Rania Khallaf , Tuesday 1 Feb 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly explores a new type of exhibiting arts.

Khedr  Gaessa  Al-Emam
Clockwise from top left Khedr Gaessa Al-Emam

Al-Sharikah (or The Company, 15-29 January at the Gezira Arts Centre) is not just the title of one of downtown Cairo’s most exciting new exhibitions. It is also the name of a uniquely harmonious combination of sensibilities. Featuring work by four friends, the Egyptians Mohamed Khedr, Sameh Ismail and Yasser Gaessa and the Cairo-based Sudanese Mutaz Al-Emam, it is the culmination of a joint process that began with brainstorming sessions last April.

With four halls dedicated to an artist each, this is neither a group nor a solo exhibition, but something in between. It is subtitled The Interview and curated by Ismail, and includes 100 paintings depicting the drama of the interview from various angles and in different ways. Working together seems to have encouraged new modes of experimentation.

Known as much as anything for colourful abstract landscapes, Al-Emam displays black-and-white portraits of job seekers, focusing on their anxiety and hopefulness. In a series of 30 x 30 cm white acrylic and charcoal on paper pieces, he plays with the form of the eyes, turning the eye into a hole, or a lake surrounded by waves of dust or soil.

Khedr, a master of still life, builds on his March exhibition 051 Cosmic Messages from Other Worlds. He offers a 360 x 200 cm acrylic on canvas painting showing a company building as a powerful, mute monster. Here as elsewhere he uses a complex form of monoprinting to transfer dry acrylic onto canvas.

The conversation between job seeker and job owner, the clichés usually repeated in official interviews, are depicted cleverly by Ismail, a calligrapher as well as artist, through geometric abstractions on fabrics and installations, which marks a step forward after his last show at ZagPick last season. Beautifully merged letters and abstract signs evoke the unconscious dialogue between the two figures.

More surprising are the paintings by Gaessa, which mark a leap in his career. The artist’s previous show at the Nile Gallery depicted abstract landscapes in a new style based on his experience as a cartoonist. In this collection, Gaessa goes through the closed rooms of the company, illustrating the character of the chairman, the managing director, even the kitchen and buffet workers, in a new pop art style.

However, the only drawback here is the features of the characters which are bluntly Caucasian, as if they were inspired by Western comic magazines, for no reason. In another captivating paintings, a black man  in a blue jacket and flowery trousers is at the centre of an idyllic outdoor scene. In a sarcastic 300 x 150 cm oil on canvas piece entitled Chairman, the artist depicted the chairman of the company in a lavish red suit with his black Cadillac which devours the left side of his highly decorated office.

In a talk held a week after the inauguration that, despite terrible weather, managed to attract a small audiences, Ismail said, “We are happy to be home again after nearly 15 years of exhibiting in private galleries. It is here where we kicked off our very first art shows. This is the first exhibition oinf a series of future events. We are thinking of introducing workshops, catalogues, and other cultural activities.”

Due to some restrictions imposed by private galleries in which each artist exhibit mostly on a yearly basis, the four members – who come from different backgrounds – can only show their artworks collectively in Ministry of Culture spaces.

“We are not an Art Group, not like those traditionally known in Egypt like the Contemporary Art Group, established in 1946, or the Art and Freedom Group, active from 1938 to 1948. We are just partners in an artistic assembly. We do not represent any ideology or aesthetic and we are against all clichés,” Ismail clarified. “Since we represent different art schools, I assume we have reached a kind of counterpoint here. We just need to make some changes in the cultural scene and to share our experiences with the younger generation, to discover new talents, and to serve like a connecting circle,” he added. “We, individually, offer online support for younger generations of artists. Now we have Al-Sharikah, we have a better opportunity to connect with more artists and work as a model from which other artists can learn.”

Ismail, director and curator of the newly established Contemporary Art Museum attached to Helwan University, pointed to the severe lack of good curators in Egypt. This lack of curators makes shows very repetitive. The art scene is in need of meaningful change.”

The inspiring exhibition, which closed on Saturday with a concert featuring Ismail as a percussionist, is likely to echo far and wide for a long time to come.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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