Huda Lutfi has won the grand prize at the 26th Alexandria Biennale for Mediterranean Countries, which opened on 10 June at the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria.
The biennale was established in 1955 by president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The bi-annual art festival is back this year after two cancellations, once in 2011 due to political instability in the wake of the January 2011 revolution and then again in 2013 due to political tension under former president Mohamed Morsi. When the Biennale was last held, in 2009, Egyptian artist Wael Shawky won the grand prize.
Run this year by the head of the Ministry of Culture's Fine Arts Sector, Sala El-Meligui, under the theme 'The Will of Change', the biennale features 17 artists from 13 countries.
Lutfi received the LE100,000 grand prize, and three artists – Slovenian Saso Sedlacek, Libyan Arwa Abouon, and Egyptian Kamal El-Feky – won LE35,000 prizes.
Lutfi was born in Cairo in 1948. She holds a PhD in Islamic culture and history from McGill University, Canada. In collage, painting, photography, installation, and video art projects, the prolific Lutfi creates works that at times explore historical narratives inspired by Egypt's multilayered Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic, Arab and African cultural fabric, while at other times her work reacts to contemporary societal dynamics.
The video Lutfi exhibits at the biennale, 'Biyadaat' or 'Soldiers's Boots' (2012), was showcased as part of a large exhibition of her work at Townhouse Gallery in December 2013, dubbed 'Cut and Paste'. The video, which lasts for three minutes and 40 seconds, shows a sequence of animated black-and-white photographs of policemen marching in unison to the beat of oppressive electronic music.
The images in the video, as in most of the works in 'Cut and Paste', were based on photographs the artist shot in Tahrir Square in 2011, she revealed in a conversation with Ahram Online in December 2013. While in another piece, 'Portraits of Tahrir' (2011), Lutfi captures the faces of security soldiers in Tahrir. This work shows the lower bodies of security forces walking, dancing almost, in repetitive, monotonous movements.
The 26th Alexandria Biennale for Mediterranean Countries opened on 10 June and runs until 6 July in the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria