CAIRO: “It’s a true definition of humanity; the bringing of morbidity to a new level, a façade to our inner souls. Minou is a very talented woman on a wavelength that needs to be in New York and Paris, says Lamia Hamdy, a business woman and an artist.
Hamdy is referring to renowned graphic designer Nermine (Minou) Hammam. “Portraits of Ashoura is Hammam’s most controversial project to date, although it is not the first time she has touched on a sensitive subject.
Ashoura is perhaps the most important day for the Shiite sect of Islam, as it commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and it is also the day the Shiite split from Sunnis.
In the past, many Shiite men would celebrate the day by allowing themselves to bleed from self-inflicted wounds. This practice has been banned by many governments in the Muslim world, although it still takes place annually in some places, including the south of Lebanon in an area called Nabatieh.
“I don’t know how I started, but one morning I woke up and I said I’m going to shoot Ashura, Hammam explains. A month later she was off to Nabatieh, equipped with her camera and took pictures in black and white for many hours.
When she returned she remained unsatisfied, and so she went back again two years later to continue taking pictures of this bloody fest, this time using a digital camera.
The posters are exhibited in the large factory space at the Townhouse Gallery, allowing a great deal of space for each, multiplying the strength of every individual picture. The photographs of pain, morbidity and gory actions are graphically altered, making them more aesthetically pleasing.
As well as the pictures, others are merged to represent the symbolism for certain political, religious and social events that are left to be interpreted by the viewer. Karim Omran, another graphic designer, believes the opposite is true. “I feel she’s a very professional designer, but sometimes it takes over in some of her work, it points in a certain direction pushing the meaning like she is selling something like an advertisement.
Hammam admits that it is more than a documentation of Ashoura, although she is not pushing a message. “It is my psychological interpretation of things. I have no clue what it is. We are not all so aware of our subconscious.
She was asked to make a book but she is not yet ready, as she is planning to work more on this subject, expanding it not only by taking more pictures but through other mediums.
As she is a graduate of filmmaking from the Tisch School of Arts, New York University, she is going back to her roots to develop the Ashoura project. “I am working on a documentary from an experimental perspective, not a straight forward documentary about Ashoura, she said.
Hamman faced some problems with Al Azhar and the government because of the nature of the topic. According to Sarah Hamada, a political science student at the American University in Cairo, “I think it was really strong and it is very bold of her to do something like this in Egypt, touching a very sensitive issue. Her work has been exhibited at the Townhouse Gallery (Cairo 2001, 2002), El Hanager Art Center (Cairo, 2001), Espace SD (Beirut, 2004) and the Fortis Circus Theatre (The Hague, 2003).
Visit the exhibition until April 30 at the Townhouse Gallery.