Graffiti moves into the gallery in Cairo
Picture a busy street, standing in the scorching heat, disoriented by the cars whizzing past and the flies whirling around.
At Safarkhan Gallery in Zamalek, 30-year-old prolific artist Ganzeer recreates Cairo’s street dynamics within the cool and calm gallery space.
Although Ganzeer delves into video art, designing fonts, drawing comic books, he is mostly commonly known for his graffiti murals during and in the aftermath of Egypt's January 25 Revolution.
The exhibition, scheduled to open 1 October, is an avant-garde concept that breaks the rules of form and subject matter.
With paint sprawling across the usually spotless floors of Safarkhan Gallery, the artist describes to Ahram Online his attempt to re-enact the energy of the street and highlight the change - or the "virus" - that infects the city’s art and politics today.
Ganzeer tries to capture street vibe on the lower level of the gallery by spray-painting the walls, layering them with old posters and then painting his inventive, thought-provoking murals on top.
The artist has much less unorthodox plans for the upstairs wall. To contrast with the street-evocative mess the audience feels upon entry, the second floor will showcase traditionally-framed paintings. Simply, it will showcase what is expected of Safarkhan Gallery and other neighbouring art spaces.
"I am trying to capture the texture, quality of the street through layers of paint and posters," he says, car horns audible in the background. "It will be very emulative of the feel you get on the street, while upstairs it will be very white-walled and clean."
Traditional versus progressive. Old versus new. Traditional and versus modern. Tidy versus messy. Conventional versus revolutionary. Status quo versus counterculture.
Stepping into the petite gallery that Ganzeer is transforming into a window on cultural friction in Egypt, the air-conditioning and the bright colours that contrast with the warm, murky air outside is a relief.
Indeed, the artist explains that working inside the gallery is very different from painting on the street. "What I'm doing here is I’m creating a whole installation. On the street I’m going and I’m saying something visually. It’s very different."
Standing amid numerous open cans of fresh paint, waving a paintbrush in his hand, Ganzeer explains that the exhibition's concept is on the gap - and tension - between the establishment and everything else. "All you need is to step into a typical art gallery to sense that there is a huge gap.
"There is a reason why most people wouldn’t set foot in this gallery. The art that usually shows here has nothing to do with their lives, what they feel or care about."
Atop the layered foundation, Ganzeer will create a series of murals that tackle a few basic ideas that he believes to be important to people these days, such as religion, freedom of speech, seeds of change, among others. The installation is dynamic; the artist will introduce objects and audio from the street to truly transform the space into a busy sight where cultural tensions play out.
The message is: the virus is spreading. Street art and "net art, or work that is created specifically to post online," and generally any art that lies outside of the typical art establishment are becoming viral. This viral artwork is closer to what people feel and like to see, talk about; the art that is most exposed to people.
The downstairs madness of colour will try to crawl up and the white will try to impose itself on the counterculture downstairs.
The artist points to drips of white paint that trickle down onto his street simulation and explains that he will visually represent the tension between the establishment and the non-establishment. "The whole idea of the exhibition is the difference between both worlds," explains the artist.
This is not your typical art show, but it most definitely will be a show. The Virus uses the concept of street art to create a dialogue between the gallery and the public, meshing the lines between both. Infected with the virus, Safarkhan hosts this experimental project that defies everything that is familiar and traditional about Cairo’s art scene.
Monday, 1 October
Safarkhan Art Gallery
6 Brazil Street, Zamalek, Cairo