Egyptian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale
“Can You See?”
Artists: Ahmed Abdel Fatah, Gamal El Kheshen, Maher Dawoud
Curator: Ministry of Culture
Commissioner: Hany Al Ashkar
Venue: Pavilion at Giardini
In the years following the January 2011 revolution that led to the resignation of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has existed in a state of uncertainty, riven between protest and crackdown, repression and insurgency, militarism and sectarianism. For the young Egyptian artists presented in the country’s pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, the work attempts to produce optimistic narratives from social chaos.
The exhibition’s title, “Can You See?,” challenges the viewer: the artists have hidden a message in plain sight. The word PEACE is spelled out in five three-dimensional, grassy structures (19 meters wide, 8 meters deep, and 2.5 meters high) that overwhelm the human scale of readability. While navigating this uncertain textual space, the viewer is further confronted by an “augmented reality” overlain on the gallery space through the interface of attached tablets. This virtual interaction offer viewers the option to choose two branching narratives, either positive or negative, which play out in the space, altering the word PEACE into varying, and sometimes conflicting, scenes.
Each of the three collaborating artists have worked previously on issues of narrative deconstruction in the face of societal fragmentation. In a 2012 group show in Cairo, Ahmed Abdel Fatah presented a table set with dishes containing a dismembered male body, inviting viewers to consume edible fingers. Gamal El Kheshen has taken a pictorial approach to societal critique, using pop-art techniques to tweak and decontextualize symbols of regime and authority. Maher Dawoud’s mosaics merge traditional technique with found and recycled materials to create formally complex, site-specific installations that present unsteady narratives through their fragmented identity.