The Cairo apartment that houses Medrar for Contemporary Art is not particularly spacious, but on 12 October it comfortably hosted the works of 17 young artists and dozens of visitors keen on surveying the third edition of Roznama, a visual art exhibition and competition.
The word Roznama has several meanings. In Urdu, the term means a proceeding sheet or a record that is used in legal procedures. Mohamed Allam, director of Medrar and the Roznama project, links Roznama to the concept of a calendar.
"This is the type of artistic production that is present at this moment," Allam said about the art work displayed within the realms of Roznama, adding that the project, now in its third edition, was conceived with the desire to become a window into the minds of young visual artists in Egypt.
In July, Medrar put out a call for artists under the age of 30 to submit visual work produced before 2013. Artists had to be of Egyptian nationality and the submitted work couldn't have been their graduation projects. By August, Medrar recieved 140 applications, 17 of which were chosen for the final show by a jury composed of Bassem Magdy (artist), Tarek Abo El-Fetouh (curator) and Hala El-Koussy (artist).
This process was new; both the first and second editions of Roznama (2006 and 2013) were curated, meaning that Medrar approached the artists and not the other way around.
"I wanted it to be more open; I wanted to see new people and not be the one who chooses the work. I also wanted to add the element of competition. We hadn't done that before," Allam told Ahram Online during the opening reception.
He added that between the announcement of accepted applications and opening night, jury members worked with some artists on developing their submitted work, especially with regards to presentation.
"I have a feeling [the competition] will be useful for artists who are just starting out. Young artists will have the opportunity to see each other's work, and it will also breed a competitive spirit," he said.
Of the 17 selected artists, four were chosen by the jury. Two were awarded $500 each as well as a chance to exhibit at Medrar. Two runner-ups were recognised with a Jury Selection Certificate, which is plastered next to their work on the gallery wall. Medrar will honour the four winners at a ceremony soon.
Allam says he wants to cultivate an environment where all participating artists can mingle.
"Often when I am taking part in a show, I realise that I don't know the person exhibiting next to me," he said.
Hend Samir and Sara Nabil scooped the top prizes for their work at Roznama 3.
Modern Age Utopia, Photography, 2014 by Sherifa Hamid (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
In a suite of eight paintings entitled Harmony, Samir depicts various people placed naturally beside monstrous creatures. The harmony in the title stems from the ease that each of her subjects has nurtured towards the grisly but seemingly friendly ghosts. It's as if the mini-monsters are watching out for us and keeping us in check, and Samir has skillfully reminded us of their unexposed charm.
Pamphlet No. 40, Installation, 2013 by Marwa Ben Halim (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
Nabil's Mass Alexandria is a video installation in which the viewer is placed at the bottom of a staircase with the door at the top slightly open, perhaps indicating the possibility of an escape.
On the screen, Nabil types: One thing I love about my art study space is that there is no connection for our cell phone. One thing I hate is that I am wondering how we will escape when Alexandria sinks.
At first, it feels like Nabil is transporting us into an underground hideaway. Upon reading the accompanying text, though, we realise that this dungeon-like cell is possibly where she hones her creativity, but that through the process of artistic creation her mind is still tied to real, contemporary matters.
Harmony, Painting, 2014 by Hend Samir (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
The two winners of the Jury Selection Certificate, also women, are Sherifa Hamid and Marwa Benhalim.
Hamid's photography installation Modern Age Utopia explores our fascination with material goods. Through a series of still images, she argues that humans rely on various products for pleasure and satisfaction but eventually grieve their unfulfillment.
Her protagonist is a young woman placed in different corners of a cold, dark household, evidently lacking "the real meaning of life," according to the artist.
Mass Alexandria, Video, 2013 by Sara Nabil (Photo: Courtesy of Medrar)
Benhalim’s video installation, arguably the most innovative of the bunch, pokes fun at military authorities. Three singers march onto the screen, dressed in army uniform from head to toe. They suddenly start singing, belting out choir-like harmonies as they read from Mines and Booby Traps: Military Training Pamphlet No. 40.
For the next few minutes, viewers listen to a list of 11 rules drafted by the artist, a laughable exaggeration of military orders as seen by Benhalim. We listen to (and read a hard copy of the pamphlet): Use force. If a thing will not come undone by hand, continue trying aggressively. Overlook booby traps. There is no need for adding safety pins. "Anti-tank" mines are friendly to all vehicles except mines.
As a space, Medrar has proven to audiences that it is able to bring fresh ideas and carve out a space for upcoming artists. While the works on display in Roznama 3 vary in skill and depth of subject matter, the winning artists are certainly ones to follow in coming years.
The exhibition also includes work by: Ahmed El-Kutt, Ahmed Shawky, Amr El-Maghrby, Ebrahim El-Moly, Kareem Hadad, Marwan El-Gamel, Mina Nassif, Mohamed El-Sharkawie, Mohamed El-Maghraby, Nada Baraka, Nadia Mounier, Reem El-Maghraby and Sherif Hosni.
Roznama III continues until 30 October
Medrar for Contemporary Art
7 Gamal El-Din Abu El-Mahasen Street, Garden City, Cairo