‘Reimagined Narratives’ brings heritage and art together

Art D’Egypte also collects in-kind donations to the historic sites where it exhibits its art events. (Supplied)
Updated 22 November 2019

‘Reimagined Narratives’ brings heritage and art together

  • Art D’Egypte’s latest exhibition featured works that constructed new stories for the ancient heart of Islamic Cairo
  • Malak Shenouda, executive director of Art D’Egypte, is explaining the idea behind an artwork displayed in Moheb al-Din Hall

CAIRO: “As women of that era walked down the streets (of Islamic Cairo), all you could see of them was their jewelry. Everything else was covered up, these walks being their only interaction with public space.”

Malak Shenouda, executive director of Art D’Egypte, is explaining the idea behind an artwork displayed in Moheb al-Din Hall, one of four heritage sites on Cairo’s El-Mu’iz Street hosting the Art D’Egypte exhibition “Reimagined Narratives,” which ended November 9.

The artwork she is discussing was created by Egyptian artist Sherin Guirguis and comprises two huge kinetic sculptures — “Qasr Al-Shoaq” and “El-Sokareya,” named after the second and third installments of Naguib Mahfouz’s “Cairo Trilogy,” which served as the main inspiration for the artwork.

Mimicking the shape of “traditional Arabic jewelry” and made of materials “similar to harem mashrabiyyas,” the plywood sculptures “reference a woman’s body as she walks down a public street,” reads the concept statement.

The artwork was created by Egyptian artist Sherin Guirguis. (Supplied)

“Where we stand was the party hall and women were only allowed to take a peek at parties from upstairs,” says Shenouda, as we continue our tour of the hall.

“After setting up the exhibition we realized that all three artists exhibiting in this hall are women,” Shenouda says, explaining how this constituted a real “reimagining” of the space and its identity, considering that “women weren’t actually ever allowed here.”

“Reimagined Narratives” was curated by Art D’Egypte’s founder and curator Nadine Abdel Ghaffar and exhibited works by 28 contemporary Egyptian artists. Besides Moheb Al-Din Hall, exhibition sites included Bayt Al-Suhaymi, Qalawun Complex and Maq’ad Mamay Al-Sayfi Hall.

The artworks spanned a range of mediums, including art, video, mixed media and Integrated Virtual Reality installations, as well as sculptures, paintings, 3D projection mapping and a live painting performance. Each artwork was a response to this year’s curatorial statement — that the exhibition should “delve into the stories of people, places and things that have coexisted in one street (El-Mu’iz) for over 1,000 years.”

The artwork was created by Egyptian artist Ibrahim Ahmed. (Supplied)

“People have lived on this street for 1,050 years,” says Shenouda. “Even though it’s a heritage site, it’s still evolving and adapting to different cultures.”

The three-week exhibition was an invitation to artists to “question the historical narratives associated with this space and to also question whether these narratives are true, complete, fabricated, or whether we need to reimagine them (altogether),” says Shenouda.

The results were “site-specific artworks that elevate rather than emulate the narrative of these spaces,” reads a press release by Art D’Egypte.

One example is “Utopian Midnight,” a group of six stunning paintings by Egyptian-Greek visual artist Farida El-Gazzar, who Shenouda says was “drawn to the landscape of Bayt Al-Suhaymi and tried to communicate that in her paintings.” El-Gazzar stresses her connection with the house in her concept statement, specifying as her focus “the greenery — palms and other trees — surrounding the premises as it creates a harmonious transition and prepares the visitor before entering the magnificently detailed interior spaces.” She adds that her aim was to “recreate this experience in a walk around the house, bringing the outdoor into these intricate rooms.”

The paintings are by Egyptian-Greek visual artist Farida El-Gazzar. (Supplied)

Egyptian visual artist and interior architect Karim El-Hayawan’s reinterpretation took him elsewhere — to “random street observations in Cairo.” In his video installation, exhibited in Qalawun Complex and titled “Caught Up, Somewhere Down,” El-Hayawan incorporates Cairo street life into a visual work that “reflects on the perception of history and its perpetual state of being rewritten,” according to his concept statement.

This exercise of reinterpretation underpins another magnificent artwork, “Nobody Knows Where They Are,” by artist Ibrahim Ahmed. Exhibited at Bayt Al-Suhaymi, the artwork comprises a chandelier installation and two textile works. The chandelier is an assemblage of found junk, including “armchairs, window frames, and a prosthetic leg,” discovered by Ahmed on the rooftop of a building close to El-Mu‘iz. Ahmed’s repurposed chandelier “create(s) a dialogue with the surrounding area that is precisely curated and heavily preserved in a profoundly controlled historical narrative,” reads the concept statement.

“Ahmed’s work is a reimagining of the (street’s) history through the general public’s experience of it,” adds Shenouda.

Some of this year’s artworks were a result of residencies held for artists at local Egyptian factories, a collaboration that allowed Art D’Egypte to ease production costs of some art pieces while also “engaging more of the private sector in Egypt,” Shenouda says.

Egyptian visual artist and interior architect Karim El-Hayawan’s reinterpretation took him elsewhere. (Supplied)

“One work was a huge metal structure. Once the design and concept were ready, we put the artist in touch with an iron factory to help them create this art piece by providing materials, machinery, et cetera,” explains Shenouda.

In fact, it is Art D’Egypte’s reliance on a “private-public partnership model” that makes the realization of such large-scale event possible. Art D’Egypte also collects in-kind donations to the historic sites where it exhibits its art events, in an attempt to “leave the space a bit better than when we came in,” says Shenouda.

“Through our collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities, we try to encourage private-sector companies to donate to these spaces,” she adds. Donations to this year’s heritage sites include interior lighting and landscape renovations. For its part, Art D’Egypte donated permanent fire extinguishers and security cameras.

This artwork was created by Karim El-Hayawan. (Supplied)

Beyond the exhibition component, Art D’Egypte runs an educational collateral program, which this year hosted public lectures by art professionals and curators held in parallel to the exhibition. The consultancy also hosts a Cultural Awareness Program to engage the community of historic Cairo by “help[ing] raise awareness to the value of our heritage and how to safeguard it.” The program comprises “The Theatre of Cultural Values,” an array of street theatre performances “tailored to convey values focusing on the importance of art and creativity, the protocol of visiting historical and artistic spaces, our history and identity,” according to the press release.

Another component of the Cultural Awareness Program is a series of workshops titled “The Heritage Guardians,” delivered by “specialists in the fields of contemporary art, heritage-awareness and archeology for students of the neighborhood.”

“We try to be more inclusive and to make arts and culture more accessible,” Shenouda says.

El-Gazzar stresses her connection with the house in her concept statement. (Supplied)

This is Art D’Egypte’s third annual exhibition following “Eternal Light- A Night of Art at the Egyptian Museum” (2017) and “Nothing Vanishes, Everything Transforms” (Prince Mohamed Ali Tewfik’s Manial Palace, 2018). But “Reimagined Narratives” was the organization’s most ambitious project so far.

“This year’s exhibition is in a much bigger space; is engaging the public much more, and is much more exposed,” says Shenouda. 

A retrospective of “Reimagined Narratives” can be seen at Abu Dhabi Art Fair from November 21-23.

‘A Fall from Grace’ is a dark thriller with a fresh take

A still from ‘A Fall from Grace.’ Supplied
Updated 26 January 2020

‘A Fall from Grace’ is a dark thriller with a fresh take

  • Penned, produced and helmed by Tyler Perry, “A Fall From Grace" is now streaming on Netflix
  • The film tackles a rarely discussed subject — that of elderly abuse.

CHENNAI: Tyler Perry’s dark thriller “A Fall From Grace” — in which he also acts — reminded me not of Hitchcock or Agatha Christie or even Arthur Conan Doyle, but of Erle Stanley Gardner and his brilliant courtroom drama, with Perry Mason playing both lawyer and sleuth. 

Penned, produced and helmed by Perry, “A Fall From Grace,” now streaming on Netflix, is set in suburban Virginia and was shot in just five days. Middle-aged divorcee Grace (Crystal Fox) has murdered her young husband. She has even confessed to it, and it looks like an open-and-shut case. Public prosecutor Jasmine (Bresha Webb), a novice in the field, is asked by her boss (Perry) to get a plea deal from Grace. 

But when the two women meet — a much older Grace and much younger Jasmine — something does not seem right to the prosecutor, and much against the wishes of her boss and the accused, she goes about making her own investigations. 

There is a strong element of Christian faith running through the movie, and we see Jasmine tracking down Grace’s best friend Sarah (Phylicia Rashad), who also feels that there is something amiss. A series of flashbacks narrates Grace’s unfortunate story.

Disillusioned over her former husband’s affair, Grace flips for a handsome young photographer Shanon, who woos her with flowers and dinner dates. Sarah encourages her friend, and much like a Gardner plot, “A Fall from Grace” is peppered with hints and clues. Catch them if you can. But what finally turns out is a horror story of torture and turmoil.

Interestingly, the film tackles a rarely discussed subject — that of elderly abuse. It is said that 5 million older men and women are ill-treated every year in America, and “A Fall from Grace” has some disturbing revelations to show us. They are sheer horror, and the last word in human cruelty. 

The movie has its weak moments — some characters’ motivations are never fully explained, for example. But on the whole, it is a disturbing tale that will keep you hooked.