In the context of the current exhibition, video vintage, Beirut art center is inviting Beirut, an art initiative and exhibition space in Cairo, to propose a screening program. In Cairo, Beirut approaches an investigation taking a closer look at two pivotal moments for the articulation of a new form of experimental cinema and video in Egypt, and their point of juncture with the visual arts.
In 1968, filmmaker and artist Shadi Abdel Salam was appointed as the head of the department of experimental film, as a unit of the public documentary film center. Maintaining the visual image as the nucleus of cinema drove Abdel Salam’s filmic inquiry. the oeuvre of documentary works that were produced at the department in the early 1970s were less about “commenting on” images, as was common in Egyptian documentaries at the time, and more a way of finding new means of insisting on the image as the site of cinematic language.
Abdel Salam’s film afaq depicts – without any commentary – through an extremely lyrical and theatrical use of photography, light, and sound, an array of scenes from artistic and cultural activities within their environments, accompanied only by music. The film was originally commissioned by the ministry of culture and intended as a “media-film” (according to Abdel Salam), a task which he reluctantly accepted. Propagandistic in its opening lines, it is also subversive at times; the language he uses recalls surrealist references in parts, citing Eisenstein and Buñuel in others. At a moment in which Egypt was going through a state of sadness and despair, following the naksa (1967) he realized that individuals and children within the realm of art and culture, beyond the ministry and its institutions, were emanating a force of hope. The film was awarded the screenplay and directing award from the Egyptian festival for short films and documentaries in 1975.
In 1995, at the atelier du caire, Amr Hosny and Hassan khan screened lungfan, a film, originally a slide show, of photographic negatives and positives, transferred to 35mm slides, accompanied by music khan had recorded and performed from segments of jam sessions (on a cassette tape). The event was met with great hostility. Rarely screened since, the film, according to the makers of the work, emanates from a sensibility that came from hyperventilation caused by hundreds of (imaginary) fans in one’s lungs; the film transmits a documentary impulse and releases a highly charged sentiment that emerges out of the daily life of two young artists/musicians immersed within the social, intellectual and subcultural environment at the time, the film’s undercurrents touch on the myth of the human civilization. The film emerged as a dialogue between khan and Hosny, and is a complex synthesis of influences from Buñuel to Abdelhady El Gazzar, from Yassin El Tohamy to Jimi Hendrix, from William Burroughs to marquis de Sade.
The line at which, just under an hour-long, is an intense tangent that touches on the genre of experimental video and film, at two different moments in Egypt, speaking to and from the world of auteur cinema and where it meets the (visual) arts: in subject, form, and context. the strong emphasis on the visual and the musical, the stress on (often crude) montage, elucidates a trust in the image beyond the visual as merely descriptive, as representation, but the image as the location of meaning.
Afaq by Shadi Abdelsalam. 1972, 39’. Lungfan by Hassan khan and Amr Hosny. 1995, 13’5
Beirut is an art initiative and exhibition space in Cairo that considers institution building as a curatorial act. It was founded in 2012 by Jens Maier-rothe and Sarah Rifky. Our activities are centered around hosting artists, projects, and other institutions (locally, regionally, internationally) that wish to engage with similar questions we share concerning politics, economy, education, ecology, and the arts. The space, a late 1940’s three-story villa surrounded by a little garden, is located in the neighborhood of Agouza in Cairo.
Beirut means to be mindful of the rapid changes we are experiencing in Egypt and the region. At this crucial time of transition, we intend to make room to contemplate contemporary life from the position of art and to provide a space of response. Beirut is a forum through which the international community of artists, workers, poets, writers, filmmakers, activists, architects, thinkers, and students can share their affinities and social sentiments, staking new grounds and taking up critical positions to reflect on this new and open situation.
Our aim is to work closely with other institutions dedicated to art, film, literature, dance and music. With old and new voices, within the region and beyond, we are interested in building stronger affiliations through our platform of practice to foster a wider public. in this framework, Beirut hosts circa (Cairo international resource center for art), an organization dedicated to investigating the legal, financial, and political histories of key art spaces, and forging new means of support, securing more autonomy, for art and artists.
Special thanks to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Shadi Abdel Salam collection for providing a screening copy of the film; and cimatheque for the insightful input and support.