Loud chatter, clinking glasses, and strong opinions on art voiced in a dozen languages marked the opening of Hany Rashed’s exhibition Asa7by at the Mashrabia gallery. A huge painting of a football field with a score of what seems to be exploding people in vivid colours dominated the gallery, clearly a reference to the infamous Port Said massacre.
“The exhibition is divided into three parts; Mubarak, the military, and the Brotherhood,” said artist Hany Rashed. “Memes became very popular in the military rule period and they became the way we observe and relate to current events. Social networks like Facebook are important in that they connected us all during the time of the revolution and helped this kind of humour evolve and stay relevant.”
To understand the artwork displayed you will not only have to have a basic knowledge of popular memes and of the many jokes that show up on the various social media but also of Egyptian pop culture and politics. To be specific, by internet humour we mean internet memes, and one of the more famous ones in Egypt is known as ‘Asa7by’, from where the exhibition gets its name.
For the sake of this exhibition a meme can be defined as a recurring image that spreads virally through the internet and incorporates pop culture references or common social interactions which people then use for commentary on everything cultural, and in the case of the exhibition, political.
The exhibition has a particularly local flavour since most of the humour is inspired by jokes circulated mainly by Egyptians and often containing linguistic and cultural features. Since a large portion of the crowd was foreign, some of the humour was lost on them and some asked for translations of text that featured in some paintings.
“The exhibition is targeted towards a certain demographic, namely those on social networks like Facebook, and it is accessible enough for people who are not into art to be able to understand it without much effort,” said Rashed.
The use of memes is very different on the internet than in the exhibition. On the internet, memes are organic, open, popular and are almost never made with an aesthetic purpose in mind. Though some of that has been inevitably sacrificed, Rashed is still inventive and playful with his use of memes in an artistic manner.
When asked if the Port Said painting was insensitive, Rashed responded, “no, the painting does not have any humourous references like ‘Asa7by’, it serves to remind us of how this famous incident created an enormous response in our collective internet presence.”
Rashed’s plans for the future include a collaboration with famous graffiti artist Ganzeer; an exhibition in the form of a graffiti museum, where they will gather different materials on the art form and approach other artists to display their relevant works.