Ubuntu Art Gallery, an art space that popped up in Zamalek in October 2014, is showcasing the stylistically divergent works of three Egyptian artists under the title ‘Connect The Dots’. The exhibition will be running until the 14th of June.
The originally South African concept ubuntu could be roughly translated into ‘human kindness’, and literally means ‘human-ness’. In the philosophical sense, it is about the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all of humanity. This spirit is somewhat reflected in the gallery’s mission, which is to offer a platform to artists from all walks of life, with a passion for artistic expression in common.
“We prefer showcasing the works of younger artists in the earlier phases of their careers,” Ahmed Dabaa, the founder of the gallery, says. Admitting that chances are small that completely unknown artists will be represented by his exhibition space, Ubuntu’s mission statement might be a bit overrated. Yet in the contemporary Egyptian art scene – where older, established names are usually the ones that make the wallets of collectors open up – offering younger, talented artists a platform is more than welcome.
For ‘Connect The Dots | نقاط متواصلة’, Ahmed Dabaa’s eye fell on approximately thirty works of Nahla Reda, Hakeem Abou-Kila, and Mahmoud Hamdi. Although their work differs in materials, style, and techniques, the combination of the three feels right. A sense of harmony is noticeable when sauntering through the exhibition, yet it is hard to describe why. One thing the three bodies of work have in common: their strong technicality.
Born and raised in Cairo, Nahla Reda graduated from El-Minya University’s Graphics department. The 29 year old has taken part in several exhibitions and won numerous prizes, and presents a series of mixed media art works called ‘The Opposite of Opposites’ (‘عكس عكسات’) at the modern art gallery.
“Antagonism and disharmony is present in everything around us: within our communities, in our thoughts, and our souls. It is paradoxical that those communities which advocate for freedom are characterised by injustice and oppression towards human beings the most,” the artist explains, and she continues with a few blunt statements to frown upon.
“There are communities that encourage religiosity and adherence to doctrines, which are exactly the communities that deploy offensive behavior the most. If we take a look at the communities that call for freedom for women the most, those are the ones with high numbers of rape and sexual abuse.”
Nahla Reda’s body of art is related to her own experience within and her feelings towards Egyptian society. She reflects more specifically on society’s power balances between men and women, which she believes are negatively influenced by tradition.
“I tried to express the idea of antagonism by combining shaaby locations and modern places, and connecting them through electric wires. I also did this through combining portraits of foreign personalities with Arabic places, to confirm that the differences between our natures are not the real reason behind our disharmony.”
In addition, she used a collage technique and strongly contrasting warmer and colder colours with the intention to emphasize this thought.
Although the pieces are technically extremely strong and well-composed, the choice of some elements, such as runway models cut out from fashion magazines, is disappointing. In such light, it seemed rather superficial to put shaaby and modern on two ends of a continuum which was clearly reflected in Reda’s work.
Applying completely different techniques is Hakeem Abou-Kila, a multiple awarded, 27 year old artist and director with international experience. He used a combination of acrylic, wood, pens and paper.
What seem to be smudges at first glance soon appear to be human beings upon taking a closer look. Similar to Nahla Reda’s art pieces, his works criticise society.
“They tell the story of the ancient Egyptian deity Horus, who is sad to discover what has become of Egyptians when he sees they evolved from strength and greatness to forgetting what is important for them, and when he notices their distraction away from their country,” the painter narrates.
This carelessness is depicted through the deity Bes, the ancient Egyptian deity of laughter and cheerfulness. “After he played an important and effective role in entertaining the Egyptians at times of rest and in stimulating their willingness to get back to work, laughter became one of the greatest scorches, and became useless. It transmitted Horus’s power and prestige to Bes, with the deterioration of the country’s situation and its servants as a result.”
Due to the abstract shapes and the wide variety of colours used in Hakeem Abou-Kila’s paintings, it is hard to read this meaning from the art works itself.
At 35, Mahmoud Hamdi is the oldest and most renowned artist participating in ‘Connecting The Dots’. It would be logical to think that his refined art pieces inspired the name of the exhibition. His radiant drawings, in which warm colours such as gold and red return, lines connect dots and dots connect lines into seemingly tippy constructions.
“Perhaps it ends to a point to start all over again, building a new fabric that doesn’t have a specific strength and doesn’t have a basis, to construct in the end its own existence,” the artist philosophizes.
‘Connect The Dots’ – 6 till 14 June 2015, Ubuntu Art Gallery, 20 Hassan Sabry Street, Zamalek (entrance from Ibn Zinky Street), Cairo
Opening hours: 11 am to 8 pm, closed on Fridays
You can find more information about the event on the Facebook page, and more information about Ubuntu Art Gallery’s artists on their website.