Converting Everyday Resources into the Transcendental
Were it not for the determination, passion, and pure love of art of so many artists and curators in Egypt, we wouldn’t have the abundance of art spaces we do today, where the arena of free self-expression is impartially leveled for all participants and viewers alike. Throughout the city, and the country, the arts have been propelled into a new era of renaissance if you will. And the contemporary art scene is thriving vigorously as a result.
Gypsum gallery, a Cairo-based international art gallery, is one such pioneering space born of a devotion to the production and dissemination of contemporary art practices. “I am interested in forging long term relationships with a group of outstanding artists in producing new bodies of work that have relevance and urgency,” says founder and curator AleyaHamza, “and in expanding our society’s definition of art patronage and collecting.”
Gypsum launched in October 2013, in a space in Zamalek with a solo show by Iranian artist SetarehShahbazi. In February 2014, Gypsum participated in Art Rotterdam, and in March 2015; participated in the Armory Show in New York as the first gallery from Egypt to ever take part, and this year, Gypsum participated in Art Dubai 2015.
“In April, we moved to a bigger ground floor gallery in Garden City,” says Hamza, “in total, the gallery has held 10 solo shows by artists based in Berlin, Alexandria, Basel, Athens, Cairo, Beirut and Amman, and we have one upcoming group exhibition.”
Aptly named, ‘Gypsum’ is “a very low budget and malleable material that is used to alter space; I used this as a metaphor for how art can convert every day sources into something transcendental,” explains Hamza. “The root source of the word is also the same as Egypt.” Gypsum is also a mineral occurring in sedimentary deposits, calcified over the years in its own place in time, below layers of history, and above layers of history. Permanent. Forever preserved to tell the tale of that particular moment in time… that is the mark Gypsum gallery is leaving on art in Egypt.
The gallery represents an Abraaj Art prizewinner, BasimMagdy who won the prize in 2014, and an Abraaj Art prize shortlister, SetarehShahbazi, who was shortlisted in 2015. “Gallery artist BasimMagdy has just been announced Deutsche Bank Artist of the year for 2016,” Hamza tells us proudly.
“We have placed works in a number of prestigious international collections including the Whitney Museum, Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, Kadist Art Foundation in Paris, and Bonnefanten Museum in Holland.” That is not all, Gypsum’s roster of accomplishments reads like an impressive coup de maître,
“Gypsum has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Art Newspaper, Frieze, Artforum, Art Daily, Flash Art, Modern Painters, Blouin Art Info, Canvas, and Harpers Bazaar Art, among many others.”
Gypsum’s recent move to Garden City into bigger premises could not have been timelier. “Garden City is becoming a new art hub for young progressive art,” says Hamza, “spaces like Medrar and Nile Sunset Annex are there, and I wanted to be part of this dynamism.” The preserved original turn-of-the-century architecture that still exists in Garden City today offers a realm rich in aesthetics, and seeped in history, where current contemporary art and visual social commentary can exist within the embrace of a more classical time from the not-so-distant-past. “Garden City also has some amazing architectural masterpieces that can be easily converted to gallery spaces, which is what I did with Gypsum in a 1920’s building with super high ceiling. The space is much bigger and this makes it more versatile.”
‘Dream City’ by Farida El Gazzar inaugurated the new Gypsum space; it was a solo show of drawing and paintings that stem from the artist’s dual identity as an Egyptian and a Greek. “She creates a visual memoir of her family, and her annual summer trips to Cairo and Alexandria. The works are tiny and delicate and mix the present with the past in a yearning bittersweet tone,” explains Hamza.
The next show at Gyspum is the gallery’s first group show called ‘What are you doing, object?’ and it is curated by Nile Sunset Annex.
What Are You Doing, Object?
Gypsum has teamed up with Nile Sunset Annex to present the gallery’s first group exhibition, What are you doing, object?. The show, which will signify Gypsum,’s end of season, brings together new and old works by eleven artists. Most of these artists, born between 1919 and 1992, have never exhibited in the same space and time before now.
Nile Sunset Annex is primarily interested in objects with elusive meanings. Semantics don’t always serve us in many of our lives’ experiences… Outside of categories and conceptualizations, despite our insistence, some connotations, interpretations, and denotations are slippery and alien. While their existence is tangible, physically or otherwise, our mental capabilities often pursue to categorize these objects. In the end, the objects speak for themselves, in the shapes beyond or between words. They confound reporters, and that is powerful.
Nile Sunset Annex is an experimental self-funded artist-run project in Cairo. It organizes month-long exhibitions focusing on physical objects, produces a publication for each show. Nile Sunset Annex was founded in January 2013, and consists of TahaBelal and Jenifer Evans.