Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

To be alive

Rania Khallaf discovers new perspectives

To be alive
To be alive
Al-Ahram Weekly

Though the number of amateur and professional photographers in Egypt is dramatically on the rise, photography exhibitions remain scarce. Last week at ArtsMart Gallery, a huge space on the Cairo-Alexandria highway, an idea proposed by the veteran photographer Said Marzouk – that an exhibition of photography should be held to celebrate photographic activity and encourage a new generation of photographers to be part of the art scene – was finally realised.

A committee named Diwan Al-Funoun (or “the Art Court”) was set up to this end. According to photographer Mervat Azmi, a member of the committee, says the idea was adopted by the Regional Council for Information Technology, attached to the cabinet; the exhibition is the first in a series of activities. It includes 120 pictures by 45 artists, many of them women, spanning generations and provinces. 

“This is about having a database of photographers coming from all the different governorates, from domiat, Port Said, Aswan,” Azmi said. “We are all volunteers; but the cabinet is preparing a comprehensive plan for the future of the committee.”

Excellent pictures of environmental, historical and tourist subjects proved less interesting than street photography by Karim Al-Hayawan and Ayman Saadeddin. Al-Hayawan beautifully documents the journey of a tuk-tuk, Cairo’s cheapest and most polluting form of transport. In a line of five colour landscape photos of identical proportions, the chopped-up faces of passengers, driver and surroundings make a strong impression, carrying psychic as well as social and cultural meaning.

In three pictures of different sizes Saadeddin, for his part, shows the suffering of passengers of the Metro and the taxi. One colour picture of the Metro station features huge numbers of passengers in the morning rush hour; another, in black and white, is of the inside of a traditional taxi, with an old metre, a broken down cassette player and the driver’s wrinkled hand – a vision of the reanimated past.

Landscape photography also takes up a major part of the exhibition. Azmi’s picture of sand dunes within the Great Sand Sea in the depth of the Western Desert, for example, is awe-inspiring. “It was an adventure in the one-of-a-kind area extending some 700 km from the Siwa Oasis in the south to the Gulf of Al-Kabir plateau in the north; many of these dunes are as many as 100 metres high, stretching to distances as long as 70 km. It is a magic place with gigantic forms and characters, hard to traverse and overwhelming to capture.”

The established photographer Galal Al-Miseiri shows a stunning image of fishing nets reflected in Lake Mariout at the entrance to Alexandria. “It was taken last winter, after many days of continuous rain. The sky was cloudy, and the reflection was perfect,” he says. The nets look like a small room whose solidity belies the movement of the water.

Nada Mahrous’s brilliant image of an old red door with metal decorations in faint yellow on its surface features a giant, greenish key dangling from an iron chain. With its vibrant colours and feeling of age, the picture is symbolic and evocative.

Amr Orensa and Mohamed Gabr engage in symbolic work too. Orensa’s picture features scattered groups of women, all wearing black niqab; standing on different levels of a spacious, brightly lit cave, they look like bats. Gabr portrays a nude woman bent over with a red spot underneath her face, as if she is vomiting blood. It is a comment on the verbal and physical violence to which women are subjected.

But portraits remain the exhibition’s key genre. Lubna Abdel-Aziz, a graphic designer and graduate of a Jesuits Cultural Centre photography workshop from Alexandria who was featured in the Right-to-Left exhibition in Bahrain and the Mohammed V exhibition in Rabat, shows self-portraits in a variety of contexts. “By using painterly techniques,” she says, “traditional photographic properties are replaced by otherworldly elements.” She thereby places herself within secret and impossible worlds where she would like to live.

Manar Gad Timouna, for her part, exhibits two pictures from her project, “Happiness”. One features two little girls, Rania and Sara, running joyfully hand in hand on the Cairo Nile island Gezirat Al-Dahab. “For those children,” Timouna says, “happiness means enjoying the simplest pleasures of life, being able to play and interact with others.” Wearing untidy clothes in vibrant colours, they stand out against the pale rural background. 

The exhibition runs through 10 August.

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