In the Spirit of Vaudeville

Menna Taher, Sunday 2 Jan 2011

Darb 1718 situated in old Cairo is a serene venue unperturbed by the noise of the city. It is currently displaying Fame: Family Vaudeville, a collaborative exhibition by thirteen artists

Family Vaudeville

Vaudeville, a genre of theatrical entertainment, particularly popular in the US and Canada between the 1880s and the 1930s as a variety show, puts together unrelated acts to form one performance. Musicians, dancers, trained animals, magicians, one-act plays and lectures are all a part of one show. In a way, through the presentation of unrelated mediums, the exhibition in Darb follows a similar vaudeville spirit, hence the title of the exhibition “Fame: Family Vaudeville”.

Entering the exhibition hall you might think you’re entering the wrong place, as you are welcomed by a display of t-shirts hanging by a red wall. On the wall in a tribute to soul music is written “El Roh El Shamaleya Hafez Ala El Iman” (the northern soul, keep the faith), a poster and an application form from an old soul music club in Egypt.

“The Egyptian musician Salah Ragab was one of the founders of the Casino Soul Club, together with British ex-pats living in Cairo at the time. The scene was at its strongest in the late 1970s, when the Ramses Hilton hotel was the club's regular venue, with hundreds of people frequenting their monthly dances,” explained the writing on the wall about the soul movement in Egypt.

Nabil Boutros’ photographic gallery “Egyptians” presents nine different kinds of Egyptians through passport-like headshots of Nabil Boutros himself. In his photographs he is a priest, a sheikh, a suited man with a zebeeba (a dark mark on the forehead acquired through prayer), wearing headphones, with glasses, and wearing a gallabeya, (long gown worn by some Muslims) among others.

Apart from the religious icons, the individuals he presents are every-day characters and could be anyone. Their dress gives an idea of their socio-economic background, yet the faces present different possibilities of who they could be and the lives they lead. It can be also seen as a social commentary on the fragmentation of Egyptians, in regards to the different social classes and religion.

Another commentary of a political tone is seen in the installation by the Swedish artist, Goran Hassanpour titled “Erection”. While playing around with the word erection, Hassanpour created a playful installation representing Egypt’s recent parliamentary elections. Arrows made of ballot cards are scattered all around the floor and have to be aimed at a ballot box hung from the wall. The bull’s eye in this case is the opening of the ballot box, almost impossible to reach.

At the back of the first floor there are two sound pieces about the Sufi leaders, Ibn Arabi and Abu El Abbas El Morsy. Cushions on the floor enable listeners to relax while listening to their stories,  told in a fable-like manner. The audio pieces are part of a larger project that was presented in the Manifesta Biennale in Spain entitled “Dwelling Andalusia”.

The artists’ interest in Andalusia has grown in the past ten years. “I grew up in a secular and progressive Egypt,” Khaled Hafez said. “The changes that took place over time made me go back in history and look into what happened.”

At this time an eerie sound of footsteps and a high-pitched computerised voice is heard from upstairs. These sounds are produced from Tobias Bernstrup’s Walking Ego and Egill Sæbjörnsson’s Ping Pong Dance. The first installation is of a female-looking robot walking and the latter is of two ping-pong balls jumping around and falling into two buckets placed on the floor.

One interesting collection is that of Sabah Naim, who has taken photography to a new level in using several mediums. Photographs of people on the street are printed on cloth, while patterns and frames are knitted on them adding different dimensions.

A photograph of five men is adorned with a tree made of green thread. The tree brightens up the black and white photograph, while framing each individual giving them a character of their own. Naim also makes collages by knitting different photographs together and weaves different patterns with the photographs, accentuating their beauty.

The exhibition has garnered different opinions, from positive to negative. “It was commended by foreigners and disliked by Egyptians,” said Hafez. An art curator explained that the pieces are not well-distributed in their surrounding space “and having two or three good artworks is not enough to hold an exhibition together,” she maintains.

The exhibition will be on-going until the end of January.

Darb 17 18 - Contemporary Art and Culture Centre, Fustat area, near Coptic Cairo



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