Egyptian artist Dina Danish exhibits humorous artwork in Amsterdam

Sara Elkamel, Monday 22 Jul 2013

Contemporary Egyptian visual artist Dina Danish is currently exhibiting an assortment of multimedia projects at the Art Space of De Nederlandsche Bank

Four Friends Fought Furiously For The Phone. (Photo: courtesy of the artist)

Egyptian visual artist Dina Danish is currently showcasing a selection of her most recent projects at De Nederlandsche Bank's Art Space in a show titled Four Friends Fought Furiously For the Phone.

The exhibition features a series of constructed photographs that visually depict popular tongue twisters, a video project titled Live From the Aquarium that juxtaposes a crowd at Dubai Mall's aquarium with narration by a sports commentator, and sculptures based on an essay that tackles the formal qualities of none other than chewing gum.

Amsterdam-based contemporary artist Dina Danish's body of work combines conceptual art's tendency to focus on language and structure with humour and misunderstanding, rendering her projects both conceptually solid and amusing.

Her work has recently been exhibited in galleries and art fairs in Cairo, Italy, Switzerland and San Francisco, among others.

Recurring features of Danish's work include humour, highlighting mundane movements or expressions and a tendency to experiment with a variety of media. Her work is also based on substantial research, and therefore each of her projects is in a way, an investigation into the subject, be it chewing gum, a tongue twister or crowds at an aquarium.

The artist tells Ahram Online via Skype that the first element of her exhibition is the visualisation of tongue twisters as an alternative to uttering them. In a series of constructed photographs, such as one in which four of the characters from the hit series Friends battle in boxing outfits with a phone hovering above them against a jet black background, the artist brings these tongue-twisters to life.

Also exhibited in Amsterdam is a number of works including metal sculptures, based on Danish's ongoing research about chewing gum and its use in contemporary art and cinema.

"It is a silly subject that if taken seriously is not that silly after all," she says. "Which is what most of my work is based on."

The essay Danish penned on chewing gum explores the works of other artists who have used gum in a symbolic way, and its resulting associations and relationships with gender and sexual orientation, specifically in Egyptian cinema.

"It started out as an essay based on a collection of art works and cinematic footage that use chewing gum and the different reasons behind it," Danish explains.

Symbolism aside, the artist is also interested in the formal qualities of gum. She had been collecting works by different artists who have used chewing gum as a medium.

Danish is also screening a video she has recently produced, dubbed 'Live From The Aquarium'. In the video, a crowd walks through the aquarium at Dubai's largest shopping centre, Dubai Mall, as a sports commentator describes their every move as if he were commentating on a sporting event.

This juxtaposition of one activity, visitors to an aquarium, with the narration of another, a sports match, is humorous and thought provoking. Danish enjoys playing around with this idea of an imaginary audience as if one crowd watches other crowds. It alters the pattern of perception as we are watching the people who are watching the fish.

The artist also finds a worthwhile exercise in describing the movement of people and things, and their relationship with one another. "The first lesson in writing or art is always to learn how to describe what is in front of you," she says.

Similar to the project on chewing gum, in which she examined the act in the context of Egyptian cinema, Danish previously produced a video project that tackled a performance by iconic Egyptian singer Abdel-Halim Hafez.

While Egyptian subject matter does make its way into her artwork on occasion, Danish says she is not consciously injecting Egyptian themes into her work. "Egypt is part of my identity, and it is going to influence me both as a person and as an artist, but it is not a direct decision, it comes out naturally," she says.

After completing a BA in Art at the American University in Cairo, Danish moved to San Francisco, where she acquired a Master of Fine Arts in painting and drawing from the California College of the Arts.

"I kept hearing that painting is dead, photography is dead," she recalls.

Her move to the US changed her work completely, she says.

The artist's exposure to contemporary art scenes abroad has inspired her to experiment with alternative artistic practices.

"I didn't know that I was allowed to do all these things in visual art." She experimented with video, performance, and installation. "It was all trial and error and that became the actual strategy of creating things."

While Danish admits that she is not entirely up to date with Egypt's contemporary art scene, she does criticise the seriousness of the approach to contemporary art in Cairo. She finds the absence of the Egyptian sense of humour in contemporary artwork surprising.

Still, she believes visual jokes that spread via Facebook to satirise ongoing political events and social phenomena represent an amusing form of artistic expression, albeit informal.

The exhibition runs until 8 August De Nederlandsche Bank Postbus 98 1000 AB Amsterdam Westeinde 1 1017 ZN

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