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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Huda Lutfi’s Dubai exhibit showcases a crumbling Cairo

Huda Lutfi captures a city that is collapsing. Her native Cairo, once a thriving cultural hub of the Arab world, is in a state of disrepair, and in a massive exhibition at The Third Line gallery in Dubai, she presents the city as such.
Huda Lutfi’s Just Discarded features bottle caps arranged in concentric circles, with photos of eyes of the people she saw on the street. Huda Lutfi / The Third Line
Huda Lutfi’s Just Discarded features bottle caps arranged in concentric circles, with photos of eyes of the people she saw on the street. Huda Lutfi / The Third Line

Huda Lutfi captures a city that is collapsing. Her native Cairo, once a thriving cultural hub of the Arab world, is in a state of disrepair, and in a massive exhibition at The Third Line gallery in Dubai, she presents the city as such.

In several of the images, the Egyptian artist uses the technique of photomontage to document the state of the metropolis. Composite photos create rickety towers stretching towards an expanse of deep blue sky; a closer inspection reveals the details of street life – cafes, market vendors and pedestrians – populating the canvas.

A key focus point in all her images is that of Cairo’s mannequin culture. According to the artist, the plastic dolls are ubiquitous all over the Egyptian capital. While they might seem an odd choice of subject, their continued presence in all the artworks offers the viewer several perspectives on Lufti’s message.

“I am questioning the use of both the male and female form,” she says. “When an artist uses the male form, they are commenting on all of society but if they use a female figure, the work must be talking about women. In my work, the dolls and mannequins represent not just the female, but the human form.”

Depicted in various states of disarray, the figures then are a comment on humanity itself, rather than assuming a feminist agenda. They are also repeatedly used in large numbers – another technique employed to bring home the fact that these dolls do not represent a single person but the larger community.

Seen as a whole, the exhibition summarises the current cultural state of Cairo, but included are a few individual pieces that comment on its recent turbulent political ­history.

In The Fools Play, Lutfi has manipulated the images so that the mannequins, wearing dunce hats, are revealed to have a masculine torso covered with Sufi writing, while their legs are feminine. The entire piece is a reflection of the 2011 revolution, of which she was a first-hand witness.

“We often felt we were being fooled somehow during that time,” she says, explaining the title. “We weren’t sure whether we were being lied to or deceived. And I used the Sufi writings to show that although they tried to fool the people, the people are wise.”

As well as images of mannequins, Lutfi’s practice also broadens to collect other objects from the street.

Real parts of discarded mannequins appear in sculptures and one piece called Just Discarded uses bottle caps arranged in concentric circles, and filled with photographs of the eyes of people she saw on the street.

Poignantly, several of the caps have been blacked out, a ­commentary on the blindness inflicted upon some protestors.

The show also combines several older pieces with new works to present a rare view into Cairo through the eyes of an insider, combining the city’s rich cultural and political history with sharp Egyptian wit, as well as several broader references to the state of humanity today.

• Huda Lutfi, Magnetic Bodies: Imaging the Urban runs until June 4. Visit www.thethirdline.com

More exhibitions in the UAE

Belarus Art Month, Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi Art Hub has kicked off Belarus Art Month with seven artists from the eastern European country. The Mussaffah-based studio, which highlights a different nation each month, will host Ilona ­Kosobuko, Maksim Makarevich, Polina Amelyanovich, Vasilisa Palianina-Kalenda, Volha Kuvayeva, Yuliya Pakina and Karpachova Tatsiana for 30 days, during which they will work to create art inspired by the UAE. Their stay ends with an exhibition. The initiative is supported by the Embassy of Belarus in the UAE.

• Belarus Art Month runs at Abu Dhabi Art Hub throughout this month. Visit www.adah.ae

Graffiti at The Mine, Dubai

An impressive collection of graffiti-inspired urban art is now showing at The Mine, which has been working away quietly to become one of the UAE’s leading spaces for cool shows that stray off the beaten track. Between The Lines is a contemporary group show curated by Rom Levy, with the humble line working as the basic starting point for the exhibition. It features the work of leading artists from the United States and Europe, including Andrew Schoultz, Kenton Parker, RETNA, Andrew Faris, Paul Insect, BAST, eL Seed, Jenny Sharaf and Word to Mother. Almost all of the artists are showing for the first time in the Middle East.

• Between The Lines runs until June 8 at The Mine, Al Quoz. Visit themine.ae

aseaman@thenational.ae