Between news and art: Hisham El Zeiny ponders the position of the artist in today's Egypt

Nahed Nasr, Tuesday 23 Feb 2016

In his new exhibition at Cairo's Mashrabia gallery 'Al Masry Al Youm: Interferences with a Journal,' artist Hisham El-Zeiny uses collage on newspapers to open a dialogue with the viewer

Hisham El-Zeiny
Artwork by Hisham El-Zeiny (Photo: courtesy of Mashrabia gallery website)

Where does the contemporary Egyptian stand today in the middle of all that is happening around him? What is the position of the artist? These are two main questions Egyptian Hisham El-Zeiny tried to approach in his exhibition “Al Masry Al Youm: Interferences with a Journal,” which is hosted by Mashrabia Gallery that runs until 10 March.

Born in Cairo to a German mother and an Egyptian-Sudanese father, El Zeiny studied architecture at the Faculty of Fine Arts, and pursued postgraduate studies with renowned architect Hassan Fathy.

He works with mixed media and collage, and this exhibit sees him using a collage of different sections of Al Masry Al Youm newspaper to start a dialogue with his spectators, the press, and his fellow artists as well.

Searching for a spot of missed communication, El-Zeiny sees that “the artists, perhaps out of disappointment or a feeling of defeat, started to hide in a shell of individualism. They started to go back to themselves retreating from all what is going on around. I believe this is a moment where the artists should find the connection with people," he explained to Ahram Online.

El Zeiny found that means of connection in the local widely distributed daily newspaper, that he himself has been reading every day since the revolution.

“The pressure of the current moment, led me to turn my everyday newspaper into a concept for my exhibition, it is not that I am marketing it, but this served as my means of interaction and communication with the wider audience,” the artist says.

“The name of Al Masry Al Youm was fitting, and I used it as a double meaning, where the newspaper’s name (literally translating to the Egyptian Today) is also the line that connects all the works. It is not about taking sides, or making political statements, but rather like creating a spotlight on the Egyptian scene at this moment,” he says.

Hisham El Zeiny
Artwork by Hisham El-Zeiny (Photo: Courtesy of Mashrabia gallery website)

In all his previous exhibitions, El Zeiny has used materials like sand and soil to depict an absence of time and place.

His latest exhibition however took a different turn.

“My works used to be very open where time and place disappears, letting the audience to wander in their imaginations. But this technique does not translate well with what I wanted to say in this exhibition. I wanted it to be very relevant to the current moment in Egypt,” he says.

El Zeiny maintained and exposed the characteristics of the newspaper in some ways, such as the layout, the black and white text, and the red headlines, yet he placed his own strong touch as well to convey his idea.

“I did not put the news itself into a painting, but rather depicted how they are approached by the collective memory, to give a chance for every kind of projection.”

His figures were created out of ones that appeared in the newspaper, but turned into silhouettes. Some figures are in the shape of human bodies but made from pieces of crossword puzzles and chessboards extracted from the newspaper, while others are white with no features, and a few others are covered with sand.

“This is my way to escape being very direct, and also an escape from any sense of fake stardom or heroism, we are not in a moment of victory, it is a moment that is filled with a lot of questions and inquiries,” the artist says.

El-Zeiny, who adapts the role of an editor- in-chief as well as visual artist in this exhibition, bounces back and forth between news and art, softening the strong effect of the red and black news with his aesthetics.

“It is an exhibition and not a news piece, where a newspaper is the main tool, yet the aesthetic value of art is present as well. It is a space for communication but a beautiful one. An interaction with a good appetite and not as rough and dry as it is in our reality,” El-Zeiny says.

Some works have a clearer message while others ask questions.

“In some issues like terrorism it is clear the danger and the message I depict, even if I gave it a light touch. But in other works I have questions and pieces of different news. As I mentioned this is a moment of inquiries rather than answers.”

“The works are full of many symbols and hints that are open to interpretation by the viewer,” he adds.

In one artwork, the newspaper items have a background of a film negative, in another piece it is the shape of post stamps, while a CD is the central item in a third piece.

Some artworks have fragments of news pieces where the colours and the shapes are the focus, and in some other paintings the main characters are social games that people used to play when reading their daily newspapers in public coffee shops such as domino, cards and chess.

Some of the symbols were used by the artist in his previous exhibitions, such as insects and cockroaches, yet he believes that this is a new phase in his work.

“This exhibition is the result of personal research for one year, yet it took me three years to start a new style since my last exhibition was in 2012. I used to be experimental and adventurous. I do not know how will it go after this exhibition but I am sure it marks as a kind of transformation.”

But the only thing El Zeiny is very sure about is that artists in the current moment have a role.

“The revolution and the political and social dynamic in Egypt put a big responsibility on us. We might not yet know what is it, but we should keep experimenting and finding out the link and connection,” he concluded to Ahram Online.

Hisham El Zeiny
Artwork by Hisham El-Zeiny (Photo: Courtesy of Mashrabia gallery website)


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