Pictures from Cairo: A Revolution Tells its Own Story

Mosa'ab ElshamyCopyright: Mosa'ab Elshamy
Protesters on Tahrir Square on 8 April 2011 (Photo: Mosa'ab Elshamy)

26 March 2013

While the media are presently focussed on civil war-plagued Syria, the exhibition Cairo. Open City at the Folkwang Museum Essen tells of the upheavals in Egypt. The images are not merely bearers of information, but also objects of study. By Lisa Mayerhöfer

Images of protesting crowds are nothing new, but a picture on which every fourth protester is holding up a recording device is. At a glance, Mosa’ab Elshamy’s photo reveals the great shift that came along with the Arab Spring: not only that reporting of social upheaval had never been as extensive, but that it also has taken on a new form – citizen journalism.

The exhibition Cairo. Open City. New Testimonies from an Ongoing Revolution not only describes the social and political awakening of an entire generation, but mainly is dedicated to the new role of photographs in this process. Egyptian artists and photographers, activists and curators grapple with the events in their nation via the media. They do not want to leave the reporting to the established media and definitely not to the information monopoly of an authoritarian state as Egypt was. Within hours, critical information now finds its way to an international public via blogs and social networks in a way that was once unthinkable.

Cairo. Open City
Photo gallery: “Cairo. Open City”

The photos and videos by these citizen journalists, activists and artists arise from the revolution, fan its flames, give testimony and determine the self-image of its actors. For example, Cairo. Open City documents the improvised “Tahrir Cinema” where hundreds of people gathered in the evening around projections right on world famous Tahrir Square to see the images and videos by citizen journalists of the day’s demonstrations and clashes.

Lara Baladi and Ahmed Kamel in the WDR report on Cairo. Open City (Only available in German)

Other photographs and videos illustrate the role women played in the protests – whether as protagonists or victims. On Jonathan Rashad’s photo, a protester holds up a still from a video that went around the world showing a woman being abused by police. Embellished and labelled, the poster raises the woman to a symbol; the new images already reflect themselves. This is also clear in the work of the artist Ahmed Kamel, who, long before the revolution, reproduced pictures from social networks in paintings, removing them from their context and thereby transferring them to the artistic. It is an emancipatory process. Kamel says he is no longer as easy to manipulate and would not dream of giving up.

Cairo. Open City. New Testimonies from an Ongoing Revolution is an experimental exhibition that utilizes the openness of the political process as a formal principle. The individual chapters and stations are curated by prominent actors in the Cairo art scene, including the artists Lara Baladi, Heba Farid and Jasmina Metwaly, the photographers Thomas Hartwell and Tarek Hefny, the journalists Rowan El Shimi and Philip Rizk, curator Alexandra Stock and bloggers Ahmad Gharbeia and Alex Nunns. After its stop at the Museum für Photographie Braunschweig, Cairo. Open City will be at the Museum Folkwang in Essen until 5 May 2013 and then at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg. The exhibition Cairo. Open City is a cooperation project by the Folkwang Museum and the Fotomuseum Braunschweig with support from the German Federal Cultural Foundation. The exhibition was produced in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Cairo.
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