Champollion Street in the evening is somewhat intimidating for a lone American girl like myself. I fumbled through shisha smoke, past unwinding men, and down an alley to find Mashrabia Gallery. In my fitted jeans, Converse shoes and with iPod in hand I stuck out like a pasty, sore thumb.
In retrospect, the discomfort outside added to the experience inside. Clashing of the Orient and the Occident can be unnerving and inspiring at the same time, as I would soon find out.
Following posters of The Jackie Chan Stunt Team advertising Hany Rashed’s art show, I finally found my way to the exhibit. I was excited to meet the artist. From quotes, he sounded part sociologist, and I am intrigued by the soft sciences.
What’s better is that I enjoyed his new images. Many appeared simple at first glance – paint on altered print advertisements – but were not so up close. Thus the intrigue grew.
There were patterns from the repetition of pre-existing characters and facial features were colored in with white paint, adding to a theme of monotony (and dare I say, reinforcing the Western roots of each ad).
Yet, it was somehow an appealing monotony. Like life, there was a mundane repetitiveness – a common theme in past work as well.
Although heard most, collage is perhaps an inappropriate term for these creations. These are not random images like one would find on a young girl’s bedroom wall. Many may be spliced from the same fashion magazines, but the intentions of Rashed’s are of an intellectual nature.
Carefully pieced together from commercial media, there is cohesion in each work and the exhibit as a whole. Still, the fact that the final products are derived from an advertisement is not lost on the audience; rather, it is exactly the point!
Fast cars and scantily clad women – graphics we got used to are made obvious and new again. The medium’s purpose appears to be taunted. Rather than promote consumerism, Rashed’s made the graphics evoke deeper ideas: Westoxification and cultural imperialism were two that came to my mind.
And my mind was certainly stimulated.
After jotting down a funny quote from beside a faceless bikini model (“I like exploring my sexuality and my body. I don’t think it’s ever gratuitous ), I headed over to the artist with abstract ideas about the state of our world. But upon introducing myself to the timid young fellow, he smiled back and stopped me.
Ironic that I needed a translator to communicate with a man I thought I understood.
So began my interview with Lisa Lounis, the assistant director of Mashrabia, while Rashed quietly stood by. I attempted to bring up what I thought major messages, but was repeatedly met with polite caution.
Perhaps it was because I was being associated with that “other world of pushy mass culture which appeared to be criticized in each piece, and they feared I’d be defensive. Or maybe I really was just reading into it too deeply. But is that possible with art?
“He doesn’t even know what most of it says.it’s like he just feels it. Whether the ad is in English, French, Italian, or Russian, somehow it just works, she explained.
Asking questions I hoped to get a response from Rashed, but Lounis rarely bothered to translate. She knows him well, and was excited to speak on his behalf. Pointing out some script I found particularly interesting, she assured me it wasn’t as purposeful as I assumed.
Simply put, he’s just “one of the best she finished, and the apprehensive Rashed finally spoke up. Gently putting his hand on her shoulder he smiled and thanked her. It was a sincere moment.
As it is my belief that anybody who can manifest dialogue through art has a brain worth picking, one may think I left disappointed. But I believe that same sincerity has translated into Rashed’s work, and so it isn’t crucial for him to explain himself any further. It’s enough if art inspires us to talk about what we think we see with whomever we can.
Besides, I still think I ‘get it’ anyway.