Mashrabia has a reputation for outlandish exhibitions and Hisham El-Zeiny’s Takeoff…landing? carries the trend forward. Mashrabia has previously hosted exhibitions that explore the Egyptian revolution from unique perspectives such as Hany Rashed’s Asa7by which looked at the revolution through the rise of internet memes.
In Takeoff, El-Zeiny creates a narrative of the Egyptian revolution that is unusual, if a little ambiguous without an accompanying description. The opening night on Sunday saw a modest turnout, courtesy of most of Tahrir Square’s entrances being shut off from the rest of Cairo.
El-Zeiny imagines the Egyptian revolution as a flight undertaken by Egypt’s national aviation company, Egypt Air. Egypt Air announces its emergency flight, aptly called no. Jan 25, which attempts to head for democracy, or as El-Zeiny calls it, “demo-crazy.”
El-Zeiny then traces the events of the revolution through likening the transition of a plane from one place to another, to moving through one “life situation to the other.”
The flight goes through bad weather at some points, clouds carrying teargas and volcanic eruptions of anger at others. Bullets in the sky symbolise state violence. The flight takes off successfully but its landing destination is unknown.
The exhibition’s bold conceptual take on the revolution is refreshing. The idea is interesting and explores a by now overused phase of Egyptian history in a way that avoided most people rolling their eyes.
“I was using the plane motif before January and used it as a symbol of mass destruction but after the revolution I changed the direction,” said artist Hisham El-Zeiny.
“My work rarely uses direct or current events but the Egyptian revolution forced itself upon everyone. In terms of style, I originally have an architectural background so I am not constrained by one style. I used real dust for an organic effect that I consider to be very Egyptian and can be used to express different things and evoke a certain quality in the works.”
Though the concept of describing the revolution may be creative, the works can take a turn from complex to confusing. The works require you to look past the purposefully organic but generic feel of the works in order to follow the artist’s creative process.
The exhibition feels slightly too ambitious at times, at one point it is picturing revolutionaries on the ground, at others it is imagining “nightmarish images” that flash in front of the passengers’ inner eye. It feels like they were made to fit into a big conceptual framework in a way that does not always make the works flow as they should.
The take on the revolution is imaginative, but the exhibition leaves one with the impression that it tries just a little too hard to express its concept and that can affect the viewer’s experience and hamper the exhibition’s otherwise original idea.