Cala: Art space for young talent
BY MARIAM HAMDY
Cairo: Zamalek is soon to burst at the seams with new cafes, bakeries, restaurants and gallery spaces opening up. It’s a great feat, and one that lends itself to the dream that one day Zamalek will become a pedestrian island with no cars — only shuttles taking us back and forth.
The latest opening on the list of art spaces is Cala Art Gallery, a slightly inconspicuously placed gallery at the very start of 26th of July Street. Its building has a private entrance that leads directly to what is essentially a small but spacious apartment. Like most galleries opening today, Cala is designed in the ‘white cube’ format: White walls, white ceilings, basic hard wood floors and minimal interruptions. It’s the safest format in which to present artwork, and one that was not at all popular in the last decade. Townhouse was all the rage with its somewhat rundown ‘authentic’ approach to space, and few of the newer galleries opted for upscale minimalism. Today, Cala is an example of the standard art space operating in Cairo.
The new gallery is hosting a group show with a range of work by art students and established names. All the pieces in the show are aesthetically pleasing, distinguished by excellent craftsmanship; not a single piece can be criticized for being amateurish or hastily executed. They are not, however, exciting to look at in terms of subject matter for the most part.
Perhaps it was the exhibition’s title “Ramadan Kareem” that guided the work into the cliché wasteland, but one felt that artists could have done so much more with such a broad, open theme.
The two works that caught my eye are by far the smallest. The first is a series of photographs by Menah Shazly, an AUC art student. The pieces feature portraits of adolescents standing in front of Islamic architectural motifs, with said designs seeping through their t-shirts: a simple and visually pleasing comment on the penetration of the local culture in our increasingly westernized youth — or so it appears.
The second is by the more established artist Mohamad Taman, consisting of two small pieces of wood, enamelled with pigment to look like small slabs of ceramic. Presenting women draped in colored Afghan type niqab, the better of the two features the women playing the cello. The contrast between the dress code and the instrument is stark; proceeding to rearrange one’s presumptions about women covered so completely. Simply executed with minimal detail, the piece provides a punch despite its miniature size and simplicity in execution.
Most of the remaining works range in style, medium and sizes, all of which are a joy to look at, but do not provide much depth for contemplation. Among the standout pieces are two large abstract paintings by Wael Darwish: a solemn palette of deep blues and indigoes interrupted by burnt oranges, featuring shadows of figures solitary in one, and huddled together in the next. Of the entire exhibition, these two pieces display the most maturity and depth.
The single most impressive piece, despite its repeated subject matter, is by Marwa Ashmawy. A stay-at-home mom striving to produce art whenever she can, Ashmawy should consider taking on drawing as a full time profession. A large, two-part sprawling mural presents a moulid of sorts, with men dancing and playing instruments scattered around the composition. Her tackling of light is flawless, her shading is exquisite, and her attention to detail is riveting. To say that Marwa Ashmawy could possibly bring graphite to the same revered status of paint is not an understatement, yet she’ll need to exhibit more often and tackle more exuberant subject matter.
The rest of the exhibition includes the usual works by Salah Anany (same style, same subject matter), two fun pieces by Adel Thabet, Mohamed Youssef’s bright architectural vistas, a large number of Waleed El Deeb’s mixed media pieces and a few more newcomers.
The oddest inclusion in this selection is a portrait of a woman by the late Abdel Aal Hassan, which despite its brilliance (as is most of his work) does not fit much into the theme or general stylistic approach of the exhibit.
Cala Art Gallery has managed to break out from the usual calligraphy theme during Ramadan, and since the holy month is right in the middle of the summer season, it’s also a break from the usual group ‘masterpiece’ shows compiling samples of work exhibited over the past year.
It’s a visually pleasing show and the young talent certainly deserve the support. -The Egypt Monocle