Minutes before the Documenta 2 exhibition launch on 15 January at the Viennoise hotel, the artists were still running around, putting the finishing touches to their artwork and setting up their individual rooms. Paintbrushes were scattered on the floor blending in with the cracked tiles. The artwork stood out against the crumbling walls.
The downtown hotel, and venue for the event, is rundown but charmingly so. The shabby surroundings work as a hospitable home for the varied artwork. It became quite entertaining to stroll from room to room, pretending that you are part of a treasure hunt or a ghost story, listening to people chatter about the pieces whilst exploring the space at your own pace.
This unusual and temporary gallery now hosts artwork by more than 20 up-and-coming artists, who are determined to paint in the face of the political turmoil and resulting challenges to the art scene.
The first Cairo Documenta, in 2010, featured Ahmed Bassiouny, a 33-year-old artist and musician who died during the January 25 Revolution. This group of aspiring artists were determined to pay tribute to their late friend and fellow artist with a second series of the Documenta exhibition.
Documenta 2 features a group of Egypt’s most dedicated young artists from fresh graduates to established painters. It showcases their works in different styles including video, installation, painting and computer graphics. Most of the work on display tackles current events with a conceptual and contemporary twist.
Hany Rashed, a celebrated artist whose solo show is currently on at Tache Art Gallery, exhibits a series of large paintings that take up the width of one of the walls in the hotel. The canvases are covered in white paint, which creates a smoky effect resembling the overflow of tear gas in Tahrir during the clashes between protesters and Egypt's security forces last November.
In one of the Viennoise’s rooms, Ahmed El-Shaer has set a computer screen featuring a game where a man shoots camels as participants press the space bar, referencing the infamous Battle of The Camel that took place on 2 February during the 18 days. In another room, Hossam El-Sawah recreates board games by mixing elements of contemporary pop and political culture.
Playing around with contemporary images, these young artists create works that are wittingly satirical and creative.
The exhibition is run and funded by the artists, meaning the Cairo Documenta 2 does not have a curator making the show more fluid and loosely themed. The Viennoise was offered to the artists for free. The artists then pooled their resources together to paint and prepare the venue in time for the exhibition.
The Documenta 2 artwork on the flaky walls in this tattered hotel is far from refined. Some pieces are barely complete, however, they are not lacking in conceptual refinement and candid expression. As you peer into the Viennoise rooms, you are pleasantly surprised by the diversity of styles.
The exhibition runs until 28 January, coincidentally – or perhaps not – the day Ahmed Bassiouny was killed in Tahrir Square whilst fighting for freedom. This is a battle these artists are continuing: fighting for their freedom to keep creating art in these times of hope and distress.
Venue: Viennoise Hotel, Mahmoud Basiony Street, Cairo, Egypt