A Resurgence Of Art In Egypt
(by VEERA RUSTOMJI)
Art cannot always be confined within the parameters society draws out, in fact the greatest artists, the legendary names that are engraved into history are the real possessors of artistic individuality. However even the most respected artists find that projecting and manipulating a canvas using the surroundings of an artist can prove to be exceedingly difficult and at times clichéd. In the spring special art edition of Harper's Bazaar Arabia, the focus was on the Arab spring of Art, concentrating and using examples from Art Dubai 2012. Many articles explored questions and themes of political revolutions, religious affiliations and of course it's effect on art. Capturing the attention of her readers, Heba El Kayal ventured into an ultimate quest for Egyptian artists, 'what comes first: art or revolution?'
For the Pakistani reader, we immediately link our own country and experiences whenever the word 'revolution' crosses our path. Our artists are continuously inclined to entangle their concerns with current political upheavals and social disparity. The article written by Heba El Kayal presents a lot to relate to and be inspired from.
Enhancing the scope of the effects on a country's revolution, Heba El Kayal elaborates on the street art in Egypt especially Cairo and the expressionistic movements and changes within the turbulent times of revolution. She states the new tsunami of young artists seem to be wiping out the old Egyptian way of art. "Artists are asking questions on how best to articulate the experience of the revolution and the changing identity of a nation in a way that is relevant and reflective of themselves as society's thinkers and visual poets." Having interviewed four experienced artists, Khaled Hafez, Nermine Hammam, Samir Fouad and Ganzeer, the article delves into the current relationship, and views the artists have, with the Egyptian revolution.
While on the subject of 'changing identity', Khaled Hafez illustrated that many artists in Egypt seem to be literally translating 'revolution' onto their mediums. He found that the exploration and search for their own analysis and reality had come to a sharp halt and in this way artists had disengaged themselves from the revolution as there is very little personal interpretation shown. In a way, Khaled Hafez himself explains to Heba El Kayal that the agenda of Cairo and Tahrir Square do not share the same interests within him; as a result he produces work away from Tahrir Square, as the confusion over the disunity amongst Egyptian citizens does not provide artistic inspiration for him.
"I don't believe in the ideal, I believe in the realistic...as a citizen artist or not, we need to get back to work and produce," he says.
His work displays the identity dilemma through painting and digital mediums, offering an insight into the struggle between wealth, power, religion and secularism – issues which are extremely pertinent to Pakistanis. Khaled Hafez progresses into the article by introducing Nermine Hammam's work as extremely successful because of her personal take on the revolution. Her series 'Uppekha', instead of churning out the harshness and violence the world associates with the military and soldiers, professes the 'softness and youth' of the boys dressed in uniform. Questioning power, force and authority, Nermine Hammam invests creativity in this series by showing the vulnerability of the soldiers "catching them in very sensitive and boyish moments". Hence the beautification of the series – the endless pastels and bright colours, soft pink flowers and background settings of Paris and the Swiss Alps are deliberately in contrast. She says, "Believe it or not, this work comes from anger. It's a show of fake power, but once people start believing in something, they can affect one another and we start projecting it off of one another."
Using the ever efficient tool of colour, Nermine Hamman continues to play with contrast and contorting expectations of her viewers. Her upcoming series are to be layered and lacquered prints on wood appearing to be extremely pretty but upon closer inspection show a very realistic side of the revolution; when asked about the art movement in Egypt in relation to the revolution, Hamman's response was "it's not art during a revolution, it's art during a crisis, and the revolution is part of this social, political, emotional and identity crises..."
Engineer turned artist, Samir Fouad's response to a crisis was that it is usually the young people who take to the streets. History's examples of revolutions prove his opinion correct and the artist explains that "young people are responsible because they're innovating, daring, they normally revolt against the older people and they want to destroy 'normal' stereotypes."
Highlighting that graffiti art is the true reflection of the revolution influenced art, he insists that the changes in a nation do not need to be literally injected into all work in the most predictable way. According to Fouad, changes and new directions in an artists' surrounding are an imperative reason for the creator to extrapolate and choose what is important to him/her.
The leading graffiti artist of Egypt being Mohomed Fahmy known as Ganzeer, created a piece of work which has caused an overwhelming response from the globe – 'Tank Versus Bike.' Fouad used this piece to underline how exactly graffiti work is the lead in Egyptian revolution art. His own work however, such as his series 'Flesh', communicate an innate understanding of oil and water colours allowing his pieces to capture movement, pain and sound perfectly. Ganzeer's constructions like Fouad's work are very vocal pieces as well, encouraging artists to represent the suppression their fellow citizens undergo, and the two artists are quite similar in their beliefs of using different mediums and style.
Ganzeer emphasised in the interview that it is quite dangerous for an artist to "be confined to one specific mode of art because that will only garner an interest in you in that specific medium of art".
Hence on the whole, it was quite easy to decode that all four artists were very much on the same page as they understood that with a revolution taking place in one's nation, it is very easy for the local artist to be institutionalised by their surroundings. Translating the repeated, on to the canvas, is indeed a huge mistake emphasised in the interviews. Technology and new discoveries offer endless chances to create something new and in our world the development of the digital and computer age crave attention from artists, Samir Fouad was the leading figure in explaining this issue.
Compromised of interesting arguments and theories, the article ventures into some difficult issues to be articulated, yet it succeeds in having extremely relatable material for artists across the globe.