Alexandria 3000: Egyptian Artists Weaving Visions of a Time Yet to Come
Seven artists band together in a rare meeting of the minds to paint their own interpretations of a future both familiar and unknown.
As absurdly difficult as it may be to believe, I’m not much of an artist (unless you call writing about fried chicken art). That did not, however, dissuade me from paying Zamalek Art Gallery a visit when I heard about their newest exhibition, Alexandria 3000: City of Wisdom, Joy and Immortality. With a title like that, I had to go scope it out for myself. Going into an art gallery isn’t exactly my average Sunday evening (I live in the office), but I’ve been to the gallery before and that proved to be a pretty good experience in my timid little existence. Though I have about as much of a stereotypical 'appreciation for art' as I have turtlenecks (I don’t), what I saw at the exhibition managed to stir something in my noggin that I’m not very familiar with.
Giving me even more guidance and background to the gallery, the exhibition, as well as the group behind it, is Zamalek Art Gallery’s lovely PR Manager, Mariam Hamdy. She’s been a pivotal figure in art education and appreciation for quite some time, and she’s an inspiration to the kind of guiding hand you’d like to have when approaching art in all its forms and formats.
Though it might be a strange name at a glance, the contrast of it plays a much larger role in accentuating one of the chief themes that the group, as well as the exhibition, are trying to get it; the intangible, overwhelming power of nostalgia. Think of it this way; your present day might be alright (or Lovecraftian), but you’ll almost always find yourself longing for the 'good old days', reminiscing about how life used to be and how they stopped making your favourite gummy bears. Meanwhile, you’ll often find yourself thinking about the future; trying to imagine what it may look like, and what changes may come as time does its thing. The Futuristic Nostalgia group tap into the emotional energy behind longing, painting their image of a future unbeknownst to them while looking back on its past, which just so happens to be the present day.
The group built themselves on the (frankly solid) foundation of collaborative effort, harkening back to the days of whole schools of art dedicated to their form of expression as opposed to the present’s more singular (and materialistic) approach to art. The seven time-travelling minds behind the exhibition are some of Egypt’s finest contributors to the art scene, with each mind bearing a unique and engrossing vision of our existence that only they can transfer from consciousness to canvas. The artists as of now include long-time visionary artist and advocate of the arts, Farghali Abdelhafiz, young, original and whimsical artiste, Yasmine El-Hazek, the dream-weaving Aya El-Fallah, the singularly expressive Carelle Homsy, culturally innovative Yasmina Haidar and the aesthetically provocative and colourful dreamscapes of Adel Mostafa and Noha Deyab.
A Walk through Future Past
I walked through a section of the exhibition where I was greeted with the calm, pleasant sound of harp strings, punctuating a gallery full of Egypt’s art aficionados hailing from all around. Some folks came from other governorates both far and near, arriving since the early hours of the day just to take their eyes on a journey through imaginary times. The first thing to grab my attention was the seemingly simplistic but aesthetically cheerful and curious artistic works of Dr. Farghali Abdelhafiz. A graduate of the Institute of Art Education and the Academy of Fine Art in Florence (that’s a lot of art) and a leading figure in the Egyptian art scene, Farghali’s work delves heavily into a sort of ‘environmental storytelling’ which is portrayed in a seemingly minimal mode of colour and space usage. His work at the gallery seems to stem from his strong attention to the past, present and future all at once, painting images of times gone by, times to get by and times yet to exist. It was a pretty packed night, and the good doctor was making rounds on all the pieces, greeting patrons and striking up smiling conversation as he went. I shook hands with him, but barely had time to chat; it seemed more fitting to learn from his work and demeanour than have it vaguely handed to me in spoken form. I’ve found that, with artists, it's their work that speaks volumes of who they are, rather than what they can tell you.
Shifting between the pieces of the exhibition, I found myself spending an unusually long amount of time fixated on the works of Aya El-Fallah; like I said, I’m not much of an aficionado when it comes to the local art scene, but seeing as I like to approach everything with about as much of an open mind as one would benefit from a surplus of, I just took it all in at a natural pace. Her pieces were, on the surface, nonsensical, but look around a bit more and you’ll come to the conclusion that this isn’t just an expression of one theme or time, but a mélange of dream sequences, scattered ideas and vaguely clear scenes of nostalgia and yearning for warm memories.
When I managed to snag El-Fallah for a word or two, she and I spoke of her direction.
“I like to paint these dream-like collages of sorts, borrowing from my own dreams, thoughts travelling through my mind, and portraying emotions with bouts of colour, she explained of her process.“Art is something anybody can walk in and appreciate without trying to go overboard or adopt a persona; all I do is just paint things that I think look nice - nothing more.”
On my way around the exhibition, two things managed to get their mitts all over my eyeballs; in the same section that the angelically gifted harpist of the gallery gave the exhibition a backdrop of warmth hung the works of the bright, bubbly and boldly architectural young artiste, Yasmine El-Hazek. Speaking to Mariam Hamdy, the PR Manager of the gallery, she shared her own interpretation of El-Hazek's work.
“Yasmine almost walks between two dimensions; our regular material dimension and another where these little caricatures and creatures roam the backdrop in an adorable fashion, and she’s exceptionally attentive to detail when it comes to drawing architecture, which shows in the pieces at the gallery.”
El-Hazek’s work is some of the most interesting stuff you could lay your eyes on; expertly designed and sprawling architectural landscapes, accentuated with all manner of adorable and relatable creatures breathing a nostalgic air of pleasure onto her elegant use of colour and design. At least, that’s what my dried apricot of a mind tells me, and that thing is, all things considered, reliable.
A Gentle Invitation
If I spoke about all the artists, artworks and aspects of the gallery, I’d be depriving you a wonderful opportunity; to actually go to the gallery and see it for yourself. The exhibition stays open till the 26th of March, giving you a good amount of time to catch a glimpse of a future born in colour. There is a wealth of examples that I’ve left out of the article that just can’t be put into one space without looking like an essay, so all I ask is for folks to pay it a visit, see what it’s about and maybe discover a thing or two about human expression.