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Cairo 20×20: The Mascot Café & Art Gallery

18 October 2011 No Comments

Mahmoud Hamdy

By Anya Wassenberg

Cairo 20×20
Located at 1267 Queen St. West, Toronto
Continues to October 30

It doesn’t cover much in the way of square footage but Cairo 20×20 goes a long way to fleshing out a portrait of Egypt’s capital city as a vibrant metropolis with all the complexities of any big city and a particular Egyptian flair along with its historical baggage both ancient and recent.

The show features the work of 20 Egyptian artists and designers who were asked to express their thoughts and feelings on Cairo on 20cm x 20cm canvasses. It’s not a lot of space to get a message across but the talented group displays a thought provoking range of ideas which are displayed in a grid along one of the walls of the café. Beside the works and in the same order are a set of print outs where you can learn about the artists, including urls and emails for further contact.

Most of the pieces are drawings in various media, with a little collage and photography thrown into the mix. They come in a range of styles and the small format forces a distillation of ideas. A few are political in nature, but perhaps contrary to expectations shaped by North American media coverage, most are not, often delving into the minutia of Cairo’s urban landscape and experience.

One of the more overtly political pieces comes from artist Ahmed Hefnawy, whose work features a portrait of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Egyptian general led the Revolution of 1952 which overthrew the monarchy and established him as the country’s President from 1956 until his death. He’s rendered saluting in uniform, duplicated in a circular pattern that takes the form of a Swastika; he also instituted Egypt’s decades long military rule, as the artist’s notes point out.

The everyday life of the city emerges from many of the pieces. Random Samples by Samer Baghat depicts three “typical” citizens of Cairo, including a man and two women in hijabs.  Fashion and commercial photographer Hussien Shaaban gives us teenage girls in a messy bedroom sporting golden masks of Tutankhamen and Anubis the jackal god.

Ahmed Hafez

You can see elements common to Middle Eastern and Muslim art throughout the display, many featuring the inclusion of Arabic text, patterning and bold colours. Mohammed Nabil’s vibrant geometric patterns were inspired by Cairo’s traffic, and along similar themes, Ahmed Hafez’s piece took its inspiration from the cluttered dashboard of taxi drivers, depicting a collection of familiar icons from the taxi meter to air fresheners in the shape of minarets.

Ibrahim Youssef, who also curated the show, includes a drawing of the city in the form of a syringe, because, as his artist’s statement says, “Cairo is like a drug, you occasionally get high, but – there are always side-effects.”

It’s certainly an interesting way to soak up the pleasantly eclectic neo-Victoriana vibe of The Mascot the next time you’re on Queen Street West.

Ahmed Foula, Ibrahim Islam, Noha Hesham, Mohamed Fahmy (Ganzeer), Ibraheem Youssef, Ahmed Hafez, George Azmy, Amr Okacha, Habiba el Ghandour, Hussien Shaaban, Mahmoud Hamdy, Bassem Gad, Ahmed Abdal Moneim, Salam Yosry, Mohamed Nabil, Ahmed Hefnawy, Yasmin Bahig, Nagla Ghaith, Samer Bahgat, Sherif Adel,

Exhibit curated by Ibraheem Youssef

Ibrahim Islam

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