The infamous mishaps and absurdities of Egyptian State Television have left their mark on the population raised watching it. The “Maspero” exhibition, which opened on Saturday, 9 July at Darb 1718, invites artists and attendees to reflect on how it has shaped national identity and their lives.
Located on the bank of the Nile in Cairo, the Maspero building is the headquarters of Egyptian television. It is the oldest government television organization in the Middle East and Africa.
Today, Egyptian media ranks 143th out of 167 countries in freedom of press, according to a 2005 Reporters Without Borders report. Maspero’s legacy is one of distorting the truth, spreading propaganda and enforcing regime-mandated ideals on a public with little or no access to alternative outlets.
“You can’t really overstate the role Maspero has had on Egyptians,” first-time curator Ali Abdel Mohsen tells Ahram Online. “Especially years ago, before satellite television and the Internet, when you had to rely on state-sponsored media because it was the only option.”
For the exhibition, Abdel Mohsen brought together different types of artists based on the ideas they had in common. The result is a lively display of paintings, videos, writings, photography and even a graffiti mural.
In “Stories from Maspero,” artist Hany Rashed recollects stories from 16 years of work at the Egyptian state television building. Rashed sheds a cynical light on the Egyptian media and the people who produce it.
Artist Khaled Hafez joined the exhibition with three video installations aptly titled “Visions of Contaminated Memories.” Hafez recalls his media-tinged memories, falling in love at the age of five with Abla Fadeela, “the lady who tells beautiful stories on the official Egyptian radio.”
Eleven years later, he was shocked to learn that the president he’d been told was Egypt’s first, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was not; he’d been fed a false history. Media and Egyptian school curricula omit Mohamed Naguib, who was in fact the first president of Egypt, serving between June 1953 and November 1954, removed from the office as a result of his disagreements with Nasser, prime minister at the time.
“Today I am 43, I watch the news with my two kids, we put the volume at zero, and lay bets on what protagonists are saying: usually there are no new news, only recycled spam,” Hafez asserts. “Some time ago, I decided to relive my own memories my own way.”
Ahmed Sabry put his own twist on paintings of single scenes and images from our TV screens by taking them out of context. The works entitled “El Brenss TV” are given new meaning and opened to interpretation.
Television is the opiate of the people, it’s been said. They sit passively before it, absorbing its myriad messages. Abdel Mohsen says he believes Egyptian state TV has failed on all accounts. It neither entertains nor informs. He adds that it can be seen as largely and directly responsible for many of society’s current woes.
This was most apparent in recent months, during the January 25 Revolution, when state television further divided the population in a time of great uncertainty and fear, by broadcasting blatant lies. After the fall of Mubarak, state media shamelessly backpedalled, hoping all would be forgiven and forgotten.
Activists have not, however, forgiven or forgotten. One of the main remaining demands of protesters is a free, transparent and independent media. They maintain that true freedom necessitates a free media.
In her installation of a burial ground “Maspiro 1960-2011,” May El Hossamy declares the death of Maspero, stating that “on the 25th of January, the system finally collapsed.”
“Maspero” exhibition will continue until 30 August at Darb 1718 - Egyptian Contemporary Art and Culture Center
Fustat area, near Coptic Cairo at the Mar Girgis metro station
Participating artists: Reham Abouelwafa, Engy Aly, Nermine El Ansari, Adham Bakry, May El Hossamy, Khaled Hafez, Amanda Kerdahi, Moataz Nasreldin, Obada, Hany Rashed, Ibrahim Saad, Ahmed Sabry
Curated by: Ali Abdel Mohsen