The introduction to “Sit down. I’ll tell you a story.”, the latest exhibition in the Mashrabia Gallery, invites us to discover what we can hear once we take the time to listen.
Consuelo Costa, the author of the above words, decided to listen to what the chairs of Cairo had to say. Together with Italian photographer Mauro L’Abate, she roamed the streets of Cairo in an attempt to find chairs with a story. The newly opened photo exhibition tells the tales of their explorations.
“They are just chairs. They are neither design nor collectibles. They are a tool, a support, a component. Everyday dozens of people use them – or just a single person year after year. A chair can tell you wishes, hopes and doubts. They are witnesses of human trouble or achievement. You can often see the scars on them,” Costa told The Daily News Egypt. “Every chair has a story to tell, obviously from its own point of view. Just entangled pieces of life, left. Someone has decided to stand up and go away. Life must go on somewhere else.”
Giving chairs a voice is unusual, but Costa has a very good explanation: “I believe that everything around me has a soul; everything has a story to tell. Being a communicator, I make it my job to tell that story.” Costa has done similar projects before; she created a similar exhibition in Milan where she made statues tell their stories.
The process that preceded the exhibition was simple: “We went for strolls together, Mauro and I, mostly in Zamalek, and when we would spot interesting chairs Mauro would take pictures of them,” Costa describes. “Then I would go home and take a thorough look at every photo. I would close my eyes and tell each chair: tell me your story. And they did.” In the exhibition the pictures of the chairs are surrounded by printed text, in which Costa tells the stories different chairs.
The first thing Costa and L’Abate noticed in Cairo was the abundance of chairs in the streets, which was unexpected and strange to Costa. “What was even stranger, though,” Costa elaborated, “was how much the people care about chairs. They’d rather fix them and still use them than just throw them away and replace them with new ones. In a period where things are thrown once they’re broken, this behavior signifies a strong relationship between Egyptian people and chairs.” This plethora of options inspired Costa and L’Abate to do an all-chair photo exhibition.
The exhibition is quirky and unique. The chairs photographed and displayed look like they have their own personalities. None were polished or brand new; all appear to be worn out and scarred by excessive use. And as Costa mentioned before, most have been refurbished with the simplest, yet most creative, techniques.
Walking past the photos, looking at the different sizes and different shapes of the chairs and reading the short stories, you do feel as if they actually speak to you, telling you their story.