Architecture meets sculpture at Mashrabia: MMAR exhibition

Sara Elkamel, Thursday 26 Jun 2014

'From Architecture to Sculpture,' an exhibition that runs to 10 July at the Mashrabia Gallery, features works by Hesham Abdallah, Hassan Kamel and Ahmed Karaly blending contemporary art with Egypt's rich heritage

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MMAR group exhibition at Mashrabia Gallery. (Photo: Sara Elkamel)

The Mashrabia Gallery in Downtown Cairo, a key platform for contemporary art in the city, is now hosting a sculpture exhibition by MMAR, a collective of three Egyptian sculptors established in 2012. Hesham Abdallah, Hassan Kamel and Ahmed Karaly, the collective, are committed to creating sculptures that rely on local resources and that represent Egypt's rich architectural heritage.

The MMAR collective made its debut in an exhibition held at the Hanager Arts Center in November 2013, before participating in its second show, organised by the Culture Development Fund in March 2014. The exhibition at Mashrabia, which opened 15 June, runs until 10 July.

Hesham Abdallah
Sculpture by Hesham Abdallah. (Photo: Sara Elkamel)

Mashrabia Gallery holds a key role in Cairo's contemporary art scene. Since the late 1990s, Mashrabia Gallery was among a small group of art spaces, including the Townhouse Gallery and Karim Francis Gallery, that supported artists that sought alternative spaces within which to develop beyond the oft-constricted and traditional framework of formal culture institutions. Mashrabia has since continued to present artworks by experimental and emerging artists who are breaking the boundaries of conventional fine art. The artists that Mashrabia has showcased in the past few years, such as Hany Rashed, Ahmed Sabry and Ramy Dozy, to name a few, represent a generation constantly negotiating the definition of contemporary art, and struggling against traditional fine art principles.

Mashrabia’s current MMAR exhibition continues in the vein of edging closer to contemporary art.

“In face of the current situation and challenges, MMAR is calling for adapting and putting this rich heritage into focus so as to produce an unmistakably national, distinctive architecture,” reads the collective’s statement.

The three artists believe that delving deep into the history of Egyptian architecture should not clash with the principles of contemporary art. MMAR's creative vision, which rests in their traversing of the lines between architecture and sculpture, illustrates a rebellion against the separation of the two fields.

Ahmed Karaly
Sculpture by Ahmed Karaly. (Photo: Sara Elkamel)

Collectives are not foreign to modern Egyptian art. Among the first such artist groups was the Art and Liberty group, established in 1939 by Ramsis Younan, Kamel El-Telmesany and Fouad Kamel, and later the Contemporary Art Group established in 1946 by Hussein Yousef Ameen for his students, including Hamed Nada, Ibrahim Masouda and Abdel-Hadi El-Gazzar. Another collective, dubbed Society for Modern Egyptian Art, was formed in 1946, led by Yousef El-Afifi, and was made up of prominent artists including Gazibeyya Sirry, Hamed Eweiss and Gamal El-Segeini, among others.

In Egypt's present-day art scene, however, artist collectives are less prevalent. Despite calls for collective efforts in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution, which shook the de facto limits to free expression in the arts, MMAR is one of the few organised visual art collectives to exist locally. Another collective that does exist is OpenLab Egypt, a digital media arts collective that consists of five artists: Dia Hamed, Kareem Osman, Ahmed El Shaer, Yasmin Elayat and Youssef Faltas.

Essentially a group exhibition, this show brings artworks by Hesham Abdallah, Hassan Kamel and Ahmed Karaly, all created from local materials, to Mashrabia. This particular Downtown art space is hospitable to the works on display; its arches, large windows and wooden floors gently embrace the sculptures mounted on white pedestals.

Among the most interesting works on display are Hesham Abdalla's marble structures, which are erected on precarious looking iron rods. In one sculpture, a white marble staircase leads upwards. It is as if a structure existed around it and now all that remains is the stairway.

Hassan Kamel
Sculpture by Hassan Kamel. (Photo: Sara Elkamel)

Abdalla, who is also a painter, exercises a certain surrealism in his sculptural work. The iron rods on which his sculptures rest are reminiscent of the tall, lean figurative works of Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti. But here the head is incongruent; by placing his structures where a figure’s head would be, the artist is perhaps suggesting these architectural elements as an alternative, slightly surreal, way to think about architecture.

The artist is strongly influenced by rural landscapes and architecture. Recurring elements in the countryside often make their way into his works, carrying with them a pastoral serenity that is in turn refracted by his sculptures.

His sculptures stay true to a number of aspects of rural landscapes, including repetition, spontaneity, and space. In a statement accompanying an installation of his from 2013, he writes: “Spontaneous shape and purity of scene, these houses floating above the varying degrees of green … is my dream.”

Hassan Kamel's sculptures also feature staircase-like structures that lead your eyes to the top. Kamel, who has exhibited widely, both locally and abroad, attempts to extract the principles of ancient Egyptian sculpture while creating works that capture Egypt’s modern identity.

Ahmed Karaly's bronze and granite sculptures illustrate the artists’s commitment to the modernisation and reinterpretation of the elements of Islamic architecture. His sculptures consistently feature geometrically carved golden domes, juxtaposed with jet-black granite.

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