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Lingering in Vicinity: photography as eavesdropping

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Maha Maamoun’s latest exhibition infringes on strangers conversation

Maamoun depends on the usage of contrasts and iconic Cairene landmarks in her work (Photo from Gympsum Gallery Facebook page)

Maamoun depends on the usage of contrasts and iconic Cairene landmarks in her work
(Photo from Gympsum Gallery Facebook page)

The word eavesdropper comes from the act of listening in on others from the eavesdrop (a small empty space below the rain gutters) of others’ homes. It is an undetected intrusion on others. From this viewpoint, Maha Maamoun prepared her latest photographic collection, Lingering in Vicinity, at Gympsum Gallery in Zamalek.

The exhibition expresses the thoughts and ideas that come from being in the range of others’ lives but not directly involved in them. The onlooker is barred from participation, and hence can only satisfy their curiosity by sheepishly catching parts of other people’s conversations or looking in from an undetected place.

The one thing that all of the collection shares is that the eavesdropping and consequentially the lingering’s subjects are all complete strangers. They are unaware victims of the voyeur – otherwise it could have been stalking rather than eavesdropping.

The exhibition brings together Maamoun’s work for the past ten years. Part of the exhibition is of large panoramic photos dubbed Cairoscapes, and the other part is that of a video installation called Shooting Stars Remind me of Eavesdroppers. All of the pieces intrude on strangers in one way or another. The video is set in a public park, and without showing the faces of the subjects, viewers hear snippets of several conversations thrown into one frame.

The gallery’s website explains: “The video progresses like a series of still images that are vibrating with life, taking on a vivid, dreamy quality. Image and sound compete with each other for our attention. Every once in a while, a cityscape barely visible in the horizon suggests that an urban environment at odds with its serenity surrounds the garden.”

The panoramic photos capitalise on contrasts so as to guarantee the greatest effect possible. A floral galabeya coincides with the many parked white and black taxis. Maamoun takes on iconic landmarks of modern Cairo and incorporates it with the everyday clothing of regular Egyptians seen on the streets of Cairo. Maamoun exploits known locations like the Tahrir complex and the Lycee school in Downtown Cairo to highlight the city’s effects.

Maamoun is a Cairo-based artist who has presented many exhibitions in different cities around the world. She likes to incorporate elements of the absurd as well as using all possible gadgets to attain the required effect.

The exhibition will continue until 25 March at Gympsum Gallery in Zamalek.


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