My Backyard: Human body as identity at Cairo's Mashrabia Gallery

Névine Lameï, Friday 16 Jul 2021

Five artists give different perceptions on human body, oscillating between real and imaginary

My Backyard

Ahmad Yasser, Mahmoud Qabil, Marwa Atwa, Sarah Ayman and Rawan Abbas held a group exhibition at Cairo's Mashrabia Gallery Of Contemporary Art.

Titled My Backyard (20 June - 15 July), the exhibition created a focus on the body in art. It is in My Backyard that the artists analyse the body as a subject, playing with the topic and questioning it, so to reach their own dream garden.

“Unlike styles and techniques, each My Backyard artist has their personal zone where they can focus, imagine, stay with themselves and tap into the depth of their emotions, feelings and perceptions. This is to discover other perspectives on life, in the view of the other and oneself. Hence the exhibition presents bodies with different aesthetics: utopian, unsightly, disturbing, fantastic, imaginary… Bodies which are questioned by art, constitute the privileged medium of the nascent feeling of identity," comments Stéephania Angarano, owner of the Mashrabia gallery.

Artist Mahmoud Qabil’s exhibits are on a huge canvas. We see three tall men with paunchy bellies. These three overweight, closely related bodies challenge each other to express diverse human feelings, in a state of intense expressiveness, traversed in life situations.

“The human body is capable of expressing everything. Every man has an image of himself. It is our identity as we perceive it, whether psychologically or physically,” Qabil explains.

Are these men in competition? Are their attributes representative of virility, an asset of charm, or rather irony and ugliness? Qabil's art, which boldly asserts itself in the face of the immeasurability of space, speaks neither of beauty nor of seduction, but of a reality at serious risk – of exaggeration – and above all of intimidation.

The body is the place of self-reflection in the art of Marwa Atwa. Her subjects are bizarre and grotesque, projecting a certain affability. Marwa's art opts for a pop, playful and joyful style that plays on an emotional contrast of flashy and complementary colors.

"Pop art emphasizes the culture of leisure, the ephemeral, the superficial, the playful and the exuberant; it adds a new quality of life and sets the imagination free," emphasizes Atwa.

Her art, based on the female body and its inexhaustible source of creativity, is neither a cry nor a lament, but a reversal of reality. This in a contrast of colors, between bright green, symbol of hope and calm, but also of failure and misfortune, and fiery orange, color of vitality and endurance, but also of vulgarity and vanity.

The threads of tangled insects or bees run through Ahmad Yasser's abstract paintings.

"To me, reality isn't real, it's just frequency of images. Only imagination can make us touch reality,” says Yasser.

Disintegration and decomposition, as a sign of wear and tear or old age, are at the head of his art filled with shapes and colors that multiply freely. With the pleasure of discovering and making people discover, the viewer can detect tiny figures and human heads, in a fun treasure hunt game made up of puzzles and riddles.

In her turn, in a deep melancholy Sara Ayman asks cynical questions about the meaning of life on her black and white sketchbooks and sharp realistic drawings. The protagonists of Ayman's canvas are characterised with abused bodies, born of an indefinite and timeless time in a universal lack of hope, giving the impression that they are shriveled and withdrawn. With them, hope is a distant land.

"For me, the truth is not in things, but in the words that pass judgment on things," Sara Ayman comments.

Rawan Abbas's monoprint designs on embroidered woolen fabrics feature the exoteric bodies of sacred idols, mythical gods and goddesses. Here are the bodies of birds with the heads of a man.

The artists toys with relational and imaginary bodies in an intense fantasy exchange. In her work, the organic components are absorbed by the psychic, and the real body falls back on the imaginary body. There is an obvious duality with a sharp and exaggerated language, but also emotional and sensitive.

This article was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo (in French) in 7-13 July issue

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