press release

Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut is pleased to invite you to its new show “ Out of Place” with recent works of young emerging Egyptian artists. The show is curated by William Wells, the Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo. William Wells has selected nine artists whose work, although very different in style, material and origin, is associated with the appropriation of images, objects and emotional experiences. Playing with time, space and social constructs, each artist uses their own unique and powerful perspectives to question the nature of the way we lead our (post) post-modern lives. Through this re-positioning of the familiar we are forced to re-evaluate our preconceptions, and unpack the cultural baggage we all carry with us. The following participants have exhibited internationally and represent an exciting new generation of artists working in Egypt today:

Hala El Koussy born in 1974 Cairo, Egypt. Lives and works in Amsterdam and Cairo

Candyfloss Stories Candyfloss Stories opens with an old errant seller calling out to the lady of miracles to come to his rescue, to see what has become of the people and the city. This short film is based on interviews with Cairenes about their aspirations and frustrations interspersed with news bits relating to the city collected over the Internet. In cyclical fashion, the characters turn Cairo roofs into sets in which they are on “top of the world”: rooftops being ambiguous places that hover between the public and the private, the personal and the collective. The “New Comer to the City” talks of a coexisting parallel reality where titillating underwear is cheap and chickens are injected with hormones, the “Drug Addict” of writing his own obituary in the last pages of Al-Ahram, the “Ageing Man” of passing his expiry date while trees are dying and building are mushrooming... Rendered in black and white and scripted as prose with music commissioned by sound artist Cevdet Erek, the virtual journey of the candyfloss seller into the psyche of the people who negotiate their existence under the extreme conditions presented by the megalopolis, that is Cairo, concludes with his arrival at the ultimate top of the city: Mokattam, calling out the lady of miracles to come to the help of the “passer-by” in “no-man’s land”, yet his candyfloss stack is still full and fluffy. Candyfloss Stories is part of a 3 channel video installation commissioned for the project “Actual Position” by the Arts Council of Switzerland Pro Helvetia in 2005, Exhibition Copy, 17:00 min, Edition of 3

Amal Kenawy born in 1974 Cairo, Egypt. Lives and works in Cairo

When I search within myself, I perceive a self that has an independent existence and that contains a set of laws which rule and govern the body as a physical entity. However, the existence of the self does not correspond to that of an individuality, hence my continuous search to define my relationship to being and to nothingness. I don’t think of my work as feminist in the traditional sense of the word. In a way, I am concerned with pain and isolation, among other sentiments. On a technical level, I try to create a visual language accessible to different audiences, a language that transcends the specificities of culture, be it Eastern or Western. I think of my art as artwork made by a female artist. I see my creative process as a tool for expression rather than crave to produce a final artwork. I may have a heart that beats and functions regularly, but I cannot confirm that I am alive. Emotions inhabit this human frame and make a vessel of it. Therefore, I attempt to adjust my understanding so as to perceive the self in a wider context, a context in which these abstracted/removed emotions fluctuate between being memories and dreams. Within such a framework, these abstract emotions appear to me as constituting my true self, the self that I can see clearly, beyond the narrow confines of my body. A few years ago, a certain personal experience had a significant effect on my life. At that point in time, I had not been working for more than two years. During the period of retreat that I took, I kept a kind of diary. With the passage of time, it became a private space, a sort of secret garden where I was able to negotiate the elusive boundaries between reality and memories. I later used it as a point of departure for creating a visual narrative that allowed me to communicate all sorts of emotions and sentiments, emotions that were sometimes loaded with ambivalence and contradictions. My work is not specifically about women in Muslim society, although it deals with the way humans reflect the societies they inhabit or originate from. Humans, men and women alike, including artists of both genders, experience the issues and problems that afflict their societies. In my art, I focus on understanding and consequently responding to these issues.

Mahmoud Khaled born 1982 in Alexandria. Lives and works in Alexandria, Egypt

Re/Arranged Marriage #1, California, is the first instalment in a series of videos in which Khaled proposes to present us, the viewers, with a record of the wedding ceremony from the angle of an outsider. Existing in multivarious forms, the wedding ceremony is a socio-cultural construct that has achieved the status of the sacred, with a set of customs and traditions that have developed with the passage of time in almost every culture. In this particular piece, Khaled’s subject of choice is the ‘white wedding’, the model for the traditional Western wedding in modern times. In Re/Arranged Marriage #1, he focuses upon a single stage at the core of this typical marital ceremony, the reception. Khaled offers us a voyeuristic peek (reproducing his own) into this private and exclusive rite of passage. He implicates viewers by sharing this stolen fragment in which he duplicates a singular event twice: first by recording the ceremony and later by mirror imaging the document he records. He intervenes further by superimposing an additional layer to the work - a persistent birdsong that resounds against the silence of the woods, simulating nature. In Khaled’s multiple acts of ‘desecration’, a hint of astonishment at the magnitude of the ceremony is clearly visible. The final product he presents us with is both formal and balanced. The bride, groom and their guests are in full costume, like performers on a stage. Every single move they make is rehearsed and harmonious with the manicured setting. But the fact remains that the artist as well as the viewer remain detached from the composed drama. The work points to the notion that society continues to celebrate orthodox relationships that conform to its norms and values, when in reality, these very rules have been constituted by society itself. Khaled’s intervention suggests the naturalisation of the union between male and female vis-à-vis ‘other’ types of relationships that are less socially acceptable, a general strategy he hopes in employ in the whole series. Text: Aleya Hamza

Hassan Khan born in 1975, London. Lives and works in Cairo, Egypt

Khan works in various media including performance, documentary film and video, often engaging with the materiality of public space in his work, having resorted to magazine inserts, city buses and private apartments as carriers or venues. In the words of the artist, the piece touches upon the widely interiorized, “automatic bourgeois construct of the tormented artist, contrasted with the energy pertaining to the density of public space and commerce, which is still related to a sense of the ‘popular’ in the widest and carnivalesque sense of the term.” Using an array of images scoured from the streets of the city (all for less than the equivalent of 10 Egyptian Pounds) to produce a kinetic ‘awkward’ and ‘minimal’ rearticulation. The 3 Face technique reminiscent of Chinese rulers from my childhood proves to be an appropriate surface through which to touch the seductive face of a popular culture that speaks many tongues. Automatic attempts to touch the decidedly non-bourgeoisie nature of a certain mode of cultural production where anonymity and automation are rules of thumb and place that in juxtaposition of the practice of the artist as a lone individual. Here we speak the sign as accident.

Huda Lutfi born in 1948 Cairo, Egypt. Lives and works in Cairo

Huda Lutfi is an artist and cultural historian. Her training as a historian has influenced her work as an artist, juxtaposing historical past and present, as well as traversing and fusing cultural boundaries. The installation that Huda Lutfi is exhibiting, A Feminine Mandala, is made up of wooden clogs (‘ub’aab) traditionally worn by Egyptian women in the past. The more modern plastic sandals have replaced these traditional clogs, and now women no longer buy them. Lutfi deliberately chose to use the ‘ub’aab to integrate a dying artistic tradition into contemporary art practice, to underline its aesthetic sculptural value but also to use it as a metonymic reference to the feminine. Feminizing the mandala’s circular structure emphasizes notions of harmony and continuity, the feminine as an eternal creative force in human existence.

Basim Magdy born in 1977 Assiut, Egypt. Lives in Cairo

Untitled, 2002-2006 is a drawing installation that uses work produced by the artist during a four-year period as fragments of diverse situations dealing with the construction of a collective understanding of power .The situations depicted in the drawings range from military propaganda images to absurd encounters with gorilla - human hybrids on a fishing trip or while they watch TV. During the period the work was produced in, the artist's interests have evolved to examine more subtle examples of our need to believe in non-existent powers. The element of absurdity introduced in this selection of work is designed to play with the viewer's expectations and to propose alternatives to what is collectively perceived from visual representations of power structures, and to leave space for the viewer's imagination.

Mona Marzouk born in 1968 Alexandria, Egypt. Lives and works in Alexandria, Egypt

From 2003 till 2006 I produced a body of work consisting of three separate series' of work. 'The Morphologist and the Architect', 2003-2004, was a series of acrylic on canvas paintings that explore the possibilities of an imagined interface between mythology, the animal kingdom and man-made structures (architecture). 'Helmets', 2005, was a series of wall paintings that probed into the History of the Helmet as a structure with its many different manifestations in the battlefields of war and sports, while making an attempt to link it to the world of creatures other than man. Finally, 'Black Gold Odyssey', 2006, was a mural project that attempted to visually recreate the links and missing ties between oil as a natural product, oil as an industry and nature on the whole by fusing elements related to the oil industry with characteristics that refer to living beings. 'The New World '. This new mural will borrow some of the elements from the series' I described above and introduce them into a new domain, the domain of the Flag, aiming to ask questions such as how are flags constructed? How do they relate to the "real world" and how does one identify with the symbology behind the structure of flags. I am using the structure of the Star-Spangled Banner as the basis for 'The New World' replacing the original 13 star constellation in the first American flag created by Betty Ross and George Washington with a constellation of new individual entities that attempt to defy the boundaries between history an present day, man-made and natural, biomorphic and geometrical, personal and political, beautiful and ugly and finally gender as a predefined structure. 'The New World' should not be seen as a new flag for a nation but as a flag for a non-nation where the seams between all opposites have been blurred and new assemblages have come into existence as a result. The specially designed and produced T-Shirts accompanying the mural also call into question our notions of patriotism, nationalism, ethnicity and purity in the most subtle of ways. The T-Shirt labels will all have the words 100% Pure Egyptian Cotton woven into them, gently leading one to ask what does it mean to be pure and what does it mean to belong to a nation.

Wael Shawky born in 1971, Alexandria, Egypt. Lives and works in Alexandria, Egypt

Wael Shawky’s dynamic, spontaneous drawings with the use of graphite, pastels and silver pigments show different systems, which are randomly layered together in order to show reality and beauty. In contrast to his usual work which employs the medium of installation and video work this exhibition will be showing simple subconscious drawings that he feels offer an immediate translation. "Over the past 12 years my work has been concerned with a number of specific contexts (modernization, displacement, cultural hybridization, and marginalization). I then experienced a paradigm shift in my work on the levels of concept, practice and materials. Especially, how the material becomes translated in a “religious” fashion. The contrast arises out of how we actually deal with the material through a specific belief that is utilized within a functional practice- a certain pragmatic thinking. For example using asphalt in my work is religious because of a basic conceptual belief that the chemical properties of the material itself possesses a certain excess beyond function. Such a position takes the work into what I term the 'religious' ",

Tarek Zaki born in 1975, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Lives and works in Cairo

Zaki collects witnesses of the present, converting them into found objects of the future. By sculpting objects of the everyday life, he positions the spectator as an archaeologist from the future, looking at remains of the present. Zaki is interested in how we deal with museums and artefacts. How we gaze at a certain object in a museum preserved in a vitrine.

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Out of Place
Kurator: William Wells

mit Hala Elkoussy, Amal Kenaway, Mahmoud Khaled, Hassan Khan, Huda Lutfi, Basim Magdy, Mona Marzouk, Wael Shawky, Tarek Zaki