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Public screening of video art pieces raises questions

Shaware3na, a project that aims to bring spread contemporary art into public space, held a public video art screening but did not manage to quite strike the interest of passersby

Menna Taher, Monday 12 Mar 2012
Photo: Soha El Sergany
Views: 726
Views: 726


Public screening of 17 video art pieces in Lazoughly square on 11 March raised a number of questions on the role of artistic initiatives in Egypt.

The screening is part of a larger project called Sahware3na organised by Mahatat, an artistic foundation that aims to spread contemporary art in Egypt.

One cannot deny that the art scene in Egypt is an entity detached from society, and artistic events are usually attended by a small number of people. With this in mind, projects that aim to take arts on the streets or public and accessible places are much-needed.

However, how much impact can such an initiative create when an unfamiliar art-form is screened in one of Cairo's neighbourhoods? How much interest can be garnered? What are the tools that such screenings could use in order to transfer their mission to the people gathered randomly?

It is important to ask those questions in order to better reach out to the puzzled audience.  

Unfortunately, many audience members did not understand the videos. A 55-second video for instance, Beard Burn by Edward Salem, featured a man lighting up his beard. Meanwhile 14-minute video, Without Cover by Ibrahim Saad, showed a split screen of one side showing news footage of Iraqis celebrating the fall of Saddam Hussein's statue with US soldiers, and the other showing Egyptians celebrating (footage perhaps of 11 February when Mubarak stepped down). Below the split screen a news crawl presents new pieces related to the repression taking place under the old regime.

Another video, Transparent Blackby Shayma Kamel,showed feet inside a tub with fish swimming around that was followed by another shot of feet squashing tomatoes. Hints at repression of women were evident towards the end when a woman cuts black cloth and hides her face with it.

One interesting video, however, was No Apologies  by Soha El-Sirgani  No Apologies.  The two 2-minute animation is made through collage and shows different rooms with objects moving around. Lighting was also used effectively in the video.

El-Sergani, who had studied animation and collage, combined them together to produce an interesting animation with different materials. He said  "The idea of animation is that it is an abstract type of art which also applies to video art."

Perhaps it is this abstract nature that failed to engage the audience and made an art form already inaccessible highly ambiguous to many.

Video art, as a form is not very common in Egypt. It would have helped had the organisers talked a little about video art as a medium, exploring its role and effect.

Many questions were raised by the passersby, and the explanation they received, was that "these projects are more like paintings that take the form of video."

"I am into art but I do not understand the videos," one audience member said. "I would like to know what people who are not interested in art think about it."

Perhaps the casual passersby were the most puzzled. "Why is he [the man in the video] lighting fire to his beard? What is the significance of that?" one man asked.

Another point that intensified the detachment of the passersby was the language barrier. More than one video was solely in English without subtitles, which led many to ask what was being said.

Perhaps the barrier was even physically palpable as the viewers familiarly seen in art galleries were watching the screening at a street intersection that was closed in by a fence and passersby were watching from outside the fence.

In terms of public video screenings, it was apparent that more logistical work needs to be done. It was the first project of Shaware3na, in which short theatrical pieces were conducted in metro carriages. In triggering interest among metro passengers, these were more successful.


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