Cairo exhibition brings Gandhi to the Egyptian revolution

Ati Metwaly, Monday 6 May 2013

Until 9 May, El-Sawy Culturewheel presents an exhibition of posters that link Tahrir Square's revolutionary events and Mahatma Gandhi

Works by the first prize winners: Amr Shaalan from Egypt (left) and Sandeep Raj K from India (right)

An poster exhibition called "Did you sense the spirit of Gandhi in Tahrir Square?" at El-Sawy Culturewheel compiles works by artists from Egypt, India and Africa.

The display is the second exhibition from the ongoing India by the Nile festival (13 April – 13 May), which has a rich programme aiming to present a variety of aspects of Indian culture to Egyptian audiences. The "Gandhi in Tahrir Square" exhibition will be held until 9 May

The first exhibition was organised by the Embassy of India within the festival's framework, with the first one being 'Akshara, Calligraphy in Arts', held 15 - 21 April.

"Did you sense the spirit of Gandhi in Tahrir Square?" exhibition is the result of a competition launched on 2 October 2013, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birthday in 1869. The competition targeted two groups of artists: from Egypt and from an India-sponsored cooperation platform between India and African countries. Prizes were distributed to each group separately. 

Moreover, the artists were divided into two groups: youth (school-age students) and adults. According to information provided by Second Secretary for Press and Political Affairs from the Embassy of India, Bijay Selvaraj, 80 works from Egypt and over 70 from the India-Africa platform were submitted for final evaluation.

In January 2013 a jury consisting of artists from India and Egypt chose the winners. The exhibition inauguration was attended by Kirti Menon, Gandhi’s granddaughter.

The first prize for the Egyptian poster designer went to Amr Shaalan for his photography depicting an aerial view of Tahrir Square, filled with people praying. Though the image is well-known to the audience following Egypt's events, Shaalan used it in order to connect with the pre-eminent leader of India. By usage of shades of sepia, the face of Mahatma Gandhi emerges from the Egyptians in the square, as his ideas of non-violence and peaceful resistance become an integral part of the January 2011 revolution.

Sandeep Raj. K is the first-prize winner from India. On the other spectrum from Shaalan, Sandeep Raj used the minimal visual elements to convey to the viewer strong meanings, maximised by his symbolic language. In the centre of the white screen we find Gandhi's characteristic round eyeglasses frames, whose round shadow turns into two round peace symbols. At the bottom of the canvas we find a small map of Egypt with a sign: "HERE, it's again the vision of peace."

As the first prize winners, Amr Shaalan will travel to India where he will be hosted by a design school for a short workshop, while Sandeep Raj will have a training in Egypt at Mohamed Abla's art school in Fayoum.

Works displayed at El-Sawy Culturewheel's Word Hall are testimonies to a variety of the artistic approaches to this interesting crossroad between the Egyptian revolution, its social and ideological values and Gandhi's powerful visions.

Posters designed by Amal Hosny Abdel Salam (left), Mohamed Mahmoud El-Sharkawy (centre) and Reham Sayed Khulief (right) - from Egypt

Many of the artists portray Gandhi's face safeguarding the peaceful protesters and Tahrir Square, as we find it in works by Reham El-Sonbaty, Amal Hosny Abdel Salam or Nashwa Aly Abdel Malek, from Egypt. Mohamed Mahmoud El-Sharkawy, also from Egypt, adds a gigantic number 25 to the similar concept of Gandhi and crowds in Tahrir Square. Reham Sayed Khulief brings the element of Facebook to the equation, where the Indian icon posts one of his wisdoms: "I can't teach you violence as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you how to bow your heads before anyone - even at the cost of your life."

It is apparent that most of the Egyptian artists chose to remain strongly linked to the concepts of Tahrir as a geographical location, masses filling the square, Facebook and Twitter contribution to Egypt's revolution. While doing so they reached to the physical presence of Mahatma Gandhi or quotes from his philosophy promoting non-violence, social change, women's roles, compassion and the power of truth.

While the designers from Egypt use tools that have a very straightforward vocabulary, they also apply their ideas onto the well-known photographs that emerged during the first 18 days of Egypt's revolution and were repetitively shown in all international media. Those direct and expected ideas might result from the strong emotional, direct involvement in the events of their country that the young artists feel. Time will definitely provide them with more metaphoric reflections on the revolution, meanings behind it and how it can relate to Gandhi's wisdom.

From left to right: Posters designed by Mehalon Lulie Melaku (Ethiopia), Samuel Tsegaye (Ethiopia), Sidhart Jain (India) and Yonas Hailu Zewde (Ethiopia)

Artists representing India-Africa are not influenced firsthand by changes taking place in Egypt. Their knowledge is based on images and news transferred to their respective countries by media channels. Understandably, their take on the January revolution will be somewhat different to that of the Egyptian artists. It is the international artistic language, combined with their knowledge of Gandhi that triggers creative reflections about Egypt.

This is how Prem Kumar from India creates a puzzle with the face of Gandhi, the frame of his glasses in the centre of Tahrir. Equally, insights are transferred in design by Sidharth Jain, the second-prize winner from India, where Gandhi's figure brings peace to Egypt depicted on the map. Samuel Tsegaye from Ethiopia limits his artwork to a brilliant outline of Gandhi's face where the black ink carries dispersed scenes from protests.

Different in its artistic approach, works by artists from India and Ethiopia specifically give a very important and refreshing perspective to Egypt's revolution, infusing it with reflections characterised by important geographical and ideological distance, allowing the artists to nourish their works with unlimited powers of creativity.

The exhibition showcases many important values within one theme. Different cultures and nations, reflect on the revolutionary events, while many artists are not directly involved or affected by Egypt's realities. As such, the display becomes a platform for an engaging artistic discussion around Egypt's revolution. It also sends clear messages to the viewer about different layers of creativity, education, perceptions, artistic extensions and limitations that characterise artists in different corners of the world.  

A visitor stands in front of the posters, part of the display "Did you sense the spirit of Gandhi in Tahrir Square" held at Wisdom Hall, El-Sawy Culturewheel between 1 and 9 May. The exhibition is part of 'India by the Nile' festival (13 April - 13 May) organized as a collaboration between the Embassy of India in Egypt and India Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) working with the Team Work Productions India.

Exhibition runs until 9 May
Word Hall, El-Sawy Culturewheel
26th of July Street, Zamalek, Cairo

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