Photographer Mona Abdel Karim captures the 'Colours of India' in Egypt

Soha Elsirgany , Sunday 14 Jan 2018

The exhibition is her first solo show, running from 8 to 13 January at the Egyptian Centre for International Cooperation

mona abdel karim
Part of photo by Mona Abdel Karim (Photo: courtesy of Mona Abdel Karim)

Through a collection of vivid photos, journalist and photographer Mona Abdel Karim captures the spirit of Indian culture in her first solo exhibition Colours of India, held at the Egyptian Centre for International Cooperation between 8 and 13 January.

The photos showcase India’s rich cultural diversity and its presence within Egypt, as Abdel Karim presents a series of photographs depicting many classical and contemporary art forms.

Abdel Karim is the editor of Sawtulhind magazine, the flagship Arabic-language magazine published by the Indian embassy in Cairo. She is also the official photographer of the India by the Nile festival, the annual cultural event organized by the embassy.

For Abdel Karim, who holds a post-graduate diploma in cultural development, photography was originally just a hobby. However, over time, taking photographs became part of her professional life, with a focus on performances, people and folklore.

“I am in love with details. I like to peer into things and find them. Maybe this exhibition is more about colours, another favorite aspect that I love to capture,” Abdel Karim said in an interview with Ahram Online.

For several years, her photographs have been featured in newspapers and magazines and shown in group exhibitions at venues including The Opera House, the Russian Cultural Center and ElSawy Culturewheel.

Photo by Mona Abdel Karim (Photo: courtesy of Mona Abdel Karim)

Abdel Karim has chosen 50 photos for the January exhibition, taken over a period of five years and grouped into several series.

While smaller versions of some of them have been printed in publications before, this is the first time for the photos to be exhibited as full-size prints.

One of her series is on the Holi festival celebrations in Egypt, with its bright colors and joyous spirit.

There is also a monochrome series on the Baron Palace, the 19th century Indian-inspired palace in Heliopolis. It was built by millionaire Belgian industrialist Baron Empain and designed after the Hindu temples of Orissa in India and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

This is the only series that she chose to depict in black and white, despite the exhibition’s title being an ode to colour.

“When I talk about colours, I am also referring to the different colours of culture. With the Baron palace, I wanted to put the focus on its architectural beauty, the texture and all the details of its sculpted surface. I think I could make a whole exhibit about the palace and it’s fascinating details,” Abdel Karim told Ahram Online.

Abdel Karim also dedicates a collection of photos to the art of movement and India’s different dances.

“Each dance form has numerous stories to tell about gods, love, war, victory of good over evil, etc. Thus each step, facial expression, body gesture has a significance,” the photographer writes in her exhibition statement.

She tells Ahram Online about the thrill of capturing a moment from a dance performance, as it then becomes another piece of art as a still frame.

Photo by Mona Abdel Karim (Photo: courtesy of Mona Abdel Karim)

Of the 50 photos, only three were shot in India, when Abdel Karim visited some years ago.

“It was great to see how many of the people who came were remembering their own connection with India. Others became intrigued to read more about India, or to attend more of these events when they learnt that all this is happening in Egypt. So the exhibition fostered this cultural connection. It’s not only about photos,” Abdel Karim said.

Amidst her interest in the different Indian dances, Abdel Karim took special note of how some of them can be compared with performance arts in Egypt. One such comparison she draws is between the Kathak dance and the Sufi twirling.

“The recent forms of Kathak can be linked with the Sufi dance. For example, Chakkarwala Tukra’s signature spins of Kathak, very much resemble twirling Dervishes. Manjari Chaturvedi, who is a popular Sufi Kathak dancer of India ... has introduced a new art form: 'Sufi Kathak'. She has blended the mysticism of Sufism with the classicism of Kathak to evolve a new kind of dance.”

For Abdel Karim, the exhibition – her first solo – is only one stageof an ongoing project, as she plans to explore further these relationships, and juxtapose Indian dances and music with Egyptian ones.

“This collection is a very small one from the number of photos I still have. There is more I want to offer, and more to explore,” she says.

On 10 January, a seminar was held in parallel to the exhibition, with talks by Abdel Karim alongside three of Egypt’s well-established photographers – Ashraf Talaat, Ahmed Hayman, and Ayman Gamal El-Din – on their relevant experiences of photographing India and Indian culture.

Photo by Mona Abdel Karim (Photo: courtesy of Mona Abdel Karim)

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