AZIMI, Negar,"Looks at one unlikely experience of the war period" Al-Ahram Weekly Online: 24-30 April 2003 (issue Nº 635)

Negar Azimi looks at one unlikely experience of the war period
A connection to nowhere

If you drove along the road that lins Taba and Nuweiba earlier this month, you will notice what appeared to be public art in progress, Move on to the coast, to Castle Beach, and you would encounter the source: 20 artists from Egypt and five continents gathered with nothing more tan a mandate to dialogue as part of an arts wokshop appropriately entitled Wasla (the Word means literally, “connection”).

Initiated by cairo-based independent curator Mai Abuf-Dahab and supported by both the UL. Based Triangle Arts Trust and the Ford Foundation, Wasla is the latest of platforms intended to Foster dialogue in the arts, both regional and otherwise.

“wasla is not about culture, Instead, it´s about people gettind to know different arts scenes, putting people into isolation for two weeks and working together in new contexts”, Abul-Dahab explains.

Innovative in approach, the Wasla workshop was designed to be about process rather tan product. No stipulations surrounding production were imposed, while participating artists were free to engage withe the surrounds and with one another as they saw fit.

“Whether something materialised a the end was secondary. It was a simple concet: put people together who share similar interests and ther is going to be something strong that comes out of it” said Cairo-based particiant Iman Issa.

Doubtless, Sinai´s rugged environment served as a rich visual stimulant, while the hyper.isolation if affored them nurtured the kind of Exchange and experimentation at wich the workshop aimed,

Alexandrian artista rehab El Sadeq’s work was built around an abandoned water tank nine kms from the workshop site. Naivelt inscribe don the tan kwas a dizzing array of names of women; El Sadeq had invited neighbouring Bedouin men to write the names of the women in their lives on the tank –a public monument to gender and under-representation, given added significance by the fact that it is in part constructed out of a container that holds one of the most pervasive symbols of life.

One couldn´t help but marvel at Cairo-based Issa´s work -an oversize cube, completely covered in a brillant glittery gold, noticeably out of context on the side of the main seaside strip of road not far from the wokshop site. The cube, an exhaustively prepared nod to flashy indulgence, was an obliquely ironic tribute to the non-existing audience,

Moroccan artist Safaa Erruas´s work was a particularly provocative , though in wholly subtle fashion. Concerned with the relationshio between minimalist subjects, Erruas engages in a two-part Project. In the first, she meticulously wrapped stones found in the surrounding hills in White gauze, suspending them in s quasi-triangular formation. For the artist, this was a way of examining the relationship between the fragile (the gauze) and the less fragile (the stones), the coarse and the smooth, the earthly and the synthetic. The near-trinagle signified that this was a work in process, while the suspensión served as manifestarion of the artist´s own state given the limitation of time and space. In a separate,internal space, Erruas suspended dozens of razors eith wire. On each razor she had affixed delicate pieces od cotton-again , an exercise in the cration of contrasts- this time internalised in nature.

Also of interest was Argentinean Karina El Azem´s work. El Azem used tiny sequin-like pellets to créate archetypal mosaics-images of war, inmigration, the geopolitics of oil an the like. The strength of this work lay un the striking incongruence between the delicate bead-like entities and the heavy subject matter they collectively depicted.

Castle Beach, isolate from all things urban, seemed oddly out of place, and time, inthe light of recent regional events. Yet the invasión od Iraq was evidenced in the workshop´s collective conscioussness,

Dutch artista Trudi Maan created two large-scale images in the sand that could be viewed only from the hill above. The images , one od Saddam Hussein and the other of George Bush, were meant to serve as a playing field for football in an endearing if not altogheter trite expression of universalities that defy politics and, in this case fascism.

Also concernes with the construct of war was Indian artista Subodh Gupta´s video piece, a comically hypnotic mockery of war born of images taken from combat scenes set to an electropop hymn. In the end, Gupta´s piece was held over for private screening, as its comic nature grew potentially explicit for more conservative viewers.

At the end of two-week period, Wasla drew in the public for one open day. While some artists were visibly absent, others did take time to present their work and their particular experiencs to audiences through one of two tours offered.

Undoubtedly an initiative without precent in Egypt, Wasla served as further evidence that the arts in Egypt are increasingly tied into a global fabric, while also thriving as an independent entity. But perhaps more remarkably, Wasla managed to materialise despite the tumultuous events in the región –with wich it coinided exactly , havind been launches on 20 march.

Al-Ahram Weekly Online: 24-30 April 2003 (issue Nº 635)