Rhea Karam exhibition in Dubai

NYC-based Lebanese artist brings Egyptian graffiti to life

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In her latest photo exhibition at The Pavilion, NYC-based Lebanese artist Rhea Karam captures urban art, graffiti and messages that were sprawled on the city walls in Egypt during the unrest.

A canvas has the potential to manifest itself in many ways. Yet what a street wall has over, say, a piece of fabric or paper is unrivalled accessibility. Lebanese-American artist Rhea Karam is fascinated with the medium and for her latest series, entitled ‘Breathing Walls’, she took to the streets of Egypt following the civil unrest to capture random expressions on the city walls. Her photos provide a rare insight into the situation at the time. ‘They [the walls] witness every aspect of our lives and hold so many stories, from the interior intimacy of our homes to the outside daily events and historic moments,’ says the 31 year old. ‘They begin as a neutral canvas and slowly become tainted and absorb their surrounding environment leaving a revealing imprint.’

The project will continue to evolve as Karam moves around the region, documenting the urban landscape of countries where she says important socio and political changes are taking place. But it was a trip to her native Lebanon in 2007 that initially sparked the idea. ‘I began to notice that they [the walls] were a soapbox for the general public to express themselves in a sincere and unbiased way,’ she says. ‘I was fascinated by the interaction that was taking place and the messages that were being communicated here.’

‘Handover of Power’
‘This was taken near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. It’s random graffiti on a wall next to a water pipe. It is a painted open palm on an otherwise blank wall that is open to interpretation. To me, the gesture of the hand represents surrender, hence the title ‘Hand Over of Power’. I try to compose my images with elements that later translate into relevant symbolic meanings. In this image, the fact that moss and green leaves are able to grow in a cement wall symbolises the resistance of the people who managed to break through the impossible and demand their voices be heard.’

‘Liars’
‘I shot this is in the neighborhood of Zamalek in downtown Cairo. It is a detail I noticed in a small cross street. It represents a dusty display box on which someone used their finger to write out the word ‘liars’. It tells a short but powerful message. It proves the incredible need people have to express their opinion and how creative they become to get their message across. This detail was hidden in a corner street and hardly visible. When I stumbled across it, I was captivated and had to wait quite a long time for the light to be just right in order for it to be readable on the photograph.’

The Lowdown

Exhibition: ‘Breathing Walls | Egypt’ until August 31 at The Pavilion, Downtown Dubai (04 447 7025).
Artist: Rhea Karam
Price range of works: Not for sale.

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