By Mariam Hamdy
As we are bombarded every day with horrible news, conspiracy theories, warped viewpoints and bizarre events, it’s become difficult to be positive or hopeful. The fact that the general public is quick to complain, impatient with change and generally impossible to please, is starting to take a toll on us.
Perhaps we, as a nation, fail to see how much worse off we can be; how our current state is relatively good in comparison to neighboring countries facing the same challenges. Focusing on only what isn’t happening leads to a frustrated and handicapped vicious cycle. Artist Ali Abdel Mohsen puts it simply: “It would be a world of wasted opportunities.”
Abdel Mohsen is currently exhibiting his solo show titled “Razor Sharp Teeth” at Mashrabia Gallery, a space known for presenting young talent with original perspectives — and he is no exception.
Morbid illustrations of faceless beings and composite creatures pepper the gallery amid sprawling pieces presenting a range of close-ups and horizons of dense cities. Predominantly in pen, the illustrations are tight images occasionally filled with color or interrupted by dabs of paint. The work is unusual on some many levels: subject matter is uncanny, composition is unorthodox and the support and its presentation is unusual.
The most prominent aspect of the show is the sense of disturbance instantly felt towards the subject matter. Abdel Mohsen is consumed with this post-apocalyptic world where faceless humans roam like zombies, yet without the strength to appear scary or intimidating. These figures are dribbling and pathetic, easily controlled and scared, with remnants of recognizable habits but all mindless, thoughtless and lifeless.
The artist has the ability to create a visual reminiscent of “I Am Legend,” but this world is broken and heartless. To say that he has taken all the negatives we suffer in society today and presented them on overdrive would be an understatement.
Abdel Mohsen adopts an excellent approach to the layering of ideas, with the forefront of the image being the most recognizable, preceded by an underground of networks that present a sinister backdrop to every image. One of the best pieces in the show shows a huge crowd of people gazing silently on what appears to a distorted hand in the middle of a square of sorts.
In the distance, a building like Mohamed Ali or the dome of Cairo University can be seen, and the hand that’s squirming on the ground for all to see appears to have come out of nowhere. One is instantly reminded of the broken record come conspiracy theory of “hidden hands” which most governmental officials cite as the source of our troubles, found dying as the country looked on.
The eeriness of the image is compounded by a further layering of the piece: a ruckus of brushstrokes separates that image from a parallel universe where a load of these distorted hands and fingers lie on top of each other. The surreal awkwardness of the image is further aggravated by the heaviness it elicits, and the effect is truly mind-numbing.
Cities lay sprawling and magnificent in the distance, but are terrifyingly morbid when one leans in for a closer look. The level of detail is exhausting, lending to the overall intended effect, but also awe-inspiring in how consumed the artist must have been to create such works. There is something unsettling about the entire exhibition, with tension in every intricate network of lines lying beneath the apparent apathy of the characters and situations portrayed. It feels as though it would all explode any minute, leaving us with an even more lifeless, silent and empty world.
The composition is unexpected and only just works, as it can be easily argued that it is somewhat haphazard. However, that argument can be swayed with the artist’s decision to draw in sections, as though each image is cross-sectioned to reveal its insides from the bottom up, hence allowing some room for the viewer to digest the details. One is reminded of Damien Hirst’s dissected cows, but here Abdel Mohsen dissects entire cities to reveal their abused core.
The medium used to draw and paint on is cardboard, a degradable material easily torn and tattered. Mortality is heavily quoted in each frayed edge of the pieces, which provides another layer of meaning that reminds us of the fragility of every discarded opportunity.
The pieces hang by black binder clips, a solid decision made by the artist to allow for the frailty of the cardboard to transpire. Framing would provide the pieces with a more mature approach to the subject matter though, rendering them as Nostradamus-like archeological findings that predict the future. Particular pieces such as the series of hieroglyphic inspired icons intricately traced on what appears to be a crude map of Egypt would have greatly benefited from framing, while others are alright as they are.
The show is as morbid as it is interesting, serving as a cautionary tale of what we might become if we keep burrowing ourselves deeper into our problems and repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Abdel Mohsen presents an original take in an original way, and because it’s surely something you haven’t seen before, “Razor Sharp Teeth” is worth a visit.
“Razor Sharp Teeth” showing at Mashrabia Gallery: 8 Champillion St., Downtown, Cairo. Tel: (02) 2578 4494. Closes on March 8.
Abdel Mohsen adopts an excellent approach to the layering of ideas.