Egypt Independent

“Arts by Parts” reexamines perception, morality, culture

Yesterday marked the opening of an exhibition for graduation projects of art students at the American University in Cairo (AUC). “Arts by Parts” showcased the various artwork of some 23 students that ranged between installations, video and photography, depicting five main themes: memory, gender, perception, morality and culture.

Toying with the theme of culture, Therese Ananian’s human-sized manikin symbolizes  “private school and university graduates’ always-speaking-English society,” according to the art senior. The golden-colored manikin has parts of its body pealed away and covered with wire mesh to reveal what’s inside. The upright body is filled with various soda cans, ladies accessories and various packaging from classy food-and-beverage outlets.

“It’s as if they’re living in a cultural bubble with an imported life, whereas people out on the streets of Cairo live and look differently,” says Ananina, the Egyptian-Armenian-Greek artist who walked through the crowded central areas in Cairo to record pedestrian noises. The recordings of the crowded streets and various sellers are synchronized with English music, which plays in headphones resting on the headless neck of the meticulously handcrafted manikin.

Ananian recognizes that she belongs somehow to the world she is protesting in her art. “I belong to that world and enjoy westernized culture, but I also like walking around in the underprivileged areas of the city,” she explains.

“I’m No Feminist” is how Leena Sadek entitles her work, but not herself. Sadek’s photographic mural portrays three girls with “odd colored faces” reflecting the wrong cultural perception of women. Arabic words, written in English letters, are painted on the floor. Essit shoghletha enaha tgeeb 3eyal (“Women are made for bearing babies”) or Gebouli Ragel Akallimo (“I need a man to talk to”) reveal degradation as well as typical social misconception of women in popular Egyptian culture.

“The text on the floor represents the deconstruction of such common beliefs by allowing the audience to step on and walk over the degrading concepts, which makes the audience part of the artwork,” Sadek says.

On the other end of the exhibition, 50s sex goddess Marline Monroe, Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram and Walt Disney’s Snow White, among other women celebrities, are set up as bait in golden mousetraps laid out beside each other on a shelf.  “Caught in Beauty,” is Fahda Essudairy’s artistic revelation of gender issues, perception, and questions of media responsibility in defining beauty in the minds of the audience.

“The media plays a major role in forming the general idea of beauty that people all around the world have,” says the Saudi art senior. “I try to portray the trap that the media lays out for us, and how we get influenced by it both consciously and subconsciously.”

On the second floor of AUC’s three-story Sharjah Art Gallary, the first installation viewers are confronted with is “Little Do We Know“ by Salma Swellem. The four long panels, or “phases of viewing,” which are hung from the ceiling, layered each behind the next, challenge spectators to take a closer look at people without making hasty judgments.

“We categorize… people based on their appearance and judge them upon these categories,” says Swellem, who attempts to “itemize, not categorize” through her art by collecting stories and photographs from five individuals, chosen randomly from different walks of life. 

The first panel, containing painted-over photographs of each of the five subjects mounted on a thick, dark board, represents first impressions. Each panels gets progressively lighter, and more transparent, while the viewer has the opportunity to look closer, interact with, and even to listen to the person’s story through headsets.

The project also challenged Swellem’s stereotypes. The most surprising for her was a 20-year-old girl covered up in Niqab that she approached on the street. “I was surprised, for she does no less than what I do, like traveling with friends,” said Swellem, clarifying that she had explained the project to the young woman and had taken her permission to use her photograph and interview in the installation.

On another level, “Hassan the Cunning–Of Jinn and Men” by Marwan Imam represents a different kind of art that deals with the issue of morality: Comic books. In black and white, Imam portrays the story of a contemporary version of the One Thousand and One Nights’ El-Shater Hassan  (‘Hassan The Cunning’).

In Imam’s story, Hassan wakes up early to celebrate Eid El Fitr (the Ramadan feast) and begins an adventure in which he faces the demons and jinn trying to save the world.

“Like a trip within the seventies campy cult movie, Imam mixes stereotype elements of western plot with an eastern background,” says Yousef Ragheb, an instructor of visual arts and sequential art at AUC’s Performing and Visual Arts department. “His work illustrates this blended nature of today’s ‘Dude Where’s My Car?’ meets the tales of Shehrazad,” adds Ragheb.

The exhibit, at the Sharjah Art Gallery at AUC’s New Cairo Campus, is open until 29 June and can be visited between the hours of 10 AM and 7 PM.