The newspaper clipping showcases a man breathing fire. Egyptian artist Taha Belal has cut it up into squares so tiny the photo morphs into a grid of ambiguous colour, leaving it up to the viewer to discern meaning. By displaying the piece side by side with the original, Belal seeks to tell “the same story twice.”
The piece encapsulates the theme of Belal’s debut exhibition at Gypsum Gallery in Zamalek, called Vacuum formed. In the show, Belal displays mundane disposable materials, such as newspapers, magazines and wrapping paper, in three collections of tweaked yet thought provoking artwork.
Belal, who has been working on the project since 2007, came up with the idea when he started observing how newspapers he bought everyday “summarise the world in something that loses its value the next day,” said Aleya Hamza, Gypsum curator.
The first collection relies on newspapers and magazines.
In this collection, which Hamza described as “meticulous, precise and slightly obsessive”, he reintroduces selections from printed media he has collected in a new form, disconnecting the used text and photographs from their original context.
In one of his pieces, for example, Belal displays a newspaper article “Many Holes in Disclosure of Nominees’ Health.” He replaced some lines with rectangular cut outs, as a means to offer space to imagine different narratives to the untold story.
In another piece, Belal transfers a newspaper ad of a luxurious Omega watch to a plain white background under an excerpt from state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper quoting Gamal Mubarak, former president Hosni Mubarak’s son. In an attempt from Gamal to refute of him being groomed to replace his father as president, he said that his sole job is a secretary for the ruling party’s policy committee and that his “mission is clear.”
For his second collection, Belal moved on to a new medium – book covers – in an attempt to highlight “surprise and error elements”, Hamza said.
Using a variety of desktop printers, he reprinted book covers to highlight where “the error contributes to the artistic project” in every print, he said. With each printer Belal used to reprint book covers, the results were different and unexpected. At times, they even produced reprints with ink smudges on them, the artist explained.
Belal’s third collection moves away from the old collage techniques he used with newspapers, to a “new, less accessible” style that investigates the abstract stylised patterns of disposable wrapping paper, Hamza said. The artist transforms the patterns from wrapping paper to other objects as mirrors and gypsum boards, investigating what forms an image and what hidden value disposable material he used could have.
As with the rest of the exhibited work, “the wrapping paper has no value by itself, but the intervention renders it into desirable artwork,” said Hamza.
Belal studied Studio Art in Pennsylvania State University and the California College of Arts, where his current exhibition began to take form. He works with different media such as installations and prints. Belal’s work is diverse, ranging from installation to prints, and have been widely exhibited both locally and internationally. He is also a cofounder of the Nile Sunset Annex, an independent art space that exhibits work by local and international artists and hosts discussions and art-related events.
“Vacuum formed” can be viewed at Gypsum Gallery at 5 Bahgat Ali street, in Zamalek.
The exhibition is open until 10 July from 11am to 5pm. Closed on Friday and Sunday.