Young artists experiment at Arthropologie Gallery

Sara Elkamel, Tuesday 1 Oct 2013

A new exhibition at Arthropologie in Zamalek features the work of 10 emerging artists around the theme of privacy and curiosity

Fair Usage exhibition. (Photo: courtesy of the gallery)

"Don't look in these bags, there are nasty things in there," a grey-haired man suggests, a coy smile on his face.

A peek inside the black plastic bags revealed the reason behind the apprehension of the security guard at Zamalek’s Arthropologie Gallery. Bras, a box of male contraceptives, and sanitary pads were tucked away in the tired-looking bags hanging on pins against the ivory white walls.

"The artist is trying to tackle the idea of curiosity by presenting the objects Egyptians usually tend to hide away in dark plastic bags," curator Yara Mekawi tells Magdy, in response to his attempt at understanding the seemingly obscene work of art.

"Oh okay. Now I get it. I just like to understand what I'm looking at," Magdy says with a smile.

"Fair Usage," an exhibition featuring the works of 10 emerging artists, is currently on show at Arthropologie Gallery in Zamalek, sparking conversations around the small collection of diverse art projects on display.

The project that most stirred Magdy’s curiosity is young artist Mohamed Ismail's first exhibited installation. Ismail, one of the founders of contemporary street art collective Mona Lisa Brigades, decided to work with the spirit of inquiry that pervades Egyptian society.

True to Yara Mekawi's curatorial pattern, this exhibition combines projects executed in a variety of media. Four other installations, four video art projects, a photo series, a drawing project and a layered photography piece, produced by a diverse group of up and coming experimental artists make up Fair Usage.

"The idea for this exhibition is rooted in our fair usage of the elements that pervade our lives," explains Mekawi.

She recalls how the birth of the Internet was accompanied by what was dubbed fair usage policies, which guaranteed certain services, restricted by outlined limitations, in exchange for a fee paid by users.

The curator thus set out to question the way in which we put the elements in our lives to use. "We are surrounded with physical elements, besides this virtual life we live, what do we do with those? Do we hide them?"

Arthropologie’s space is uncluttered and the show is compact, with a few recurring procedures and themes like the artists' use of a variety of media, including sound art and experimental installations, to poke at ideas of privacy and curiosity.

Sculptor Alaa Abd El Hamid exhibits a large, shabby looking chair accompanied by a drum-shaped object wrapped diligently in black plastic and tape. "Alaa wanted to flirt with the idea that you might have a sculpture at home that you don't necessarily think of as a sculpture," Mekawi explains.

"I don't even know what the wrapped object is, he wouldn't tell me," she laughs.

Visual artist Basem Samir's black and white photograph, portraying a woman partially hidden behind a thin veil and surrounded with one too many arms, a layered and rather rococo piece, tackles the idea of the fair usage of women, explains Mekawi.

Another interesting project is Nadia Mounier's photography series. Images of dogs, run-down houses, and wedding celebrations are grouped together at random, creating mini stories open to different interpretations.

Visitor explores installation by Yara Mekawi at 'Fair Usage' exhibition held at the Arthropologie gallery in Cairo. (Photo: courtesy of the gallery)

Mekawi also exhibits one of her own projects, a three-part installation. Pinned over the staircase that leads to the gallery’s lower level is a 1940s printed poster glued to the wall, advertising musical performances. Like a wig, a frilly purple vintage-looking decoration that would be found in an old concert hall hangs over the paper. The final element in the installation is a short musical piece composed by the artist.

"I wanted to create a connection between the old vintage elements from advertising and pop culture, and their contemporary counterpart."

"Look how different it was then," Mekawi points to the text on the poster, advertising for concerts that started at 10am and daily musical nights that ran from 9.30pm to 2am. "Music and performance had a completely different meaning then," she says.

While composing the music for this 2013 piece, Mekawi wanted to create a vintage sound that expresses her un-lived memories of a different era. "I wanted to take you someplace else."

Another installation that yanks visitors out of present time and place is by Sara Seliman; a large wooden figure suspended (or so it is made to seem) among the clouds (piles of cloud-shaped cotton). "She plays with the idea of the area beyond consciousness."

Four video art projects, tackling issues from Egyptian protests to family affairs, feature in "Fair Usage". "With the video art projects selected, I wanted to exhibit a shift from conceptual video art to a category of unscripted short films that still have a storyline that you could understand, and are not merely conceptual," says Mekawi.

Unfortunately, the screen where the video art projects are displayed was not working when Ahram Online paid a visit to the exhibition's second week.

Together, the artworks tackle themes of privacy and curiosity. Despite the diversity of the projects, a kind of unity is easy to spot. The exhibition features little colour -- most of the projects are monochromatic -- but it is still vibrant and dynamic.

There is something significantly raw about the artworks displayed in "Fair Usage". Many of the works showcased seem unpolished, incomplete even. Capturing the experimental energy of this group of experimental artists, this exhibition does not promise a prim and proper experience. It does however promise to intrigue.

The exhibition runs until Thursday 5 October at Arthropologie Gallery.

13A Al-Maraashly Street, Zamalek, Cairo

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