Tuesday,19 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)
Tuesday,19 December, 2017
Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A poster legacy

Nesmahar Sayed talks to the man behind an exhibition of retro movie posters, a remarkable contribution to the art scene

A poster legacy
A poster legacy
Al-Ahram Weekly

“Cinemania” (13 June-31 July) is an exhibition of classic Egyptian movie posters, reproductions and interpretations by both authentic poster painters and contemporary artists. Taking place at Darb 1718,  according to curator Herve Pourcines, the idea of the exhibition derives from the glamour and artistic power of Egyptian cinema in the 1950s to the 1970s.

“My idea was to revive some of the glorious moments of that era through the reproduction of hand-painted posters of iconic movies that are part of the consciousness of each man and woman of the Middle East,” he said. “The appeal of classic Egyptian movies goes well beyond Egyptian borders as Cairo used to be the Hollywood of the Middle East, where all great Arabic movies and all great Arab actors and actresses were made. This is why everyone in the Middle East understands and appreciates the Egyptian accent to this day. This was a time when many communities lived together - Greeks, Armenians, Italians, Syrian-Lebanese, French, German and Egyptian. These communities were strengths for and not threats to Egypt. From them sprang an unprecedented creativity in the arts but also in industry and they helped Egypt to become a standard bearer in the entire region.”

Pourcines was very fortunate, he says, to have met some of the original painters of the movie affiches from the golden age.

“Among them, he says, were Mohamed Khalil and his two brothers, Ahmed and Khaled, who were well into their seventies and eighties. They agreed to draw and paint movie posters again after so many years for the purpose of Cinemania. This makes this artwork very special as it perhaps makes up the last posters by authentic affiches hand painters, made using the same crafts and techniques that were used 50 years ago...”

Pourcines also called on young talents to make replicas or interpretations of posters.

“I gave them carte blanche to select the classic Egyptian movies that were significant to them and produce contemporary posters for these films using several media including paint, collage, photography or digital art.”

This made for a wide variety of styles within Cinemania, enriching the experience of the viewer. With 12 artists showing a total of 100 posters, billboards and poster-inspired pieces, the exhibition is truly something:

“It took a sustained effort over two years - from concept to exhibit - to be able to bring such a unique collection to the public. This project is a private initiative, which I planned, funded and executed on my own. This is also why it took time. But when I witnessed the many smiles on the faces of the public when interacting with the affiches, I knew Cinemania was definitely worth the effort...”

Pourcines applied two main criteria for the those posters: that they should be of 1950-1979 productions; and that the theme of the movie should be important to the artist.

“It should strike a chord with the sensibility of the artist,” in other words, “so that he or she would put more heart and soul into the posters.”

Though they were initially meant as advertisements to “sell” the movie – to generate curiosity and seduce the public – movie posters quickly developed into an artistic genre in their own right, combining painting with graphics and calligraphy.

“Made in different sizes and versions,” Pourcines says, “they immortalise in one artistic image the entire feel of a motion picture. One can say that vintage posters are truly artistic and represent some of the best commercial art produced to this day.”

Asked about the trend of using movie posters as home decoration, Pourinces was very positive:

“I believe that this trend is due to a true nostalgia for the way Egypt was during the 1950s to the 1970s, when society was seen as more modern and intellectually open and advanced. Egypt was then a regional model for post-colonial Arab society. It had the best universities, best hospitals, best engineers, and best film industry of the entire Middle East. Everyone came to Egypt and every neighbour looked up to Egypt. When compared to the way the region is torn and fragmented today, the heydays of Egypt look and feel like a distant dream. Therefore, anything that brings back the memory of the country’s glamorous past is instantly appropriated and loved by the public.”

Interest in the posters is equally strong abroad, he added, though perhaps for different reasons:

“In Europe, the public is constantly looking for the next best thing in technology or in art, including commercial and industrial art. Movie posters and billboards mix art and entertainment. They contain a lot of energy and a lot of emotions in a very contemporary way. They are catchy and they make a statement to which friends and guests cannot remain insensitive. Of course, this is not for everyone and for every home. Not least because hand painted affiches are quite rare...”

 “This is when its arts and industries were the most creative and brilliant, and when Egypt produced political, industrial and artistic icons, such as Nasser, Talaat Harb, Oum Kalthoum, Omar Sharif, Sabah, Roushdy Abaza or Faten Hamama. Some of the most iconic movies of the times include Bidaya wa Nihaya and Al-Qahira 30 by Salah Abou Seif, Al Liss wal Kilab by Kamal El Sheikh and Ibn Al-Nil by Youssef Chahine. Of course, the corresponding movie posters became iconic too. They became emblazoned in public consciousness and something so recognisable that everyone felt they’ve always known it. The poster springs to mind as soon as you hear the film’s name, and triggers excitement and intrigue, no matter how many times you see it.

“I sincerely believe that the unforgettable movie posters featured in Cinemania fulfil all these demands.”

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