CAIRO.- In a bold and courageous move, independent and international art curator Aleya Hamza opened the doors of her new art space to the public with Spectral Days, an exhibition by Iranian, Beirut and Berlin-based artist Setareh Shahbazi.
In a time of political volatility, in a country recovering from a second revolution and grappling with definitions and ramifications of democracy , this show is a testimony of the courage and conviction of both women; Hamza for deciding it was the right moment to open her new gallery with a stable of artists of cross-cultural backgrounds and multi-disciplinary practices, and Shahbazi for presenting a deeply personal body of work that marks a departure from her previous output.
Both curator and artist have a long-standing working relationship and friendship; they met in 2005 in Cairo when Shahbazi was invited for a residency at the Townhouse Gallery, and although their paths diverged and crossed over throughout the years they always kept abreast of each others practices and the various personal and intellectual experiences that informed and shaped them.
Where Shahbazi had previously done some work with other peoples photographs in 2003 at the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut, an experience that allowed her to distance herself from regional historical events, Spectral Days is a profoundly personal experience where thousands of photographs were culled from family albums and collections retrieved from her home in Teheran. This introspective and contemplative exercise started in 2009, a point in time that marked her parents decision to return to Iran after 25 years of exile and that she felt ready to engage on this reflective journey.
The exhibition counts more than forty photo-based works that were laboriously created through a long and demanding effort of scanning, computer- manipulated montages, cropping , layering and collaging. Like the hazy memories of a distant childhood, many of the photographic pigments had faded with the passage of time and she had to rework them either to enhance the colour or to improvise new palettes in order to take the artwork , like a painting, to a new level. For her, every photograph had a personal and relevant story, and the lengthy process of creating the final work was akin to a long and psychoanalytical exercise that helped her get rid of the weight of history. Nevertheless, once that was completed she was happy to let the works speak for themselves once they were exposed to the public.
Photography more than any other field in fine art is still treated with a degree of suspicion and apprehension partly by various critics and historians but mostly by the Egyptian public and art collectors. These pictures that come in various sizes have a haunting and spectral feel to them and challenge the onlookers preconceptions of what a work of art is. This in itself is proof of both the curator and the artists khutzpah and to reiterate what Shahbazi said before things can become mainstream they have to be controversial. Clearly a vision that Hamza shares as she is committed to engaging with the public through a challenging and cerebral curatorial platform .
Spectral Days is on at GYPSUM, the newly-inaugurated art space, until the 29th of November 2013 and comprises some works that are archival ink prints and others chromogenic prints mounted on Forax, all framed behind acid-free and UV-resistant plexiglass.
Setareh Shahbazi was born in Teheran in 1978 and moved to Germany in 1985. From 1997 to 2003 she studied Scenography and Media Arts at the State Academy for Art and Design in Karlsruhe. Her solo exhibitions were held at Karlsruher Kunstverein in 2004; Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Berlin in 2006; Contemporary Arts Forum ,Santa Barbara in 2008 and 98weeks Project Space, Beirut in 2010. She has participated in numerous group shows namely When It Starts Dripping from the Ceiling, Kadist, Paris, curated by Bassam El Baroni in 2012; Jostari dar Salighe va Ehsass, Asar Gallery, Teheran in 2010; Rainbow at Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Beirut; Jen reve at Fondation Cartier ,Paris in 2005 and Iranian Pool, Rooseum, Malmo and Iranian Pool, curated by Chus Martinez in 2003.
Her catalogue Oh,no, no,
-The Crystal Series was awarded The Most Beautiful Swiss Books in 2005.
Shahbazi lives and works in Berlin and Beirut and travels regularly back to Iran.
Aleya Hamza is an independent art curator currently based in Cairo. She completed her MA in History of Art at Goldsmiths College in 2001 and subsequently lectured in contemporary art at the American University in Cairo, and worked as a curator at both Townhouse Gallery and Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo. Her projects and exhibitions have been featured locally in Cairo and Alexandria, and internationally in Amsterdam, Beirut, Berlin, Bonn, Budapest, Cairo, London, Odense and Rabat.
She co-curated the third and fourth editions of PhotoCairo, and her most recent exhibition was on show at the Tate Modern in London in 2012/2013.
Maie Yanni is a British-born Lebanese, independent artist, curator and art contributor . She graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and specialized in Anaesthesia, Intensive Care and High-Risk Obstetric Anaesthesia.
In the year 2000 she took a sabbatical from medical practice to concentrate full-time on her work as an artist and curator.
She is currently based in Cairo, Egypt.