A picture of a middle class Egyptian family in front of a shabby background. Pictures of Egyptian children in narrow alleys in Cairo. Taxi drivers standing in front of their cabs. This is just a sampling of the images on display at the new “A Face in Cairo exhibit.
This is not the first time faces of the city have been the subject of an art exhibition – they have been captured by many professional photographers, art students and even tourists visiting Egypt.
As cliché as the subject may seem, the works displayed by the five different artists are completely different; a promising start for the American University in Cairo’s first exhibition this academic year.
“They really capture a moment of stillness in Cairo which is a bit of a paradox because the city as I experience it, very rarely stops, says art professor Brian Curling, “[these pictures] fall under the realm of fine art, document, concept and ideas.
Young professor Curling became the director of AUC’s Falaki Gallery last year, and quickly gave it a new edge by bringing an array of creative works from local and international talents to “expose my students to the different kinds of art out there, he said.
My favorites are the pieces by Ahmed Kamil. His small photographs capture pictures already taken and on display in someone’s living room. The pictures are kitschy – in local lingo, baladi.
Bright green walls, detailed carpets and old posters make for colorful photographs that have a vintage feel, mainly because they are recapturing older pictures.
A particularly captivating photo – also by Kamil – is a portrait of an Egyptian middle class family. The grandparents are wearing typical galabbiyas. The mother and father are dressed in more modern shirts and pants, probably both government employees. The oldest daughter has highlights in her hair and the little son is giving a military-style ta’zeem salam (salute). In the background is a colorful poster and the family stands on a colorful, intricately woven carpet.
Another artist, Lina Ronia, mainly focuses on children. One photo depicts three men in an ahwa (coffee shop) watching what looks like the news on an old television set.
Her best picture is one of a boy standing in a tight alleyway. The horizontal picture elongates the buildings, making the space between them seem even smaller. The boy, who is between 8 and 10 years old, is standing in the center with his hands on his hips and his head up high. You can almost hear him say “I am the king of the world.
The pictures of Osama Dawood stand out because of his distinct style. The modern looking photos look like advertisements. Dawood’s subjects are shoes, trains and posters, with less stress on people.
While the composition and techniques of the final photographer Tarek Hefny were interesting, the subject matter of drivers standing in front of their vehicles was not very interesting.
The fifth work was a short documentary directed by Habi Saood. The film “Sit Be Meet Ragil (A Woman Worth 100 Men) is about empowering women to escape poverty only to find themselves in the middle of the capital’s harshness, trying to earn a living, he explains.
The film focuses on two women’s parallel lives. The elderly one is forced to sell bread on a pavement in the middle of the city to support her children following the death of her husband.
The second is divorced and also has to support her children and herself. She travels from El Sharqia everyday to sell food downtown.
Although the filming technique is simple, the documentary is shot well. It’s a mixture of close-up and medium shots as the women speak, fading back and forth into the lives of the two women. Also, the director uses a lot of street shots, breaking away from the usual talking heads. The music, although it was not what Saood originally wanted to use, expresses the pulse of Cairo streets.
See Agenda for more information.