Al-Gezira Club photo exhibition at Hanager puts in question artistic priorities

Ati Metwaly, Sunday 4 Mar 2012

A photography exhibition by members of Al-Gezira Sporting Club that opened Saturday at Hanager Arts Centre fails excite and begs questions on the centre's management

Exhibition at Hanager Arts Centre

Founded in 1882 and originally known as Khedivial Sporting Club, Al-Gezira Sporting Club is one of the most ambitious clubs in Cairo. With history being one of its main prides, today the club continues to attract members with a variety of sports and artistic events. Reserved for members only, the club created a close-knit community that enjoys sharing new ideas and activities.

Such is the case with Al-Gezira Sporting Club photographers. A number of members who are amateur snappers joined forces and guided by a specially assigned committee present their photographic fruits to the rest of the club.

“The exhibition of photographic works is held annually inside the club. This year, for the first time, members had an opportunity to display their works at a gallery outside the club,” Youssef Mazhar, head of the photographic committee, told Ahram Online.

Dozens of photographic works found their place on the walls of what aims to be one of the most important new galleries in Cairo, housed in the recently renovated Hanager Arts Centre on the grounds of the Cairo Opera House. In an exhibition that opened Saturday 3 March, 34 photographers from Al-Gezira Club present their works.

The photographs vary in thematic content, and apparently do not have a specific objective. An A4 white sheet that hangs on the entry door to the exhibition hall enumerates all the participating names, yet it does not provide a title to the initiative. Mazhar explained that club members were left free to choose the objects and tools of their works, and that there were no other goals set for members than to capture whatever they pleased with their cameras.

As such, the walls of the exhibition hall at Al-Hanager Arts Centre are covered with themes that range from landscapes to animals and plants, documentation of personal travels, Islamic, Ancient Egyptian and modern architecture, people, children, families, moments captured from Tahrir Square amid the revolution, sunsets or light and shadow effects. Most pictures are in full colour though the exhibition includes black and white and sepia photography.

The mixing and matching of subjects can be a valid parameter for a collective exhibition as long as there is a binding factor for the initiative. Without doubt, some photographs testify to the individual artistic interests of their creators, but the exhibition as a whole lacks vision and purpose. In such circumstances, even a few of the interesting works — such as the black and white photography of Yehia El-Alaily — do not gain deserved attention.

Many photographs represent personal memories and may have been better off displayed in a family album or a closed community exhibition. The exhibition seems important to the organisers and to the participating photographers, and it would have kept its value if it remained inside the walls of Al-Gezira Club. Presenting such collection to a wider audience in an important cultural outlet requires that the project carries a clear vision and aims to communicate specific messages from club members to visitors.

Lack of a logistical backbone is another serious flaw in the initiative. It is apparent that the exhibition did not have the support of professionals. Photographs are displayed in a random manner, some not even hanging straight on the wall. A multitude of frames, some photographs are left on a foam board. It is obvious that a number of photographs come straight from the member’s homes and carry traces of wear and tear.

We understand that the exhibition must be an important event for the club’s committee and understandably it is a matter of pride for club members. It is a real pity that the major pitfalls — lack of vision and professional input — set a dark shadow on the artistic value that could have emerged from the chosen works.

The most pressing question to ask should address the management of Al-Hanager Arts Centre. Why did the centre accept to host an exhibition that does not parallel — neither artistically nor logistically — its mission? Should Al-Hanager’s exhibition hall become a place any random initiative can rent? Are there any expectations set on the artistic and organisational aspects of projects that will enter and be displayed in that space?

The newly revamped theatre gave hope to many that an important cultural hub, offering activities excelling in their professionalism and clear artistic vision, would emerge. Renting the theatre’s exhibition hall to random projects — in this case the hobbies of Al-Gezira Sporting Club members — without setting any aesthetic expectations provides food for thought on the management's understanding of the centre’s role in Cairo’s cultural scene.

The exhibition will continue until 10 March at Al-Hanager Arts Centre in the grounds of the Cairo Opera House in Zamalek.

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