniel, Sheikh Emad Effat, fellow artist Ahmed Bassiouny, dentist Ahmed Harara (who lost both his eyes at protests). In an attempt to understand the other and their motives, he also represents himself as a Salafi, a Copt, a Jew, a policeman, a priest, a sheikh. He puts himself in a given position and endeavours to visualise how it might feel to be the person in that position, whether a Salafi or a conscript (in the riot police) forced to kill a fellow Egyptian peacefully demonstrating for basic rights. In one painting, Abdel-Rahman depicts himself as both a priest and a sheikh embodying “national unity” and the drive for equality regardless of sect.
Abdel-Rahman’s story with the revolution goes back to 8 February 2011, before the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, when he went to Tahrir Square with an unfinished mural he named “Angels of the Revolution”, which he completed on site, introducing in this way a new artistic experience to the contemporary scene. Generating an intimate relationship between the people in Tahrir Square and his work, he invited them to write their own comments and messages on the painting. “I also invited the close friends of those who died in the revolution to write their names in order to perpetuate their memory,” he remembers. The mural, also on display at the present exhibition, shows living people with their names appended to their figures -- they are also willing to die for their country; it is also signed by artists and celebrities such as filmmaker Khaled Youssef, actors Mona Zaki, Gihan Fadel, novelist Wahid Abdel-Meguid and former minister of culture Emad Abu-Ghazi. This monumental canvas was previously shown in Paris in November 2011 and at the Beirut International Art Fair in 2012, thanks to the Sophie Lanoë Gallery which has supported Abdel-Rahman since the start of the revolution. But this is not the only work he created in Tahrir Square.
“The Maspero massacre and the violence that took place on Mohamed Mahmoud Street between 19 and 25 November 2011 inspired me to create another painting again in Tahrir Square, this time entitled ‘Days That Made the Revolution’. I had felt that dates started to gain more and more significance in the life of Egyptians and became associated with bad and good memories such as the Two Saints Cathedral bombing which took place on New Year’s Eve in January 2011, as well as 25 January of course, then 2 February -- the day of ‘the Battle of the Camel’ and 28 November 2011, when the Islamic movement emerged rapidly and strongly to dominate the political scene starting with the parliamentary elections,” he explained. This second painting depicts six striking blocks full of people from Egypt’s various social levels where the calendar leafs marking the dates in question float on top. Abdel Rahman uses mixed media on canvas; his paintings are large, ranging from 295-250 to 120-80 cm.
Abdel Rahman’s masterpiece “No to Fascism” -- also on show -- was the artist’s direct response to the results of the first stage of the presidential elections, when he found himself forced to choose between the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood candidates. “No to Fascism” is a work that denounces all forms of fascism whether political, religious or military. It depicts two faces: a civilian with a beard and a military man, with a red cross on each face and a number of handwritten sentences, words, slogans and messages with the signatures of those who wrote them as again they were asked by the artist to scribble how they felt about religious or social oppression and what they aspire to. Among many significant statements thus made by young and old alike are: “I am angry”; “An Egyptian and the living is bitter”; “Egypt above all”; “The revolution is ongoing in spite of everything”; “Freedom or death”; and “Egypt, loving you is no longer enough”. “The painting is still open for more people to write down what they wish for the revolution, express their fears and denounce all present means of the centralisation of authority and the creation of another dictator as I believe we still suffer from religious, military and financial fascism,” Abdel-Rahman added.  
Asked how he feels about the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on Egypt’s various institutions and authorities and the danger threatening freedom of creativity, Abdel Rahman said, “I already created a self-portrait in which I am a woman wearing an Islamic headscarf; it’s currently on show in Paris. Through this work I show that hijab doesn’t only cover the head but also the mind. Moreover, I am participating in a group exhibition in a private gallery in Zamalek with a number of female nudes.”
(see Listings p.29)

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