Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Pop art reloaded

Pop art has re-emerged on the Cairo scene, Rania Khallaf investigates

 

#pop art # pop art
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Pop art, a phenomenon of 1950s America and Britain, has influenced generations of contemporary Egyptian artists who employ elements of kitsch and pop culture (mostly ironically) to spice up their work.

This was amply demonstrated in Samir Fouad’s month-long retrospective which closed on 24 February at the Ufuq 1 Gallery, Mahmoud Khalil Museum. Curated by Ihab Al-Labban and demonstrating Fouad’s various phases from still lives to the Siren by way of the Oriental dancer and other motifs, the exhibition bears evidence of Fouad’s versatility and his recent interest in pop art.

In one large painting from the 2017 exhibition “Al-Naddaha” (or the Siren), in which he suggested that globalisation was the naddaha that called unsuspecting men to her, seducing and killing them, a woman with an evil glint in her eyes is framed by a window on which part of Coca-Cola sign (a pop art motif that first appeared in Eduardo Paolozzi’s 1947 collage I was a rich man’s plaything) can be seen.

A smaller painting of a dark, melancholy woman with a ponytail pretending to eat with a spoon out of an empty plate features a huge 7Up advertisement whose red circle matches her T-shirt, symbolising poverty in the face of global commercialism. But in another large painting it is the trademark of Al-Aroussa (or “the doll”) tea, a local product, that defines the space around a doll-like little girl in a hat whose aspect recalls the figures in Diego Velsquez’s famous 1656 painting Las Meninas (or “maids of honour”).

One large painting features the McDonald’s “M” behind a frightened-looking man; he is shaking, his mouth open in shock, and painted in a greenish-white colour. A smaller painting of a helpless-looking woman in a cheap blue dress has the letters of the word “McDonald’s” scattered over a light brown background.

But Samir Fouad is not the only painter who has been employing pop art. In a 2012 exhibition at Al-Gezira Arts Centre, “Supermarket”, 19 younger artists including Ahmed Abdel-Fattah, Nour Ibrahim and Ibrahim Saad dealt with the theme of consumerism and need.

An unforgettable illustration by Abdel-Fattah showed a white dining table with two white chairs and white dishes neatly set on it, with the head of a man on one and the rest of his organs on the others: an ironic contradiction that seems to bridge the gap between surrealism and pop art. Another illustration by Alaa Abdel-Hamid featured two shelves with miniature figures holding the logos of well-known products: McDonald’s, BMW, etc.

Marwa Al-Shazli’s 2013 exhibition “Made in Lebanon”, too, depicted how an entertainment industry designed and produced in Lebanon is marketed and consumed in Egypt. Held at the Mashrabia Gallery, the show featured 35 mixed media pieces in which she focuses on Lebanese pop icons like Nancy Agram and Serine Abdel-Nour. Also remarkable was Nadia Wahdan’s mixed-media portraits of Umm Kolthoum, Shadia and other Golden Age divas for whom she clearly felt an un-ironic affection rather like Andy Warhol’s for the stars he included in his works.

But pop art can also be traced to Mustafa Selim’s 2014 “Fulography”, a reference to both the popular dish fuul and hieroglyphics, in which the artist played with Egypt’s cheapest grassroots meal with sarcastic panache at the Zamalek Art Corner, revealing the connection between it and the culture.
Here as in Fouad’s retrospective, however, pop art does not constitute a movement in its own right but rather one of several modalities in which the contemporary artist’s distaste for consumerism and/or keenness on the signs and symbols of daily life will repeatedly express itself.

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