“Imaginary Graffiti Manifesto” is an ongoing exhibition at the Mashrabiya Gallery by Italian pop artist Carmine Cartolano. Cartolano takes the viewer back to the golden age of cinema with more than 200 photos and posters featuring popular as well as unfamiliar movie stars on the walls of both famous and neglected buildings in Cairo.
In a unique and impressive style, Cartolano creates a clever blend of photos of the city, which he photographed, and old pictures of celebrities, which he picked up from old magazines, to produce a new sort of pop art – the school with which he is affiliated.
The idea first to him in 2018, when he Photoshopped a picture of a movie star onto one of the downtown buildings, and posted it on social media. “At that time I had nothing in mind, it was just a way to release some ideas. I made it for fun, however, with time, I was astonished by the speed interactions of the social media audience and the thousands of shares,“ he says. “Cairo is a city of contradictions, so I thought of inserting photos of some foreign movie stars, such as Cary Grant along with Egyptian celebrities.” The project comprises 20 photos, mostly in black and white, printed in around 200 pictures. The pictures, many of which are printed on poster paper, are stuck together with no space in between, to resemble the display style of movie posters on the walls, or movie sequences.
“I also wanted to sell these pictures at cheap prices; because the exhibition’s main target is youth and social media. My aim was to show how beautiful the city looks if we just add an artistic touch,” said Cartolano, a visual artist and creative writer who has lived in Egypt for 20 years. The project gained momentum in July 2019 after the death of popular artist Ezzat Abu Auf, one of the country’s most remarkable actors. “He was one of those original actors, a true gentleman, who did not indulge in commercial cinema.” One powerful pictures features a nearly life-size Abu Auf smiling modestly to passers-by. It looks as if he is standing in a corridor, with his back leaning on a gloomy wall. “This particular picture trended on Twitter for a quite some time.”
Another, rather erotic picture features a cleaning man in his orange suit, stretching his body on a huge plastic garbage box in a downtown streets with a foreign female movie gazing at him longingly.
The photos come in three sizes: 58 by 43.5 cm, medium 28.5 by 21 cm and 14 by 10 cm. The posters, which are cheaper, come in two: large 59.4 by 42 cm and medium 48 by 33 cm – just like movie posters.
Cartolano is an avid photographer. He takes pictures of the streets of the downtown Cairo, where he lives, on a daily basis, and he has a database of thousands of pictures featuring downtown buildings. “I noticed that most of the buildings are painted in pastel colors, and I thought what if we added this aspect of beauty to the partly gloomy walls?” One picture features Um Kolthoum standing on a huge, high building beside the Foreign Ministry. Another – falsely graffitied on the Tahrir Mogama government building, features a romantic encounter between the legendary couple Faten Hamama and Omar Sharif. The picture was taken at night, with a small lake of rainwater on the ground, which adds a nostalgic touch.
Another picture features the ruins of a shanty town building in Maspero, with two unfamiliar foreign movie stars sadly hugging each other, reflecting the agony of inhabitants who were evicted.
“I believe that downtown inhabitants are detached from the architecture of their environment, largely because of the rushed rhythm of daily life,” he noted. “I have lived in downtown since 2015, and I notice a remarkable awakening concerning the restoration of old buildings. I hope one day someone will adopt my idea. I hope to see the downtown buildings adorned with such beauty.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.