The darker side of memories

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

A powerful and disturbingly dark exhibit lends a view into the travels of Turkish artists Nursen Tor and Shayma Aziz

CAIRO: The Hanager Cultural Center is not easy to spot. Camouflaged by the shrubbery alongside the entrance to the Cairo Opera House, the building is not advertising itself to visitors, and indeed anyone who is unfamiliar with the complex should make a point of asking for directions on arrival.

Once actually inside the center, an immediate right should be taken, walking on until a sign reading “A Diary of Two Women is encountered; the exhibit is held in a dimly lit room, with a black corrugated iron ceiling.

Before entering the room, it is worth taking a price list of the paintings by Nursen Tor and Shayma Aziz in order to determine the price of each piece of artwork, the worth of which varies greatly and with no apparent reasoning. Painting no.4 is part of a collection of paintings entitled “People in the City, which is set at LE 4,300 and is the most expensive in the room, although it is little different to painting no.1, part of the same collection and worth LE 1,800.

“People in the City does successfully capture several vivid observations of urban life, particularly, people’s expressions in detailed paintings that provide a cultural quintessence of Turkish and Egyptian life. The differences are not laid out plainly, only small references distinguish between Anatolia and Egypt, aiming to highlight the similarities between the two cultures.

A collection on the right-hand side of the room entitled “Children in Prison is, however, not for sale, probably because it is due to be part of a permanent collection at the Hanager Center but also clarifying that the best exhibit is the one with no set price. The paintings are innocuous, dark and crestfallen portraits, depicting children’s faces with grim adult expressions, some smirking with bemusement, others purposefully disfigured by the artist to depict the horrific situation many children find themselves in. As memories are often blurred, many of the pictures use smudged charcoal and paint, staining the canvases to highlight how visual memories are become distorted but open up a new form of subjective memory that does not aim to be representative.

The style of paintings are influenced greatly by comic books; elements of Japanimation and contemporary pencil drawing techniques capture a multitude of expressions caught on the artists’ journey from Turkey to Egypt. A log or diary is kept during the journey from Turkey to Egypt and the paintings culminate a re-creation of that journey

The diary is entirely retrospective, illustrating the artist’s interpretation of their surroundings after having seen the people and locations, which is then depicted in paintings, often distorting them to tell a story, to create atmosphere or simply to highlight a trait that the places visited in real life set in motion. “Pages of the Diary is probably the clearest evidence of this, as the three most expensive pieces (collectively) look like the torn pages from a diary, placing ripped jewellery catalogues onto the figures, showing thoughts and environmental influences on the personality of the portraits.

Many of the portraits are dark and desperate, a variety of religious symbols are inserted covertly into the images, providing a sense of the environment that the characters seem trapped in.

Expressions are captured in charcoal and watercolours, and are then used to create impressions and depict self portraits of both artists and the people they encounter on their journey. Some of the drawings have influences from artists such as Ralph Steadman, using splattered ink effects and staining colours on a clear canvas.

The paintings are graphically animated, using household objects such as tin foil to bring reflective surfaces and bright colours into contrast with the darker charcoal and watercolour paintings.

In amidst these paintings and laid out in the center of the exhibit space, a long scroll rolls out across the floor depicting two men pencilled in motion, dancing and jumping upward, their expressions change and progress, each shaded using thick pencil to cut the contours out of the paper.

“Visual Memories from Anatolia to Egypt is a powerful exhibition in a bizarre setting, culminating a detailed and atmospheric depiction of Nursen Tor’s and Shayma Aziz’s journey through the Anatolian region, picking up on cultural call signs and the often horrendous living conditions of many people. This exhibit is essential viewing for an insight into contemporary painting and rich visual imagery.

“Diary of Two Women, Visual memories from Anatolia to Egypt is on display at the Hanager Arts Center, Opera Grounds, Gezira, until June 30, daily from 10:00am-10:00pm.

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