Rania Gaafar goes Goethe
Al Ahram Weekly /2003
In a society that bears the weight not only of economic dispossession but that of regional turmoil and overpopulation, young artists must strive to prevent their work from disappearing in the middle of dusty, traffic-jostled crowds or along a skyline dominated by the symbols of Western consumer culture. Three such practitioners — Sameh El-Tawil, We’am El-Masry and Mohamed Shoukri — have sought the support of the Geothe Institute in an effort to produce and adequately circulate their work in an alternative milieu, seeking, as it were, an artistic breathing space. And the result of the convergence of their perspectives with the means provided by a cultural institution comprises four distinct photographic projects.
Sameh El-Tawil, for one, has produced a series of photographs entitled Slavery Documentary. At first glance they appear to depict the theme of slavery, but what they are really about is the notion of exile. The artist employs his own body as matrix, a many- sided visual symbol for expatriation and alienation. Exile in this very general sense intrudes on the most basic and intimate aspects of life; and the artist draws on his own experience in Saudi-Arabia and Europe to explore and articulate this process, making extensive use of the technique of photo-collage. In one work — a sort of fake ID card — the artist appears disguised as a Saudi citizen, with a series of different finger prints emblazoned on a different part of the surface, and X-rays of the human body lining its sides. El-Tawil, who began to contribute to local exhibitions at the age of 19 and has since received many awards and collaborated with German artist Bruno Wank, is currently studying at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. He feels that art in Middle East can no longer afford to be apolitical but insists that “we have to find forms of expression other than the intriguing image, which has lost much of its substance. Making pain visible,” by contrast, “will set emotions free.”“Slavery documents” 1999 Art Project by Sameh Al Tawil
Recently at the Goethe Institute Gallery was El-Tawil’s video installation, Demagh-Kopf, which subverts the notion of montage by presenting each of five interrelated characters on a separate screen, thus destroying the hierarchy inherent in temporal arrangement. At the same time sounds and voices are heard, many, many of them, but the viewer cannot make out any of them: everything and nothing. Giving voice to all that goes on inside the demagh (or head), he uses chaos to generate and regenerate ideas, feelings and connections. At the same time he deconstructs the film-making process, making it transparent. Placing a kind of mise-en-scène before the screen, he ensures that the shadows of those to be seated in the vicinity fall onto it. The moving image thus plays the part of the “imaginary signifier” of psychoanalytic film theory, providing a vivid sense of reality but nothing to see. Deceiving the eye of the spectator, El-Tawil subverts narrative film, exposing the pleasure- principle trick on which it must rely. “Kopf-Head”2003 Video Installation by Sameh Al Tawil
We’am El-Masry, working in collaboration with Petra Schneider towards an exhibition to open on 14 June in the same space, concentrates on the frozen image. To accompany their exhibition, the two artists will hold a black-and-white photography workshop. A Sixth October University teacher, El-Masry has long participated in German-Egyptian exchange programmes and exhibited in Germany. Her last exhibition, White, focussed on the female body, employing the concept of “inside out” to elaborate internal conflicts. “I wanted to make the blindness visible in my three-part photo,” she explains. “The woman becomes totally blind because of being caught up within herself, a place from which she cannot escape. The energy set free by internal, schizophrenic conflicts is preventing her from seeing what lies outside of her.” El-Masry’s appears to be an essentially feminist perspective. Her pictures show silhouettes of figures, neither feminine nor masculine, particularly, that exist in a twilight zone of bridging darkness and light. Their gestures and screams are almost audible, moreover, so intense do they seem to the viewer.
Of the object behind his two video installations, Faces and Bedroom, which were part of the “Dar Al-Hiwar” (House of Dialogue) Geothe project and will open at Karim Francis Gallery on 5 May, Mohamed Shoukri too says that he wanted to make the invisible visible. “Whenever I visit female friends in Egypt,” he elaborates on Bedroom, “their rooms are closed — as if they were hiding something. I wanted to look and see what lay behind those doors.” When the secret is revealed, though, it turns out that it amounts to nothing shocking or in any way very interesting. What lies behind is simply Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own”, essential in a city that leaves little room for privacy or intimacy. Faces, which was projected on white sheets hung at the entrance to the Geothe Institute, consisted of the faces of crowds bridging nationalities and cultures, combining, the way a bicultural place like the institute itself does, notions of home and exile, the here and there.
read the full article here http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/636/cu4.htm