Egypt has experienced a turbulent few years, with tensions on the streets often spilling over into unrest and violence. But amid this strife, Egypt’s contemporary artists are engaging with their nation, and with the work of fellow Middle Eastern creatives. New contemporary gallery Gypsum, based in Cairo, provides a platform for these artists to show a different side of Egypt.
Gypsum is a new contemporary art gallery established in Cairo in 2013. It is located in a beautiful converted apartment on the third floor of a 1940’s building in the affluent Zamalek neighborhood, where a number of art galleries have established themselves throughout the years. It is a bright space, with light flooding into the gallery space throughout the day, and a picturesque view of trees and greenery — something of a luxury in heavily built-up Cairo.
The space consists of two large rooms open onto each other, with hardwood floors and high ceilings. One room has a large window with an expansive view giving on a lush garden and two additional rooms — an office and a multi-purpose room serving at times as a black box, a bar and inventory space — that make up the rest of the space. In a dense urban centre like Cairo, it is practically impossible to have a purpose-built space unless it is located on the peripheries of the city, or it’s public sector, which explains why the majority of art spaces are converted, whether it’s an apartment, a villa, a factory, a garage or a storefront.
The founder of Gypsum Gallery, Aleya Hamza, wanted to recreate as much as possible a versatile white cube in which the works take centre stage while maintaining a personal atmosphere in an accessible location that caters to a wide range of audiences. Hamza is an independent curator based in Cairo. Since completing her MA in History of Art at Goldsmiths College in 2001, she has lectured in contemporary art at the American University in Cairo, and worked as a curator at Townhouse Gallery and the Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo. Her projects and exhibitions have been featured internationally in Alexandria, Amsterdam, Beirut, Berlin, Bonn, Budapest, Cairo, London, Odense and Rabat. She co-curated the third and fourth editions of PhotoCairo, and a group show at the Tate Modern in London in 2013.
It is an interesting time to be a newcomer in the gallery scene in Egypt at the moment. In a tense and yet stimulating period in the country’s history, Gypsum Gallery’s programme relocates the progressive, dynamic and investigative artistic practices associated with non-profit spaces in Cairo into a commercial gallery framework. Perhaps the most striking difference with the neighbouring commercial galleries is that it has a more international outlook and the programme is not limited to a particular medium such as painting or sculpture.
The gallery represents eight early to mid-career artists who live and work between the greater Middle East and Europe with a programme of well-designed solo shows, informal public talks and participation in art fairs. Drawing on social, political and cultural themes, these artists work in a wide range of media from painting, drawing and sculpture to photography, video, installation and text-based works. Their works have been presented in many prestigious institutions across the globe including MoMa (NYC) and Tate Modern (London) and biennials such as Venice, Istanbul, Sharjah, Gwangu and Dak’Art.
The gallery opened its doors with a photo-based, deeply personal project entitled Spectral Days by Tehran-born artist Setareh Shahbazi. The exhibition delves into a loaded family history in which Shahbazi conjures up memories of her family’s exile from Iran following the 1979 revolution and of her eventual return back to the land she was once forced to leave. It is an introspective look into the past in which family photographs were retrieved from the artist’s home in Tehran and then were heavily manipulated in a long process of scanning, cropping and layering, resulting in a vivid, mesmerizing palette that modulates between rose tint, midnight and blazing sunset.
Another striking solo show held at Gypsum Gallery was Cairo-based artist Maha Maamoun’s Lingering in Vicinity, who currently has a solo show at Fridericianum Museum in Kassel. Her show at Gypsum brought together two works produced within a decade of each other: her first photographic series, Cairoscapes (2003) and her most recent video Shooting Stars Remind me of Eavesdroppers (2013). Poetic and contemplative, the works carve out a respite for meditation on the act of seeing and listening within the buzzing speed of the city.
The final show of the season this June at Gypsum Gallery is a solo mixed-media exhibition of works by Cairo-based artist Taha Belal in which he ponders the relationship of form and material versus content. He transforms industrial and mass-produced materials, from newspapers, gypsum board, mirrors and gift-wrapping paper, into beautifully crafted and delicately abstract objects. This is Belal’s first solo show.
Gypsum Gallery is located at 5a Bahgat Ali St, April 12, Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.