Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Animal Lab

My wife and I recently relocated to Brooklyn, NY from Cairo, Egypt. The strange and wonderful experiences that we had while living in Cairo are not too far behind us. Hearing a conversation spoken in Arabic while riding the train reminds me of my old commute through Giza, past the pyramids and out into the desert. I filter through hundreds of photographs and notes looking for material to use in my artwork. I recently found this photo from the Giza Zoo. It was taken on a Friday, the busiest day at the zoo, the wrong day to visit.

The Giza Zoo is a dilapidated mess, full of every kind of trash. Caught in a dusty urban trap the animals seem sad. It's not a surprise that I chose this image for one of my drawings. The abandoned look of the building suggests that the zoo personal have no interest in caring for the animals. However, this might not be the case at all. After all, Cairo is a poor country with little to spend on public spaces. My experience in Egypt taught me to never under any circumstances assume anything about anything.

The Giza Zoo is entertainment, not protected wildlife. Families go for a picnic, children practice karate (pictured), and couples court one another. The Giza Zoo is loud and chaotic just like the rest of the city.

I live in a serene environment, close to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Looking at photographs like the ones from the Cairo zoo I am reminded of faces, sounds and emotions from a completely different part of the planet. I always have to remember that we all experience serenity in different ways.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Post Egypt Diary

Almost a year has past since my last entry but many interesting things have happened. I will do my best to keep a daily record of the artwork I am making and the experiences I am having or have had in the recent past. More to come...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Holiday Special

The winter is here and the electric heater is on high. The holiday season has been very exciting and very unusual. For starters, I was hired as art director for a new gallary in Zamalek called Studio 14. We also befriended our trash collector named Ayman and spent the Holidays eating fruit and drinking beer with his family in Trash City with his fellow Zabaline. The highlight of this bond has been a circumcision party for the children of Ayman's cousin. A good month of celebration wouldn't be complete without a little down time and so Katie and I spent a few days on the beach in Tarabine on the Red Sea.

SEASONS GREETINGS! Here I am in front of the Hanging Church in Mar Girgis feeling the Christmas cheer. The Orthodox cemetery nearby is one of the best places to have a picnic. The neighborhood known as Mar Girgis/Coptic Cairo/Old Cairo is one of the oldest parts of Cairo and also one of the quietest. The mood in Coptic Cairo is very relaxing, both Katie and I often take the train from
Saad Zagloul (our neighborhood) to Mar Girgis just to get some fresh air.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

And on the Last Day...

My experience showing at the Culturewheel was strange. The article published by the Daily News was really interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, this paper is published in English. I sold work to folks who read about the show. There is a funny kind of thing that occurs here that I'll elaborate about later. Certain kinds of work here are inherently valuable 1. Work with a name attached to them of a well known Egyptian artist. 2. Oil Paintings averaging at least 1 meter by 1 meter. 3. Approval of the ministry of culture and the resulting interest of the regime.

My closing was a little get-together between Katie and I. I had already made amends with the owner and founder of Sawy. I had been compensated for the missing work. However... the staff was sick of me. I was also kind of sick of the pressure related to protecting a public installation in a very public space. Most of the work had also been sold meaning that I had to protect it extra extra since I can't afford to re-print any of it.

The night was peaceful though. The crowd was friendly and interested in the work and the rest is lost in my memory. My memory when it is strong reflects a time when Egyptian people saw my work and liked it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Day 8: 5:30pm

It's almost 5:30 and I'm in Shadow hall with Saad, the evening security guy. I just explained my artwork to a couple of business men and they said they understood the idea, "big buildings and little people". Yeah.

I met with Sawy personal today to discuss the unfortunate incidents that took place over the weekend. I was fortunate enough to meet with the owner, Muhammad El Sawy. He acknowledged that his institution was not prepared for a show like mine and that he was confused by what had happened. He basically said everything I wanted to hear except, "I'm very sorry, we made a mistake". Anyway we came to terms and I left feeling okay. I hate feeling victimized but this experience had been draining. I didn't expect the security to be so incompetent.

One of Saad's co-workers just started play fighting with him and they both ended up knocking into one of my pieces. It's as if the security and others associated with Sawy are the greatest threat to my work. The pedestrians who walk through the space are generally involved in conversations with one another, or daydreaming on their way from work to home. The people who are interested in the work are always kind and direct. Who took my work? I have to stop thinking about this.

Days 5-7: "Up Close: in Your Space" Showing daily 4pm-9pm

I now had a serious dilemma to deal with. I couldn't trust the Sawy security to act responsibly and watch my work, their ineptitude had been proven. I still wanted the show to remain up for the scheduled days. I concluded that the only solution was to stay with the work whenever I displayed it. This created problems for me as I had to work in 6th of October (45 min out of town) from 9am-3pm on days 5-7. The exhibition hours became 4pm-9pm.

The nice thing about these hours is that the lighting comes on at about 4pm and there is a certain luminous quality to the prints when they are lit artificially. The colors become very bold and the contrast increases. I also enjoy this time because there is allot of pedestrian traffic. The local art school students are on their way home, the microbus travelers are getting dropped off above, and there is usually a concert going on nearby. I had the opportunity to meet many interesting folks who wanted to hear me explain the work. Groups of you woman and boys would take pictures of themselves in front of the artwork. The work was "cool" and "different". I think these three days reinforced my belief in the project.

Day 4: Total Confusion

I will try and piece this one together the best that I can. First of all I slept in a little bit and I was really confident that the work was safe, especially after I had raised hell at Sawy over the missing print. The phone rang at about 2 o'clock.

The gentleman on the other end of the line was interested in my prints. He had seen them at Sawy Culturewheel that very morning. He had one question for me, "the prints that have been taken down and replaced with B&W copies, are they still available for sale". My blood pressure instantly went through the roof. I finished the conversation and raced to Shadow Hall. 6 color prints had disappeared, each replaced with a B&W copy. I couldn't get a single answer from anyone, even the security guard on duty. I couldn't believe what had happened. All of the signs that I had printed were clear and the missing work had been removed very delicately and replaced with B&W copies. Thoughts raced through my head - had the prints in fact been sold? If so where was the money?

I talked to everyone on site and I called the exhibition coordinator - nothing. There was total lack of accountability, a stereotype attached to Egyptians that you hate to see a person or an institution fall in to here.

I stayed with the work very late. At around 11 I gathered up all of the hanging prints and brought them home with me.