Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Made in Lebanon, consumed in Egypt

Surrounded by paintings of Lebanese divas, Rania Khallaf caught a whiff of fake femininity

Made in Lebanon, consumed in Egypt
Made in Lebanon, consumed in Egypt
Al-Ahram Weekly

Amid the political turmoil in Egypt, when the most talked about subject is the ongoing drafting of the new constitution, a new season of art exhibitions finally started this week. One of the new art exhibitions bears the title “Made in Lebanon”, and it is about the Lebanese entertainment industry marketed and consumed in Egypt. The exhibition is held at Mashrabiya Gallery, Downtown, and features around 35 mixed media works of different sizes. The works, paintings and collages, feature media divas such as Nancy Agram, Serene Abdel-Nour and others.

Marwa Al-Shazli, the Egyptian artist, explains that the exhibition reflects her own affection for pop art. Al-Shazli is fascinated with the world of celebrity and attempts to question this growing industry of pop singers in Lebanon and its  influence in Egyptian society. This is Al-Shazli’s first solo exhibition. A graduate of the Fine Arts College in Zamalek in 2006, she has participated in collective exhibitions with sarcastic portrayals of political figures.

“I find myself infatuated with famous figures that enjoy a kind of authority, be it political or entertainment, and I find it amusing to expose this authority and analyse it,” Al-Shazli explains. “I am haunted with questions about the messages loaded in the posters and advertisements of Lebanese divas, and also the speeches of media stars, loaded with promises and ideas that have nothing to do with our harsh reality, and their impact on society, and on normal people who have limited income and modest dreams to fulfil in life.”

She has even painted star preachers as fairy objects...

But it took Al-Shazli a whole year to accomplish this project. “I planned to travel to Lebanon and Syria a year ago, but the flight was cancelled due to the political circumstances, so I had to do my own research here in Cairo,” she said.

In Egypt, Andy Warhol made a huge impact on Egyptian contemporary artists. One good example of the new generation of pop artists is Rami Douzi, a young artist and teacher at the Fine Arts College whose exhibitions are a clear example of the sarcastic use of kitsch — which is also a staple of Al-Shazli’s art. The acrylic colours she uses are loud and similar to those you could find in street posters or advertisements.

One thing missing in this exhibition, however, is the spirit of irony or sarcasm. “I did not mean to be sarcastic about the industry itself,” Al-Shazli explains. “I just wanted to make clear that the pop industry is being received and consumed in a too miserable reality. The sarcasm lies here in this harsh contradiction between the divas’ extravagant appearance, what the songs say, and our poor reality.”

The basic feature of this industry is the combination of regional Arabic tunes with elements of international pop music. The themes tend to focus on longing, sorrow, passion and all kinds of dreamy romantic love. Therefore the most frequently used words are “my love”, “my sweetheart”, which come from an unrealistic domain, probably as a means of resistance or to satisfy irreplaceable human needs which enlarges the idea of dream and hope, Al-Shazli suggests.

One huge collage features the photos of four Lebanese divas: Nancy Agram, Nawal Al-Zoghbi and Hayfaa Wahbi; they are suffused with all kinds of dazzling accessories, pornographic costumes and sexual implications, and in the middle the word al-hobb, or love, is engraved in a pinkish colour. Another huge portrait of Agram is adorned with lace, fine cloth and glitter to make the viewers, as Al-Shazli spontaneously told me, notice the extra cosmetic materials which enhance the vision of their beloved star.

Although this is in line with Egyptian taste, especially among the young, it jars with the actual social situation in general and sexual culture in Egypt and raises controversy about democracy as such, Al-Shazli said, arguing that “while many of these albums and posters are produced in Gulf countries, they tend there to cover the posters of a naked arm in black because this runs counter to their conservative culture. Moreover, some countries in the Gulf area interfere to ban video clips or music they find inappropriate. The Gulf communities should be consistent with their values. How come they produce the commodity and then resist its appearance on the shelves?”

Despite the fact that pop divas are hugely successful both in the Arab world and the Arab communities in the West, the social and cultural position of our community towards sexual allusions highlights the double standards of the democratic tradition in the region, and this is one of the issues the exhibition is keen to highlight, she noted. The problem, she further explained, is that using exaggerated love themes by Lebanese divas increases the realm of the “dream” and creates an invisible feeling of false freedom, only for a few minutes during the show on pop music channels. “I believe that their impact is exactly like the impact of political slogans in times of elections, which make false promises of a better tomorrow,” she added.

It seems Al-Shazli worried more about the theme than the artistic dimension of her work, however, something she concedes. “I have paid more attention to  the concept more than the artistic aspect,” she agreed. “But this is actually the nature of contemporary art now, where the concept or the theme takes over the artistic technique or professionalism of the artist. It is easy to produce a perfect piece of art, but what counts is the concept.”

Al-Shazli is now busy completing the drawings of a children’s book and an academic study on political paintings in the Middle East. Her exhibition is an invitation to rethink many questions pertaining the entertainment industry and social concepts taken for granted by many Arabs.

 

The exhibition runs until 17 October.

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