'In the Eye of the Thunderstorm: Effervescent Practices from the Arab World' will see the three Egyptian artists — Khaled Hafez, Haytham Nawar and Ahmed El-Shaer — contributing with multi-media projects, from painting to video and installation, from language to image. The 56th Venice Biennale opens 9 May and runs until November.
Commissioned by the Contemporary Practices art journal and curated by Martina Corgnati, the exhibit by name evokes the phenomenon where the centre of the storm remains calm despite great chaos just outside its parameters.
In the exhibit’s statement, Corgnati elaborates: “[Artists] are totally 'inside,' embedded in the core, and nevertheless they remain 'outside.' Art and artists are at the very centre of turbulent, violent — and even catastrophic — occurrences that haul them off and involve them to the extreme.”
“[The artists], using in many cases a language filled with a faked optimism, generated by pop imaginary, do not hesitate to tackle burning and complex topics, such as war, the rise and fall of the powerful, women's issues,” Corgnati continues.
Artist Khaled Hafez exhibits an interdisciplinary project of animated video titled 'Mirror Sonata in Six Animated Movements (For Twelve Hands),' to be displayed as an installation on six video screens.
The project acts as a continuation of Hafez’s ouevre, tackling the complexity of Egyptian identity, with his previous major works exploring various aspects of it: the body and mind, language and knowledge, history writing, and power struggles.
In this latest project, according to his artist statement, Hafez explores “the idea of appearances as an identifier of cultural specificity, cultural pride, the self as maker of past, present and future, the self as creator of melody and movement.”
Also in a video installation, Haytham Nawar exhibits 'The Seven Days, The Heavens and The Earth.'
Evoking mythological, historical and religious sources, Nawar brings forth the story that the universe was created in seven days, dealing with the subject metaphorically rather than literally.
The creator’s hands, the creator versus knowledge, collective conscious versus alternative inputs that threaten the establishment, are some of the thoughts tackled by Nawar.
The display includes seven ceramic sculptural pieces and seven short animated films that are projected on a handmade book. The project is interactive, inviting audiences to turn the pages of the book and watch the projected images in play with the book’s content.
For his part, Ahmed El-Shaer, in his video project 'Green,' manipulates the code of an outdated video game to create a more personal narrative.
The war game starred the United States and China, a team colored red, fighting against a radical terrorist organisation, coloured green.
In his process of dismantling the game and restructuring it, El-Shaer explores the many significances of the colour green in the Middle East, being linked to the Egyptian Orthodox Church, Sufi shrines, being mentioned in the Quran, and the colour of modern neon lights on the top of mosques.
“The use by the game creator of this colour to represent the terrorist organisation is probably not a coincidence then,” he writes in his statement.
Through a digital insect mimicking the dynamics of a real bug, El-Shaer creates a narrative of 25 movements that tell the story of both the bug and the colour green.
The three Egyptian artists, as well as the seven other Arabs in the exhibit (Rashid Al-Khalifa, Sadik Al-Afriji, Alia Al-Farsi, Shurooq Amin, Simeen Farhat, Khaled Ramadan and Obaidi), have all been selected in the same age group, between 40 and 50 years old.
According to Corgnati, they represent “a mid-career generation that is reaching the top of its artistic maturity and its life experience ... the privileged witness of a time and a space where changes and instability move in excessive speed.”
The 56th Venice Biennale, exceptionally starting a month early this year, on 9 May, will feature more Egyptian artists at the Egyptian Pavilion, including Ahmed Abdel Fatah, Maher Dawoud, and Gamal ElKheshen.