press release

The Mosaic Rooms, in association with Rose Issa Projects in London, is delighted to present the first UK solo show by Egyptian artist Nermine Hammam. Hammam is based in Cairo. Her works are intricate composites of layered images and symbols, using a distinctive aesthetic that combines digital manipulation and painting to form a rich and highly personal tapestry. This timely solo exhibition will feature two of her most recent series, Uppekha and Unfolding, which look at the recent civil unrest and uprisings in Egypt.

Upekkha features images of soldiers from the Egyptian army taken in Tahrir Square, reset against utopian landscapes of luminous blue skies, verdant fields, snow peaked mountains and still bodies of water. The series examines youth in war, masculine frailty, and notions of power. By reclaiming these soldiers as individuals, the artist seeks to reveal the vulnerability of youth parading behind the weaponry and masculinity of the military, questioning the reality of power and its construction.

Referencing a peculiar nostalgia in their hand-painted postcard format, the images suggest a desire to capture a moment whilst also acknowledging its passing, anticipating the fading of revolutionary dreams into mundane political history. By signifying a delicacy and transience in memory, the artist seeks to question traditional representations of civil unrest.

“What is power and who, ultimately, wields it? Power is a myth, a construct. It resides only in the images that we hold of it, rather than in its inherent reality,” Hammam writes. The term Upekkha refers to a Buddhist aspiration of experiencing the world through a lens of equanimity. It is believed that through detachment one acquires the possibility to notice contradictions, question the accepted, and reorganize society. By showing us a different view of the uprisings and military might, the artist hopes the viewer will take the chance to consider the coquettish smile of a soldier in khaki or the precariousness of a paradisiacal landscape and to question what he or she, and society, readily assume.

Similary in Unfolding, realized a year later on a more intimate scale, Hammam aims to resensitise the viewer to the power of images, feeling that the constantly circulated media portrayals of violence, suffering, death and war in repeatedly similar formats, build up society’s immunity to their resonance, reduce the viewer’s potential for empathy, and disconnect us from their realness and the individuals they depict. The concept for this series emerged from the artist's own experience of watching a young protester die in Tahrir Square, while less than a kilometer away city life continued undisturbed.

Unfolding consists of stylized Japanese landscapes, intersected with explicit footage, downloaded from the web, of police brutality in the year following Egypt’s 2011 revolt. Using the form of ancient Japanese screens gave the artist the emotional distance she needed to navigate what she had witnessed. It rendered the reality of the revolt into a fictitious place, a land somewhere between medieval Japan and contemporary Egypt. In her desire to make the pain and suffering of her images more intensely felt, she discovered an alternative to the media’s use of graphic representation. The refined traditional aesthetics of the screen allowed the artist to explore the power of suggestion and of artfulness. In Unfolding the moment of impact becomes hidden behind foliage, or ornamentation and instantaneous gratification are frustrated. Instead the viewer is asked to become active in their viewing, to look closer, and re-examine the surface in front of them to realize the full violence of what is being portrayed.

Nermine Hammam was born in Cairo (1967), and received her BFA in filmmaking from the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. She then worked with Simon & Goodman and renowned film director Youssef Chahine. In the past 10 years, Hammam has taken part in more than 50 solo and group exhibitions around the world, and her work features in several international public and private collections. She also participated in the international photography biennales in Bamako, Mali (2011), Cuenca Ecuador (2009), and Thessalonike (2009).

only in german

Nermine Hammam
cairo, year one