Young Egyptian artists display creative versatility in expanded Roznama

Soha Elsirgany , Sunday 11 Sep 2016

In its fifth year, Roznama exhibition and competition opened on 4 September at three galleries, with shuttle buses to transport audiences

Roznama exhibit at Mashrabiya Gallery (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Like a cross section, Roznama exhibition and competition takes a slice of the art scene, showcasing Egyptian young artists while giving them a rewarding space for experimentation.

Taking place in three galleries this year, Roznama opened on 4 September at its headquarters in Medrar for Contemporary Art, its longtime partner Mashrabiya Gallery, and its newest ally Soma art school and gallery.

Mohamed Allam, the founder and director of Medrar, told Ahram Online that though Roznama's direction hasn't changed, the project is expanding with many changes this year.

For the first time Medrar cooperated with Peacock, an organisation supporting art projects, which helped organise several aspects of Roznama and co-curated the exhibit with Allam.

"Even before Peacock appeared we were working on acquiring the prizes. It a very central aspect of the exhibition that motivates the participants, and it was important to develop it from last year, and to have a variety in them," Allam says.

Roznama's selected works showcase a breadth in subject matter; ranging from the social to the political to the personal, and in materials; from painting to embroidery to video.

Out of nearly 300 submissions, Roznama exhibits 36 selected projects; 16 of those are displayed at Medrar, and five have the bright yellow tag that marks all seven winners of the competition.

Adult Toys by Hend Moaaz (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The headquarters

Comic artist Tawfig is one of this year's winners, scooping one of the Roznama Prizes one year after his works were on display alongside artist Maghraby, also at Medrar.

This time, Tawfig's whimsical digital prints are brought to life in GIF format on six screens.

Titled The Middle Class Fear, each screen has a single character or object looping a simple motion. One screen is home to a creature with the head of a chicken and the legs of a scorpion that is firing a gun that takes in bullets but squirts out water.

The gallery also hosts a number of installations. The most physically complex are displayed there as Medrar is the most flexible venue in adapting its space to accommodate projects.

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Stopper by Ahmed Sorour (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

One such installation is the work of Hana El-Beblawy, with her intriguing device that hangs from the ceiling, suspending a plate of coal just above the ground.

Though the device was still, evidence that it once rotated is marked on the large white paper on the ground with circles on it. The dark circles were made from pieces of charcoal attached to the bottom of the suspended plate.

Titled Almost, it calls to mind mechanisms that are used to detect slight motion or in predicting earthquakes.

Tarot Cards, a Book of Riddles, Torture Devices, are some of the other intriguing works to be seen at Medrar.

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The Tarot Cards by Maged El-Sokary (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

New allies

Audiences were able to take shuttle buses between the three galleries on the opening day.

This convenience encouraged people to see all three venues, and solved a problem of having multiple opening dates in each gallery. It also capitalised on shuffling different audiences across venues that normally have their own crowd.

"There was a different crowd than those we're used to having as a private gallery, which made the opening very diverse and vibrant," Soma's director Heba El-Moaaz tells Ahram Online.

It is the first time Roznama has been held in a commercial or private gallery, and according to El-Moaaz and Allam, the cooperation emerged as Soma has the same mission and direction to encourage youth and contemporary artists.

"It also shows that this initiative can be commercial too, and the works can be sold. So for the first time we made contracts with the artists, and held pricing sessions," Allam says

He adds that the curators cared to present a variety of artworks in each space. That variety was seen in both, form and in subject matter.

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(Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

At Soma, there are two very different video projects. A long documentary-like video titled Transport by Omnia Sabry, and the very introspective video Hack You by Hadeer Omar.

Sabry's video is a meditative a collection of scenes shot on different types of transportation vehicles, in different countries.

"While others were going through the daily, I was going through the exceptional. Most of the footage was shot in the two cities that shaped me; Cairo and Abu Dhabi. Some were in the distance between them," Sabry wrote in her project description, provided by Soma.

We often consider time spent in transportation is outside of life, lost time in between two activities that seems unfair be counted. By framing and recording these plain and real moments, sometimes hours, spent in transport, Sabry reminds us how much life happens, or doesn't happen, while we move from one place to another.

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Liasion/Spiritual Seperation by Sherif Hosni (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Mona Essam's work, titled Meditation won the Alwan Sationary prize, worth EGP 1000.

A series of 12 collage pieces are set in different rooms of a home, with characters in each frame involved in cleaning chores. The black and white cut-out figures are cloned several times, depicting repetitive motion, while they smile jubilantly.

The project is displayed without a statement, which allows it to welcome more interpretation, that may for example give perspective on the peace found in simple tasks, or touch upon a wider issue of gender roles.

The decision to include artist statements or not was a curatorial one, decided based on what they felt was each project's needs.

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Multiple Angles by Marwa Abd El-Moneim (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The bus stops in downtown

At Mashrabiya Esraa El-Feky's Atlas of Distortion is a refreshing installation with a subject much heavier than its vibrant colours.

El-Feky created a series of embroidered circles placed in a glass display like a museum would place artifacts, and another object made of thread and wool that is suspended from the ceiling, to tackle the idea biological wars against viruses as a form of genocide.

She delves into the history of viruses that weakened entire populations, and compares viruses to terror attacks that evolve into more ferocity with time.

Rising photographer Nourhan Maayouf's work earned her Roznama's CIC prize, just months after she won the top prize at the annual Barclays L’Atelier contemporary art competition (South Africa).

In a series of photos she documents the cathartic process of revamping her bathroom.

'I was self conscious because of my bathroom.' The sentence depicted on the wall beneath the photos changes the seemingly objective, documentary nature of her shots into a poignant, personal psychological investigation.

A Supernova by Amira El-Badry (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The photographer explains to Ahram Online how the development of her photographic process was reflective of her personal journey and her own feelings' development.

"It's enough that I shared this sentence with the world," Maayouf says.

"It is metaphorical; I'm reflecting a process of change. The last stage, the new bathroom reflects a point of dealing with the insecurity. However if you look closely, you will always find pieces from the past seeping into the present," she adds.

The photos are not displayed in chronology, and show multiple stages between red bricks to polished ceramic walls. There are objects that are recurrent such as the mouthwash by the sink for example in the different stages, making the viewing process a playful engaging experience.

At Mashrabiya viewers can also find a clone trapped in a glass bottle, photos of buildings placed on tables alongside roses and Super Mario bouncing in Cairo's urban landscape.

Hack You by Hadeer Omar (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Tracing trends

Seeing as the works come from young artists, some of which are newer to the scene than others, it possibly offers a chance to trace any shifts in the art scene.

According to Allam, in past years Roznama didn't have any political works, something he thought was strange yet intriguing and possibly a good thing.

"Maybe it is pure chance, but last year there were lots of paintings and drawings, this year we saw less. Also previously there were not many objects or sculptures, and there are more now," Allam says.

Photography is one medium present in each year, and according to Allam most of the works are quite documentary in style in common.

Yet, he adds that it is too early to know if these are trends or merely chance.

One other addition to the Roznama's fifth edition is a series of discussions.

"We plan to have 3 talks, each on a different topic, with a moderator and number of selected artists whose work matches the subject," Allam says.

The first talk is scheduled for 17 September, at Peacock's headquarters, and the others are yet to be announced.


Roznama opened on 4 September and will run until 5 October

Medrar for Contemporary Art
7 Gamal El Din Abou El Mahasen Street,Garden City, Cairo
Daily, from 3pm until 9pm, except Fridays

Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art
8 Champollion Street, Downtown, Cairo
Daily, from 11am until 8pm, except Fridays

SOMA Art School and Gallery
14 Maraashli Street, Zamalek, Cairo
Daily, from 12pm until 9pm, except Fridays  

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