Mashrabia Gallery: decades of cutting edge art

Sara Elkamel, Wednesday 28 Sep 2011

Ahram Online discusses the future of art in Egypt with Mashrabia director and curator, Stefania Angarano

Adel El Siwi Flowers Vs. Flowers 2011

As the first private gallery space in Cairo, Mashrabia has presented contemporary Egyptian art for 21 years, featuring young, established, and foreign artists who reflect society’s plights and Cairo’s wonders through art.

Stefania Angarano, Mashrabia’s director and curator, speaks to Ahram Online about the gallery’s transformation through the years, and art’s future in Egypt. “We must cling to hope, and not abandon art as a pillar of Egyptian society,” says the buoyant Angarano.

Over the years, paintings, photographs, sculptures and other art forms have filled Mashrabia, attracting the city’s art enthusiasts.

A French lady originally founded the gallery in the mid-70s, but Stefania Angarano took over in the 1990s. It emerged as “the first privately owned gallery for contemporary art in Cairo,” Angarano says.

Angarano injected Western ideas and models to develop Mashrabia into a pioneer in the local art scene. Ever since its onset, Mashrabia has aimed to promote “avant-garde artists, or those with fresh and innovative elements to add to the field,” reminisces Angarano. The gallery has also played a part in promoting foreign artists in Egypt as well as aspiring Egyptian artists.

Art is changing, Angarano confesses. “Art is no longer literal or academic… Artists are beginning to reflect their understanding of society and integrate it in their art.”

Angarano cites the rise of the Internet as the main force changing the artistic panorama in Cairo. “Before the Internet, our knowledge of the outside world was limited,” she says. “The Internet was a revolution for art and ideas; it introduced more opportunities and windows on the world at large.”

The director reveals that the stars of today’s art scene are young artists, while in the past, established artists stole the spotlight. “Society is more open to young artists today,” she says. “The art panorama is becoming less traditional, and more experimental.”

Mashrabia has been promoting the works of young artists, such as painter Hany Rashed and sculptor Ahmed Askalany, for the past few years. Angarano cherishes youthful art, and believes that it is most needed in this day and age. “Artists like Rashed and Askalany can express emotions and cultural criticisms in a contemporary way….They are very down to earth, and gracefully keep up with the world’s rapid changes.”

Since Mashrabia entered the local art scene, a number of private galleries have emerged, encouraging local talent and providing a platform for young and established artists alike to exhibit their works and advance their artistic careers. Angarano believes that such competition is healthy and that it “inspires better production, as artists compete for fame and recognition.”

Mashrabia Gallery and a few other downtown-based spaces such as the Townhouse Gallery are seeking new directions, according to Angarano, while Zamalek is brimming with galleries that feature “big names and big prices,” she says.

The gallery owner hopes that the art world would stand strong in the face of imminent challenges. “After the revolution, art has been struggling,” she says. “But we have to keep hoping, and remember that art is central to our lives, both aesthetically and conceptually.” We have to hope, even in the darkest of times.

On Edge, Mashrabia’s current exhibition, features artwork by a range of artists including Ahmed Askalany, Adel El-Siwi, Amr Fekry, Essam Maarouf, and Hany Rashed.

On Edge runs until 13 October 2011 at the Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art

8 Champollion St. Downtown

Program: Daily except Friday 11 am - 8 pm

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