Undercurrent

Exhibition of the week? We pop along to find out and are greeted by A 30 artist collection plucked from Cairo

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This is just the sort of show that Artsawa needed: a 30-artist collection plucked from the ateliers of Cairo’s new scene. While one or two of the names may be familiar, many of these are on the brink of emergence and are an interesting reflection on some of the ways that Egypt’s contemporary art scene is moving right now.

Take the ethereal lump of bronze that Armen Agop has painted a shade of deep, black nothingness. This void-like sculpture looks as if it could have fallen from the sky and its perfect contours are almost unnerving.

Slightly more familiar are the works by Ahmed Askalany. Following his recent solo show at the gallery, where he displayed a collection of humorous, if slightly morbid, waxworks of modern life, Askalany brings a few more sculptures together for this group show. This time, he’s tightly woven palm leaves into a macabre group of hens, whose featureless necks protrude in a wholly unnatural way.

Though a fairly sculpture-focused show, we’re quite taken with Randa Shaath’s photographs of Cairo. Dense, urban yet warm – her images, particularly the ‘Sidewalk’ piece featured in the show, portray a city built of people. Cars mingle with walkers, they form boundaries and roads in the street. The city itself appears subsumed by humanity, but also constructed by it. People appear to fill every space of the city, like its very mortar.

Look out as well for the elegant oil portrait by Ibrahim El Dessouki, ‘Living Cairo’. This peacefully composed meeting of gently saturated colours really is one of the stronger pieces in this show. Dessouki brings a haughty swing to his female subject, he can at once compose a figure who is regal and yet imbued with a vitalised and invigorated rhythm.

The sheer scale of this show is perfect for a space like Artsawa, and it’s good to see it turning its focus back to North Africa. The gallery has a good roster of artists from this region of the Arab world – Algeria, Tunisia and, of course, Egypt – and they would do well to stay in this vein, revealing what’s happening in that area artwise and exposing its epicentre, the madness (as Randa Shaath shows it) that is Cairo. Recommended.

Artsawa (04 340 8660) Until June 14.

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