Anna Seaman speaks to the Egyptian-born artist Sherin Guirguis about her tactile current exhibition in Dubai.
Sherin Guirguis is exploring new passages in art
Standing in front of Sherin Guirguis’s work is supposed to be an immersive experience. Her works on paper and her kinetic sculptures are deliberately life-size, so as to encourage the viewer to engage on every sensory level.
Take her Shubbak series as an example. The gold-lined window shapes, filled with mashrabiya patterns that have been cut out of the paper and float away from the frame, are geometric, as you would expect, but at the same time, slip a little over the borders. The paint that she has splattered or bled over the piece seems arbitrary, but if you stop for long enough, it begins to hold structure and it’s this dichotomy that defines Guirguis’s artistic practice.
“As an architectural construct, the mashrabiya is a barrier between public and private life, the known and the unknown. It is at times protective and at other times oppressive and so it is a perfect metaphor for the things I want to talk about, which are the transitional spaces between two cultures and experiences,” she says.
Born and raised in Egypt, Guirguis moved to the US to study and is now based permanently in Los Angeles. She describes herself as occupying a “marginal limbo state” or “a place of the other” because she is like a foreigner on both shores; her Egyptian identity singling her out in LA and her American characteristics differentiating her in Cairo.
It was during a deliberate re-exploration of her Egyptian roots, after a period of 20 years fascinated with the culture of her adopted US home, that Guirguis came up with the inspiration for her current show, Passages//Toroq, which is at The Third Line gallery until Thursday.
Her works on paper take direct influence from the biography of Hoda Shaarawi, a pioneering Egyptian feminist who famously removed her face veil in public in the early 1920s, causing the birth of the Egyptian women’s movement.
The three kinetic sculptures that take up the centre space of the gallery are based on her reading of the Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy and are a comment on the breakdown of patriarchal society in the lead-up to the Gamal Abdel Nasser revolution.
“It is an interesting map of how the Egyptian family structure started to shift and break down and something new started to happen,” she says. “The sculptures are the spine of the show and they have a sense of power, which you cannot appreciate until you touch them.”
Two of the sculptures, Qasr El-Shoaq and Bein El-Qaserein, dramatically move when you push them. The first swings on a single axis and represents the familiar structure of a patriarchal society and the second wobbles on a wooden bowl, its unpredictability representing a societal shift.
• Passages//Toroq runs until Thursday at The Third Line gallery, Al Quoz. Call 04 341 1367 for more details.