Collage: 100 Years On or An Education at The Gallery

Sara El-Kamel, Sunday 27 Nov 2011

Cairo welcomes a new player in the visual art field, a gallery situated in Zamalek and called simply The Gallery. Its opening exhibition, Collage: 100 Years On, introduces a generally unattended art form

Mounir Canaan

Collage: 100 Years On is an educational endeavour meant to expose the multi-layered art of collage to cultured fans across Cairo.

The audience comprehends the curator’s mission rather clearly, based on how she set up the exhibition: “to educate art connoisseurs in Cairo on the different styles of collage produced by Egyptian and regional artists,” quoting Curator Maie Yanni.

Yanni thinks that people in the region are yet to understand collage.

Meanwhile, as a curator and artist herself, she has a special interest in the art form. Through the first collective collage exhibition in Cairo Yanni hopes to spark interest for collage and destroy preconceptions that categorise the style as cheap or clumsy.

Looking back at a century of collage that was sparked by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque at the onset of the 20th century, The Gallery acts as a promenade through contemporary Egyptian collage, which proves to be both entertaining and eye-opening.

“This group exhibition celebrates collage, which was pioneered by Picasso and Braque in 1912, and has since permeated through pop surrealism and every art movement,” emphasises curator Maie Yanni.

It is refreshing to see such thought and concept going into an exhibition, which succeeds in bringing together contrasting styles and approaches to collage from a group of vastly different artists.

Huda Lutfi focuses on iconography and uses sculptures to add dimension to her art.

Hany Rashed produces pop-artsy pieces, each simple in composition and astute in message.

Hisham El-Zeiny works with various materials to create serene pieces that are infused with folkloric symbols.

The show could have benefited from displaying a few examples of Picasso and Braques’s earliest collage pieces, so as to show contrast between “then and now” and raise the importance of the art by pointing out that such influential artists started this form of expression.

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction,” the legendary modern Spanish painter, Picasso had been known to say.

Picasso and Braque deviated from fine art and instigated the cubist movement, which altered perspectives and gave art a deeper, more analytical meaning. Picasso’s career was luminous in the early 20th century.

“Everything you can imagine is real,” Picasso once allegedly proclaimed. Shifting towards cubism, Picasso departs radically from traditional European art, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. And through collage, he defies the boundaries of his imagination.

In an attempt to find Egypt’s collage roots, The Gallery exhibits works by the late Mounir Canaan, who Yanni calls “the father of Egyptian collage.” His pieces are unrivalled in sophisticated simplicity. He uses “the humblest materials to create masterpieces,” says Yanni.

Hisham El-Zeiny’s faint collages steal the spotlight at The Gallery. El-Zeiny works outdoors, under the sunlight, using coffee stains and mixed media to create collages that scream with Egyptian culture. El Zeiny’s collages are delicate and faint, yet they exude a character that is too bold to overlook. He uses folkloric icons, including traditional ahwa (street-side, local hookah shops) chairs, to create culture-infused collages. Yanni says the artist usually works on each individual piece over a long period of time, visiting and revisiting them until they are complete. Echoing the cumulative nature of collage, El-Zeiny’s artwork feels rich and aged.

Huda Lutfi, one of the Egyptian pioneers in the field of collage, creates 3-D structures, which he covers with highly iconic collage images. For example, a human head is covered in a collage of text that reads, “no one is a winner in battles between men and women,” repeated over and over. Lutfi’s work often alludes to politics, gender and cultural identities.

Sudanese artist Hassan Ali creates a collage of ethnic visuals, adorned with bright colours and folkloric symbols. Drawing from his origins and feeling displaced in a country that is splitting in half, the artist manages to reflect a sense of dishevelled merriment in his works. Recycled paper and diverse materials mirror the feeling of dislocation and war in Ali’s hometown.

The British-born Lebanese curator Maie Yanni creates collages of her own: one of her most interesting pieces she calls “broken promises.” A geometric assembly of shapes with snippets of text from newspapers. “I cut up all the promises leaders have made from the Tunisian revolution to Libya, and restructured them.” She uses the colour blue to symbolise the eye and green for the Arab Spring. The artist is hopeful for a better future, despite all the broken promises.

Another painting by Yanni is dubbed “The Windmill of Your Mind,” made up of cut up recycled posters from the Diwan notice board rubbish. With this piece, the artist aims to challenge our perception of what is beautiful and what is plain waste. “By relying on your own thoughts, you can see the beauty in ugly.”

Entertaining paintings by the young collage artist Hany Rashed conclude the show. Colourful compositions with direct messages; his work reflects contemporary icons (such as Obama and Sarkozy) and popular issues (like consumerism) with wit and flair.

Collage is a much more liberal technique of making art; it is not just about cutting and sticking, it is all about making a mess that makes sense. The artist is not restricted by a predetermined outcome; you seldom create a collage in advance. The process is flexible, there's no such thing as too many or too little images, and there is no dictated list of materials to use. Creating your collage becomes an extremely intimate venture as you pick materials that consciously and subconsciously reveal snippets of yourself through art.

The Gallery showcases a diverse collection of artwork by quite a selection of artists with different approaches to collage, providing audiences with a welcome alternative to mere fine art.

The Gallery is located in an upscale Zamalek building, not too far away from the boisterous 26 July Street, where numerous galleries are already scattered. The area has developed into an art hub for private galleries, which showcase works by established and young artists, alike. Despite being small in size, The Gallery evokes a sense of space. Its grey walls accommodate the busy collages nicely, giving them a chance to flaunt their bright colours and distinctive textures.

There are yet unexplored styles of art that would benefit development and exposure, such as sculpture, printmaking and video art. If private galleries steer away from commercialism and devote their space as platforms for a wider spectrum of art, Egypt’s art scene is sure to flourish.



Now - 20 December
The Gallery
6 Salah El Din Street, Zamalek

Saturday – Thursday, 10:30am – 9:00pm
Closed Fridays

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