Art Of The Revolution: Egyptian Exhibition In London Captures Jan. 25 Creativity Burst

Nine Egyptian artists offer their interpretations and instinctive reactions to the popular upheaval that swept their country. One of those artists paid the ultimate price.

Stencil art of revolutionary martyrs (left to right) Mustafa al-Sawy and artist Ahmad Basiony
Stencil art of revolutionary martyrs (left to right) Mustafa al-Sawy and artist Ahmad Basiony
Nadine el-Hadi

LONDON - Throughout the Arab spring, art and information both reflected and propelled the popular uprisings. A new exhibition of Egyptian artists, dubbed "From Facebook to Nassbook," at London's Mica Gallery, showcases the work of nine artists active in Egypt's art scene. Part of London's month-long "Shubbak Festival of Contemporary Arab Culture," is at its heart a tribute to the Jan. 25 revolution.

Nass is the Arabic word for people, and with the Internet shutdown on Jan. 28, people shifted communication from online social media back to the physical world, and word of mouth. The artwork is diverse, made up of photography, conceptual pieces and interactive media. It illustrates how artists of varying ages interpreted this year's revolutionary fever.

An installation to honor experimental artist Ahmed Basiony, who was killed during the 18-day revolution, is also on display, including quotes taken from his Facebook page.

Mica Gallery is also exhibiting and selling stones collected from Tahrir Square and signed by public figures such as Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa. Some might see this as a gimmick at best, or at worst a move toward commercializing the revolution. Yet artist Ashraf Foda, who personally collected the stones, has conceived of the project as a public form of activism: to raise money for the families of the revolution's victims.

Occupying pride of place in "From Facebook to Nassbook" are three pieces by versatile artist Khaled Hafez, whose work might already be familiar to art buffs. His series, "First Temple of Flight" and "Tomb Sonata in 3 Military Movements: The Sniper," was shown at the 12th International Cairo Biennale. Yet in 2011, they appear in a revolutionary setting, and take on new meaning; Hafez now describes them as "premonition pieces."

It is "Tomb Sonata," however, that he is particularly proud of. This painting, completed in 2010, "shows elements that I actually lived and saw a month and a half later in the field, the field being Tahrir Square," Hafez tells Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Modern themes, ancient symbols

The vast canvas is dashed with color and seems fragmented yet full. It combines military iconography with his trademark ancient Egyptian symbols, in this case, the cow goddess Hathor. "I use the basic rules of ancient Egyptian painting -- the flat graphic surfaces, with human forms striding across rigid registers -- because this medium lends itself so perfectly to my message," explains Hafez, who insists that the military elements in his paintings should not be seen as a literal reference to Egypt's military conflict.

"They are designed to develop a generic alphabet inspired by media-propagated war images. These modern-day hieroglyphs explore the stereotyping of the Middle East as a region solely defined by, and reduced to, conflict," he adds.

Art can be a powerful tool to address stereotypes and present new perspectives, says Reedah al-Saie, director of the Mica Gallery and co-curator of the exhibition. Saie speaks of the "tremendous respect for the Arab world" in light of the Arab Spring and sees this show "as a positive way of engaging with different communities."

The exhibition provides examples of how art can take on new layers of meaning that reflect momentous changes in society, such as revolution, making earlier pieces seem current and part of these changes.

While the more established artists at the show have found the currents of revolution running through earlier works, their younger counterparts are showcasing work that was directly inspired by it.

Ashraf Foda, who works in advertising and hasn't had an exhibition since he was a graduate student at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2007, describes the revolution as an awakening on a personal level.

"One of the good things about it is that I started making art again," says Foda. "I became more conscious about what was going on in my country."

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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