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In Cairo, Artists Use Pixels, Cyborgs, and More to Examine Technology and Belief

hyperallergic.com • March 9, 2020

CAIRO — Near the entrance of Glitch, a group exhibition featuring the work of 13 international artists at the American University of Cairo’s Tahrir Cultural Center, is Egyptian artist Haytham Nawar’s “Bread Diaries” installation. The space is filled with black vector drawings of different bread types — in Egyptian Arabic, aish means both bread and life — which “[become] a physical setting where one’s intangible emotional values of culture, history, and tradition are no longer abstract ideas,” Nawar explains. 

This spanning of a perceived chasm between technology and belief underlines the curation of the show, as well as two others — both solo presentations — in congruent spaces at AUC: Corner of a Dream (Bahia Shehab), and Beit Um Amel (VJ Um Amel, born Laila Shereen Sakr). All three were curated by Shiva Balaghi.

Shehab’s exhibition — her first solo show in Cairo — is an immersive experience of four fabric screens, onto which four videos are projected simultaneously. A soundtrack of Shehab quietly reciting the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish plays as the films revisit some of her mural works (in Beirut, Cephalonia, Marrakesh, and New York) which she calls “meeting points.” The emotional impact of the somber installation  “offers a view of the lingering aftermath of social upheavals, of displacement and dislocation, of the dense borderlands between despair and hope,” explains Balaghi to Hyperallergic.

Meanwhile, VJ Um Amel asserts that the dichotomy between technology and belief is false, obliterated by the assimilation of the former into quotidian life. Her solo show (also her first in Cairo) is mediated by her cyborgian alter-ego, who has created in the gallery space her home: Beit Um Amel (“House of Um Amel”). Pixellated self-portraits, digital archives of social media activity in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and “R-Shief Portal” (2020) — a virtual archive which visitors can both experience and manipulate on wall-mounted iPads — welcome visitors into the domestic space,  enacting a discombobulating shift of experience of the virtual landscape.