Q&A with eL Seed: Changing perceptions

15. eL Seed
Perception by eL Seed

The Coptic community of Zaraeeb have been given the name zabaleen (or garbage people) because of their profession — collecting and sorting by hand the daily rubbish of Cairo. But the recycling work they carry out is not only highly profitable — it is a vital service in a city that produces around 14,000 tons of solid waste daily. For this reason the people of Zaraeeb don’t see themselves as the dirty ones — the real mess is Greater Cairo. It’s a matter of perception.

“We aren’t the zabaleen, they are — the rest of Cairo is.” This reported sentiment stands out in eL Seed’s discussion of his new self-funded project Perception in the Zaraeeb neighborhood in Cairo’s Manshiyet Nasser district.

Perception is monumental — an anamorphic artwork that covers more than 50 buildings, involved a team of 22 people, and took three weeks to paint. The large circular design, painted in the “calligraffiti” style eL Seed is renowned for, can only be viewed in its entirety from one specific point at the top of the neighboring Mokattam mountain.

As with many of his works, Perception uses a quote as the basis for an elaborate, interlinking Arabic design, this time from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria: “Anyone who wants to see the light clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” Adding to the visual spectacle of the work, but also demonstrating the importance of the community in the creation of the project, the image was painted with fluorescent white paint that was illuminated for one night only when it was completed — a gift to the neighborhood that has given so much to Cairo.

Continue reading on Mada Masr

D-Sisyphe / Décisif: Constructing a Better Future For Tunisia

D-SISYPHE © Dahlia Katz
D-SISYPHE © Dahlia Katz

D-Sisyphe (pronounced as in the French ‘décisif’, meaning ‘decisive’ in English) is an important piece of performance, both as a creative expression that fuses contemporary dance with physical theatre and as an insight into the kind of socio-political situation of Tunisians that ultimately led to the 2011 uprisings that began in Tunisia and spread across the Middle East. The piece offers a humanised perspective of one man, Khmais, with his own feelings of loss and desperation at what he sees as the wreckage of his life – loathed by his wife and son, rejected by society and having lost faith in God, he is alone and afraid.

The play follows Khmais for one night at the construction site where he works, overthinking his life. Award-winning actor Meher Awachri developed D-Sisyphe as his final project at university, starting with a text he had written based upon The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. In an interview with al.arte magazine, Awachri described how the book raised questions for him “about my life in Tunisia before the revolution during the time of dictatorship, about the problems within Tunisian society and about my problems with society. Camus compares the absurdity of man’s life with the situation of Sisyphus. In D-Sisyphe I created a Tunisian version of Sisyphus”.

Continue reading on the Shubbak Festival blog.

‘Shahba’: An Interview with Hello Psychaleppo

In this interview, Samer Saem Eldahr (aka Hello Psychaleppo) talks about his video Shahba commissioned for Shubbak Festival 2015; his upcoming album; and his hope that electronic music can bridge both a musical and non-musical divide between the Middle East and the West.

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Still from Shahba, Hello Psychaleppo

Aimee Dawson: In the Middle East you often hear traditional, classic Arabic music such as Umm Kulthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez but your music takes these classics and remixes them – re-invents them almost – in a way that attracts both new and old audiences.

Hello Psychaleppo: Arab people are becoming increasingly nostalgic for our heritage and culture and I’m trying to use it in a new way that you can really dance to. I think that just clicked at some point and people seem to really like it.

AD: I read in an interview that you did that you felt like electronic music could help to bridge a gap between audiences in the Middle East and the West. You’ve recently moved to the USA – have you found a positive reaction to your music there?

HP: I’ve actually only been here for about four months so I haven’t had an opportunity to play here yet. But last week I was at Fusion Festival in northern Germany and I got some really nice feedback. The people didn’t understand Arabic, which most of my samples use, but mainly they related to the music phrases, the electronic sound and the dance – it’s this whole experience that they like to be in.

AD: Despite the fact that some Western audiences aren’t able to understand the Arabic, because they are drawn in by this familiar sound but with a new dimension it encourages them to find out more about the music and get to learn about the musical culture from Syria and the Middle East that they wouldn’t normally know.

HP: Yes, the music is fresh and it’s very new in the Middle East to have this kind of fusion of modern and heritage. At every gig there are a lot of people that don’t know this type music and it is always fun to watch how they are slowly engaging with it – enjoying certain lines or rhythms. At the end of the set people often feel like it’s been a journey and that’s very nice for me. Observing these kinds of small details is why I love playing live. After the set you get great feedback and lots of questions and that is why I do what I do.

Continue reading on the Shubbak Festival blog.

Interview with eL Seed

As part of Shubbak Festival 2015, I interviewed calligraffiti artist eL Seed during his first street art commission in London. For the piece, which he created just after the terrorist attack in Sousse in eL Seed’s home country of Tunisia, he chose a quote by John Locke reads that reads “It is one thing to show a man that he is in an error and another to put him in possession of truth”. Accompanying music: ‘Sand Song’ by Syrian musician Hello Psychaleppo (check out his music here).

How art is keeping alive the memory of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution

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Graffiti artist Leila Ajjawi at WOW Baladak Street Art Festival in Jordan in 2014

The Day of Anger on 25 January 2011 signalled the start of the Egyptian Revolution. After the Tunisian uprisings, protests in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and across the country paved the way for the so-called Arab Spring, which swept across the region. Today, five years on, many who witnessed or took part in the protests consider it a failed revolution. Although the uprising, in which more than two million people took to the streets across Egypt, ended in the overthrow of then-president Hosni Mubarak, the country has experienced a turbulent transition since. Culturally, the gathering of young protesters in public spaces in 2011 led to an artistic outpouring that included street art, performance, photography and film. Despite the censorship that is increasingly seen within the country, this collaborative creativity has led to a number of art projects that are keeping the revolutionary spirit of the uprising alive.

Here, commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Egyptian uprisings, are five of the best Egyptian art projects that have begun since January 2011.

Continue reading on The Art Newspaper.

Science fiction in the Holy Land

Can science fiction help solve the Israel-Palestine conflict? For the London-based artist Larissa Sansour and her partner and main collaborator Søren Lind the answer could be written in the stars.

Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus (2009). Courtesy of the artist.
Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus (2009). Courtesy of the artist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sansour, one of Palestine’s best-known artists, uses video and photography to reimagine current events in the Middle East. The political nature of Sansour’s works has courted controversy: she was removed fr om the shortlist for the 2011 Lacoste Prize, she claimed for being “too-Palestinian”. The prize was cancelled that year.

Her best-known works include A Space Exodus (2009), a video that follows a fictional Palestinian woman astronaut’s landing on the moon, and Nation Estate (2012), a short film that envisages a dystopian Palestine as a skyscraper, with each floor representing a Palestinian city.

In her latest film, In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain (2015), Sansour reflects on a tendency in the region to base political legitimacy and land entitlement on archaeological evidence. Together, the films form a sci-fi trilogy on the Middle East. The films will be part of several exhibitions taking place in the UK this year, kicking off at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham this week (15 January-13 March).

Continue reading on The Art Newspaper.

The Revolution within The Revolution: Art and Syria Today

Untitled.pngIn 2011, a small piece of graffiti demanding the fall of the Syrian regime instigated a vicious crackdown by the government upon its young perpetrators. This graffiti was arguably one of the catalysts that led to the Syrian Revolution, which has since deteriorated into the now four-year-long civil war. It is somewhat fitting then that today, the cultural and artistic responses in the war-torn country have been described as the only positive development of the conflict. Despite the widespread devastation – which has seen over 230,000 people killed, more than 4 million fleeing as refugees, and almost 8 million internally displaced[1] – Syrians have been responding to and documenting their crisis creatively, taking advantage of greater freedom of expression of an essentially collapsed state (compared to the fierce censorship that reigned during Assad’s unchallenged rule). That is not to say that artists are free from the repercussions of their work – many artists have been forced out of work, threatened, beaten, imprisoned, forced to leave the country or, in some cases, killed[2]. In spite of the danger, and beyond the sounds of shelling and bombardments that try to drown them out, many artists both inside and outside the country continue to battle against tyranny to make their voices, and those of the Syrian people, heard.

Continue reading on the Mosaic Rooms Blog.

 

Middle East looks further east as trend for Korean art continues to grow

The trend for contemporary Korean art is hitting the Middle East. Ana: Please Keep Your Eyes Closed for a Moment (until 2 January 2016) at the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah is the first exhibition of contemporary Korean art at a public institution within the region.

Juyeon Kim's YI:SUK (2015). Courtesy of Maraya Art Centre
Juyeon Kim’s YI:SUK (2015). Courtesy of Maraya Art Centre

As well as introducing young Korean artists to the art scene in the Gulf, the exhibition looks at wider notions of identity. “I wanted to question what it means to be Korean or what Korean art is,” says JW Stella, the London- and Seoul-based curator of the show. “Contemporary art from Korea was (and still is) relatively unfamiliar to the Middle East, particularly in comparison to art from China or Japan.” The exhibition features works by 12 Korean artists and one from Saudi Arabia. Standout works include a 15m-long mural by Gayoung Jun and an installation by Juyeon Kim comprised of 7,000 Emirati newspapers covered in sprouting seeds.

Continue reading on The Art Newspaper.

ARA-B-LESS? : An Interview With Riffy Arts Collective

Meriem Bennani, the New York-based artist who was recently featured in the New York Times, is one of the artists selected by Riffy Ahmed and Sarah El Hamed for the ARA-B-LESS? project at the Saatchi Gallery, part of The Nour Festival of Arts. I spoke with Riffy to learn more about the project.

Ara-B-Less poster
ARA-B-LESS poster

How did you conceive the title ARA-B-LESS ?

The project title ‘ARA-B-LESS ?’ is a neologism born of a play on the word ‘Arabness’ (Arabism). Two designs hint at the meaning behind “ARA-B-LESS ?” –  the first emphasising ‘BLESS’ suggests that Arab identity is a blessing, while the second emphasises “LESS’, the ways in which what it means to be Arab have evolved over time, perhaps losing something along the way. ‘ARA-B-LESS?’, as a question, also focuses on whether we, the artists, consider ourselves to be more or less Arab for having been born and brought up in the West, albeit by parents from Arab countries.

Continue reading on the Nour Festival blog.

Studio Daze

From ‘Scenes and Types’ to Shehrazade and El Sham: studio photography in the Arab world

An early 20th century French Scenes and Types postcard of an Algerian girl published by Lehnert and Landrock
An early 20th century French Scenes and Types postcard of an Algerian girl published by Lehnert and Landrock

The value of a photograph – its principle charm, at least – is its infallible truthfulness. We may have long revelled in the poetry of the East; but this work enables us to look, as it were, upon its realities1.

So said the 19th century Orientalist, Sophia Poole. Poole’s perception of photography’s unique ‘claim to truth’2 was widely held by early photographers from the West, to whom the colonial realms of the Middle East provided their principal training grounds3. In her seminal book, On Photography, Susan Sontag challenged the ‘presumption of veracity’ that had long been associated with photography, arguing that photographs are ‘as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings’4. But to what extent is this appreciated today? Whilst many claim to have developed their understanding of the art from the idea of a visualised ‘truth’ to a moment of representation, people continue to search for realities within photographs, particularly withinarchives. How useful is it to mine such documents for historical and social ‘realities’? Can these momentary representations of individuals, as captured in a photograph, be extrapolated to speak of an entire society, time, or people?

Continue reading on Reorient website.