Date: April 4 - May 11, 2013
Time: 10:00:am - 10:00:pm
Venue: Building 19, Gallery 1 & 2 (Katara Cultural Village)
Faraj Daham and Mohamed Abouelnaga are two artists based in Doha with whom I have had the privilege of developing and working on several art projects. Daham is a Qatari artist and a pillar of the Doha art scene; an artist full of energy and with a unique viewpoint of his home city. Abouelnaga is an Egyptian artist who is working in Doha as a curator; a man with enormous sensibility and with a nostalgic and endearing regard for his hometown, Cairo.
The two artists approached me in mid-2012 to work on a project, with such themes and concepts as ‘Utopia’, ‘City’, ‘In Focus’, ‘Out of Focus’ and ‘Together’ that served as seminal departure points for this exhibition at Katara Galleries, entitled City. When I was recruited to curate the exhibition and develop the ideas with them, I was captivated by the premise of both artists from the outset; there was no doubt in my mind that the exhibition would be a great experience.
From the start, we all agreed that the artists would work in developing artwork that would focus on their respective hometowns: the dierent lifestyles and struggles of people working to create, develop and build the City. These hometowns would be examined through the eyes of the workers who inhabit them and, in such a way, give voice and life to them.
The result of the month-long process of developing and creating the artwork exceeded my expectations. Daham’s work addresses the City as a postcard, while Abouelnaga shares with us a view of Cairo that is deliberately ‘out of focus’. Both artists see the City as a living cultural construct that we recognise not only for its population density but also for the social and historical factors it embodies.
A city is organised by imposing a system which defines relations between the various groups and communities residing within it. The intention is that a city will guarantee its residents comfort and a dignified way of life, with society always aspiring towards something better. Achieving this progress, however, tends to be hindered by human notions that pull in other directions, suggesting that in reality no portrayal can be truly representative while there is a conflict of wills, domination and exclusion.
The City encompasses both a human physicality and a cultural point of view which we might adopt to explain certain unexpected phenomena, such as the dominance of established principles and a way of life that organises relations between people in accordance with changing ideas, trends and behaviours – this cannot be detached from the cultural diversity within a city. There is infinite variety from one person to the next, while all compete to turn their dreams into reality or, as William Shakespeare put it in The Tempest in the words of Prospero: ‘We are such stu as dreams are made on’. Indeed, we are also the architects and builders of those dreams, and the spectators who look on as these dreams are built. As we act to turn our hopes and desires into reality, our aspirations become distorted, as does the very image of the person within us.
Faraj Daham looks at his hometown and through his artistic practice conveys to us a series of dreams, aspirations, anxieties and simple recorded memories sent from Doha to another home city by the workers, who, day in, day out, erect the buildings we soon will inhabit and populate with other dreams, aspirations and anxieties. Daham uses the artifice of the postcard to convey the simple, albeit deeply felt, dilemma every worker – and indeed every expatriate in Doha – has to deal with daily. How can we carry two cities in our hearts and minds? While there are no terminal answers for this question, the works in this exhibition provide an insight into what Daham feels and thinks about this dilemma.
There is a definably deep feeling of empathy with the workers and their realities, and a valiant attempt to understand and connect with people.
Mohamed Abouelnaga evokes his city’s revolution of 25 January 2011: an event which filled Cairo’s squares with every conceivable kind of initiative in defiance of fear and hegemony. In his eyes, his city has had a complete facelift, its features changed beyond all recognition, coloured by the constant motion that eludes any expectations or categorisation. The city remains out of focus, a body under tension, its concerns and dreams weighing heavily on its shoulders. Abouelnaga pictures it as two men standing shoulder-to-shoulder and united by the bundles of hay both carry on their backs. As these merge into one shared burden, their bodies form one thick-set tree, heavy with its parched branches.
The duality of perspectives oered by Daham and Abouelnaga communicates the City with its very dierent social impulses. These are two cities with a common Arab heritage, shared beliefs and a mutual language, and yet both find themselves under the influence of unexpected changes that are an inalienable aspect of the very concept of a city. Both artists look at the people from the viewpoint of the City, and at the City from the vantage of its residents; both register perpetual movement and constant change, development, dierence and sameness. Both artists are letting us know that, in the words of Jose Saramago in his novel, Blindness, which is taken from the Book of Exhortations: ‘If you can see, look. If you can look, observe.’
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