The stark emptiness of the photo exhibit at El Sawy Cultural Center caught my attention, as did the images on display.
From the loudspeaker, I deciphered there was an open-mic event in the small theater just beyond where I was. Although noisy, it may quite possibly have been the best publicity Mohamed El Hebeishy’s photography exhibit received. His room was bare save for the few who paused to look on their way through.
Photographer-turned-author, El Hebeishy sat in the far corner of his exhibit as I entered. My presence caught his attention and soon the artist approached. Visibly frustrated, he introduced himself yelling over a speech, and I explained to him our single degree of separation -¬ a friend we have in common. How lucky that I wouldn’t need her to track you down. Certainly an artist with a published work would be too busy for haphazard interviews. Or was ‘luck’ the wrong word?
El Hebeishy immediately expressed his disappointment in the venue and his desire to go home. “It’s a little bit frustrating when nobody’s here, he admitted to me.
El Hebeishy wanted to call it a (long) day, and so I sat with him right away. We discussed his book “Egypt Rediscovered, the antecedent to this show, and I thanked him for exposing me to so many hidden sites without making me trek through another desert.
“It’s supposed to inspire you to go, he answered.
Joking aside, his pictures certainly do just that: make you want to look deeper. With brief historical facts and interesting stories to accompany each shot, El Hebeishy motivates us to look at Egypt again, but with a more broad perspective and an informed eye. While Egyptian history tends to be overshadowed by a Pharaonic past, “Egypt Rediscovered fills the void to remind us of other riches – those minus the pyramids.
Sending El Hebeishy home I was able to look alone, albeit not in peace. He invited me to Fayoum to see the whalebones I admired in “Zeuglodon, and I had to shake my desire to abandon objectivity. He was so kind.
“El Kheshoey Minaret was the photo I was most happy to see from the book. The crown of a buried mosque grows out of sand dunes in Baltim evoking a sense of mystery. Standing strong against a backdrop of blue sky and intersecting lines of sea grass and coast, one wonders if the mosque’s strength continues under the sand and into another world. The legend is that the entire ancient village is still under this sand.
Another new Egyptian wonder for me was presented in “Moses’ Bath – El Tur. Its peaceful and balanced composition was wonderfully developed and captures the light patterns each Arabesque aperture created.
While El Hebeishy’s book attempts to show an Egypt under-seen, there are images that reframe popular scenes.
“The Camel Market – Shalateen, for example, gets the viewer in close enough to feel like part of the herd. A forest of the camels’ strong, worn knees and taut veins is what makes this image different from any other. And the arrangement of “El Khalawati Mosque – Cairo without reality’s chaos, gives one a new appreciation.
At LE 200, it may be a little expensive for the average Egyptian, so ex-pats and tourists are the more likely purchasers. “Egypt Rediscovered would make an excellent gift or souvenir, and, although the images are occasionally amateur in their technicalities, the combination of stories and facts along with each image make it successful.
As I left the exhibit three Westerners shuffled in with praises. I wished El Hebeishy was there. It’s clear to me that this Egyptian is himself undiscovered, but I have confidence that his own unearthing is near.
“Egypt Rediscovered exhibition is held at El Sawy Culture Wheel, 1, 26th of July St, Zamalek, Cairo. The book is available at local bookshops.