An honest, 'up close' look of Cairo

Heba El-Sherif
5 Min Read

Over and over again, across countless art spaces, foreign artists have shared their view of our multi-layered, metropolitan capital; a theme that has not only been exhausted to death over the last 10 years, but has also been an easy trap for clichés.

Sawy Culture Wheel’s hidden Shadow Hall has managed to break the chain of redundancy, showing a truly fresh view of the city in “Up Close: In Your Space, the debut exhibit of American artist and Cairo resident Patrick Row.

The interactive show breaks new ground in terms of composition and display; a much needed improvement for an exhibiting venue generally known for its indistinguishable, often weak, selections and unfocused curation.

Row presents Cairo through a series of digital print installations hanging from a clothesline, each identified with a different color background. Each progression is comprised of three images, the first being a scene shot from afar, displaying generic features of his subjects, and the last being a close-up that pays attention to greater detail.

Although urban landscape seems to take center stage in all compositions, traces of human interaction are also found; the latter stands as a more intimate depiction of familiar human activity seen in the Egyptian street every day.

The evolution of the show, which opened below an off-ramp of the 15th of May bridge in Zamalek on Wednesday, relies entirely on the viewer. Passersby are encouraged to take a suite from the exhibited work, ones they form a connection with, which the artist will then replace from a stockpile of installations, until they are all given out.

Row’s interactions with the audience and their response to his work will act as groundwork for his next exhibition, an idea that heralds the development of an artist closely connected to the environment in which he resides.

Putting the show together, Row tells Daily News Egypt, was not easy.

“It’s a very long process, he said.

Row started out by taking still photographs of distinctive features of modern Cairo; the block residences, the corporate buildings, the sprawl of satellite dishes, flashing street advertisements and picturesque mosques. He then scanned them, wiped out all details until he was left with thin traces of the subject, which he then used as foundation for his work.

Using his pen and Photoshop, Row began to fill in the details. He did not restrict himself to one layer. Each image is a collage of the different elements photographed, supplemented by the artist’s perception of the various layers of the city.

One collection shows two corporate buildings and a fruit stand. The first image of the series focuses on the stand, its vendor detected faintly, sandwiched between two buildings standing tall to stress their economic superiority.

As the viewer shifts to the second and third image, one notices the genuine expression of contentment on the fruit vendor’s face, a common trait of the average Egyptian pulling through the prevalent economic hardships.

Another suite displays a group of residential buildings annexing a huge advertisement and an army of satellite dishes, mirroring wealth and economic progress. A close-up look at the buildings however reveals cracks and fractures.

The cracks resemble imperfection, arguably symbols of a flawed economic system, where the money is circulating among the rich and the poor are struggling to keep up. Irrespective of what they mean to the artist or this reviewer, these cracks are a symbol of the city we’ve all grown accustomed to.

Row also examines more intimate subjects, namely street harassment, religion and fashion trends. In one such series, a young man follows two veiled women as they walk down a street. A mosque’s minaret is seen peaking from behind the outlined building.

While the close-up does not dwell further on the notion of harassment, the use of identical Islamic patterns on one of the women’s headscarves and at the bottom of the image sheds light on a younger generation that have adopted a contemporary approach to a religious attire that was once restricted to bland patterns, and to a much older generation.

In sharing his personal experience as a Cairo resident, Row has steered from tired techniques, producing an honest depiction of the city in a commendable effort worth a stroll to Zamalek.

“Up Close: In Your Space is currently showing at Shadow Hall, Sawy Culture Wheel, Zamalek. The show closes on Oct. 29.

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