It’s been a while since I’ve been to a really tight group show, and it was such a pleasant surprise that the one that I deemed to be solid lately, “DownTown” at Gallery Misr, is curated by a dear friend and excellent curator, Mahmoud Hamdi. Not many people know what a curator is or does, but it’s safe to say that the role of the curator singlehandedly makes or breaks any exhibition, particularly if it is a group one.
Before I expand on that, I’d like to mention first the names of the artists whose works I felt were some of the strongest in the show & that you should focus on when you visit, because you should visit. Ahmed Talaal’s exquisitely delicate watercolours of the boisterous killing machines that are Cairo’s microbuses, cabs, trucks and mini vans are simply beautiful. They are like colourful cotton candy images floating on the wall, depicting vehicles that are everything that’s wrong with this city and country. The contrast of style versus subject matter was excellent- I wanted to buy the entire collection but sadly I’m cheap. Equally contrasting was the modified photography of Mohamed El Masry, which were of the downtown statues of Zaad Zaghloul, Talaat Harb and others, holding a bunch of colourful balloons. One was not sure whether the ironic stance of these regal men, standing tall, gazing to the future while holding brightly coloured birthday balloons is supposed to be cheerful or miserable. I smirked but felt somewhat depressed at the sight, mocked by the bright primary colours of the balloons against the aged bronze of the men holding them.
I also enjoyed the large mixed media and collage piece by Menna El Genedy, which is hard to describe but whose composition is so balanced and relaxing despite its chaotic subject matter. Kamal El Feky’s sculpture was as sad as it was true. Showing a crowd of clumsy, stout, featureless people trampling all over each other, clambering to get somewhere in space, their lack of direction and clear confusion leads them nowhere. Their stone coloured bodies bring the drab of Cairo’s exhausting traffic and crowds to the stark white walls of the gallery.
Now back to the gallery- what is a curator? The word in the Arabic language (منسق فني) describes it best, and it’s literal translation is “Art Coordinator”. A curator coordinates, arranges and puts “in good order” the artwork involved. That sounds fairly straight forward, but it’s no where as easy as it sounds. Choosing the relevant artwork from each artist’s body of work, framing the work, placing it in an order that serves the purpose of the exhibition theme as well as the gallery’s Modus Operandi, and making sure that the viewer’s visit allows them to move seamlessly from one piece to the next is what a curator does. Mahmoud Hamdi is one of the few true curators who knows how to create a themed exhibit that’s both modern with a punch, but subtle and with class.
Make sure to go as soon as you can, folks. This is a good one.