The Egyptian artist Gamal El Kheshen (1988), born and raised in Cairo, has been one of the youngest participating artists at the last edition of the Venice Art Biennale in 2015. After meeting Gamal two years ago during his stay in Venice, I recently spoke with him about the situation in Egypt and his life as an artist there.
Gamal El Kheshen‘s piece for the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale was a collaborative project conceived together with the Egyptian artists Ahmed Abdel Fatath (1977, Cairo) and Maher Dawoud (1983, Cairo), titled “Can you see?”: a large construction of the word “Peace”, with optimistic narratives from social chaos. During the opening week of the Biennale, the Egyptian pavilion was widely popular, successfully attracted many visitors.
After his participation in the Biennale, Gamal’s artistic production and exhibitions have noticeably intensified: in 2015 Gamal exhibited in the International Mini – Print Triennial in Tokyo, NordArt 2016 in Germany, and many more international art exhibitions in Egypt, the United States, England and Bulgaria. His latest installation project named “David Can’t Be Narrated” (2016) was exhibited in the Egyptian Youth Salon at the Art Palace in Cairo.
Giulio Gaddoni: Cairo is the city where you live and work. I noticed that it has a big influence on your work. For example, in the statuesque bodies of “The Other Blue” series, or in the iconographic recall of you printmaking. Could you tell us more about your relationship with the city where you live?
Gamal El Kheshen: In developing an art project, I’m deeply influenced by Cairo, especially by the different people and cultures that populated my country, from Pharaonic, to Roman, Coptic and Islamic empires: such a cultural mix, producing different architectures and arts in the same place, affects me and my production in a great way. But I also love to travel and discover other cultures and people: I feel that we are one world, and I think that contemporary art reflects my idea of it.
G.G.: In recent years Egypt has experienced many significant events that have changed not only the political and economic assets of the country, but that have obviously also affected the current contemporary art s world. Could you tell us more about the present situation?
G.E.K.: Here in Cairo we used to have lots of international art events and biennials, like Cairo Bienniale. This tradition had a break point after the revolution in 2008. Even so, we have the luck to be one of the African and Middle Eastern country with our own pavilion in Venice, and Egyptian artists represent the Country every year in Art and Architecture at the Venice Biennale. At the same time, a lot of Egyptian artists are participating in many art events all over the world.
We are living all in the same world, so every event, positive or negative, affects each one of us. Even if after revolutions everything has changed and the current situation in Egypt has also affected tourism, step by step the desire to organize international art events is happening: in 2017, in fact, we will have a new edition of Cairo Biennale.
In 2016 we had the first edition of “Cairotronica”, the Symposium of Electronic and New Media arts, where I exhibited a project named “No Signal”, a video and digital art installation. A big part of my ideas arise from certain situations, and my aim is not to try to solve it through the art but to put a spot light on it: “No Signal” is a part of these ideas that I tried to share with everyone.
G.G.: Your art practice involves drawing, painting, digital print, engraving, installation and video art. Could you tell us about your source of inspiration?
G.E.K.: Before I begin to work on any art project, I usually start writing about what I want to do, how I feel it could represent me better: how can I represent my ideas in union with the concept I have in mind? “End of a season” – my last exhibition at Gallery Misr in Cairo – means the ending of our feeling towards something, to begin a new season of our life: to represent this intention I used mixed techniques, such as charcoal and pastel with some prints on panel, creating a very soft light with gray pastel and no contrast.
G.G.: In which area do you live in Cairo? Are there some places you would like to recommend that people visit?
G.E.K.: I currently live in New Cairo, near Cairo airport, a bit far from downtown and from the crowded and noisy parts of the city. For sure I love some spots and lots of places in Cairo, especially the Egyptian Museum, which is open also at night, the Nile river view in Tahrier, Old Cairo, downtown and Zamalk, where there is the opera house and most of the art galleries of the city.
- Gamal El Khashen. Courtesy of Gamal El Kheshen.
- Gamal El Kheshen, The Other Blue, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.
- Gamal El Kheshen, Don't Speak, 2016. Piece from the exhibition "End of Season". Courtesy of the artist.
- Ahmed Abdel Fattah, Maher Dawoud, Gamal El Kheshen, Can you see?, 2015. Installation view at 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, the Egyptian Pavilion. Courtesy of Gamal El Kheshen.
- Gamal El kheshen, No Signal, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.