Senses: political power and growing pains explored by young AUC artists

Sara Elkamel, Monday 7 May 2012

The ‘Senses’ exhibition features the work of senior art students at the American University in Cairo, who explore diverse themes including identity, power, revolution and pain


Senses, a multi-media event being held at the American University in Cairo, presents work by students that seeks to tackle identity questions through painting, photography, installations, video art, sculpture, and more. 

The exhibition, which opened on Sunday night at the Sharjah Art Gallery, features the graduation projects of 23 senior art students at the American University in Cairo. The exhibition is not pretty to look at, as the conceptual value often overshadows the aestheticism of the works; but that doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy the show. Quite the contrary; as you circle the gallery, you unravel themes of identity, revolution, pain, and many more wildly familiar sensations.

The young artists have drawn on their growing pains for inspiration, creating raw and honest artwork. Director of the Art Program at AUC, Aissa Deebi, describes the years of work that prelude the students' final projects at Senses.

"This is a culmination of a four year experience of studying art at AUC," he explains. "This show features very contemporary and different kinds of work, and presents young, promising ideas."

Revamping the art curriculum to introduce graphic design and film, Deebi is determined to fine-tune the programme until it becomes the "best in Egypt and the region."

Deebi remarks that the works displayed and created here, at the New Cairo campus, holds a very different air than the chaos of everything happening in downtown Cairo.

However, the art on display is not isolated from the commotion of Egypt’s current affairs. Revolution-related themes seep into the works, mimicking the Egyptian art scene’s obsession with everything related to January 25. While some students tackle personal identity questions and deep-set emotions such as pain or fear of death, others handle societal phenomena or befuddling facts of modern day Egyptian life, such as gender roles.

You can always count on these student exhibitions to present the quirky and the creative. In different materials, the projects emerge as cathartic experiences; as the culmination of four years of work, and also as a rite of passage. Students are implored to dig deep into their psyches and carefully scrutinise the world around them for inspiration. And the result is pensive work that reveals a lot about the inner workings of a student’s mind, on the precipice of becoming an artist.

Malak Gomaa visits the concept of pain in her project. Combining sketches of intertwined shapes and lines with excerpts from her writings, she presents three "books" that resemble an illustrated diary.

Most of the work is similarly personal. Ingy Fahmy dedicates her video project to Omar Mohsen, a fellow AUC student who was killed in the Port Said football clashes in February.  The video features Mohsen leading chants on campus, juxtaposed with protests that honour the martyr. The earphones dangle down from the ceiling, and as you place them on your ears you are transported to the intensity of protests, of the living and of the dead.

Another revolution-related artwork is Farah Aboulazm’s "Speak Up", a series of square canvases representing iconic revolutionary women such as writer Mona El-Tahawy; activist Gameela Ismail; Samira Ibrahim, who brought a case against the military after she was subject to a virginity test; and television presenter Reem Magued. The work asks a question: "Did you get your rights back?"

More women-related themes appear in Senses, such as Amena Abdelhady’s polyester and fibreglass dolls with gender roles hand-painted on them. One doll is of a faceless woman cooking, another one embraces a child.

Abdelhady tackles the social codes imposed and self-imposed on women through the static, brightly coloured dolls. Some passersby pick the dolls up, and curiously turn them around to look. The artist’s statement reads: "Play with the toys. At the end of the day this is what these roles have turned women into."

One of the exhibition’s most conceptual pieces is Salma Abed’s installation of a large, golden throne with meat for fabric. Abed cut up the meat herself, and she stitched it up, free hand, to make it as attractive as possible. The idea, according to Abed, "is to demonstrate the effect of power over time."

She continues, animatedly, pointing to her nose: "it makes a smell." The throne will stay in the hall for the duration of the exhibition, and Abed hopes its rotting smell will help drive home the point about the rotting effect of time on power.

Senses is on at the Sharjah Art Gallery, AUC, New Cairo Campus until 6 June.

The Gallery is open to the public between 11am and 5pm, and closed on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.


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