Egyptian born, US-raised artist Sherin Guirguis’ geometrically patterned paintings and sculptures reflect the Mashrabiya. She talks to Nosmot Gbadamosi about using it as a way to examine the interplay between contemporary diaspora life in the US and Egypt’s political past.
Mashrabiya’s are usually found within doorways and windows featuring finely carved lattice that provide privacy for the individuals inside but also lets cool air in from the outside.
For LA-based artist Guirguis they can be used almost as metaphors for private and public identities as “it’s always about the private ideas that are nurtured in [these] spaces that then explode onto the street and change paradigms”.
“There’s a lot of political shifting right now globally,” explains Guiguis. “I find it really interesting and important to go back historically and look at those same moments in history all over the world and how people were resolving and dealing with them.”
For her recent installation Qasr El-Shoaq, a three-dimensional pair of immense tear shaped Bedouin earrings, “it was important that they reference the mashrabiya in an interesting way with the wooden screens and architecture.”
“I also wanted them to be kinetics because it was about agency and shifting power status”, she recalls.
The sculpture formed part of a body of work recently shown at the Third Line gallery in Dubai. Passages/Toroq sought to explore Egypt’s past through politics and literature in the wake of the Arab springs.
“We [had] the occupy movement here in LA and in New York and I loved looking back at the feminist movement in Egypt and seeing correlations between things that seemed so disparate but they’re actually very connected [as] it was about the power of the individual.”
A starting point of this was looking at the part played by leaders such as Huda Sha’arawi during the feminist movement in early 1900s Egypt.
By taking elements from key locations identified with Huda Sha’arawi, Guirguis was able to represent through various paintings and sculptures, what the role of women and privacy were.
For example, amongst the paintings is a representation of the door to Huda Sha’arawi’s house, which was one of the last known harems in Egypt, and the Cairo railway station Bab El-Hadid where she is said to have taken her veil off for the first time in public, along with one other woman who was part of the movement.
“The veil at the time was not a religious mandate. It was a cultural mandate so that Christian and Muslim women also wore the veil so to me it was this kind of great wonderful moment that was lost historically,” says Guiguis.
“It was a story that I wasn’t taught when I was growing up in Egypt. Most Egyptian children don’t read them in the history books, so to me it was such a valuable thing to readdress and bring forward”.
For her work Bien El Qasrein, the sculpture can be manipulated to twirl and rock uncontrollably, possibly indicating the shifting political landscape within the Arab springs.
“I think politics and art are kind of connected always because that’s the time when artists are producing heavily. That’s what we do, we critic and we investigate those kind of moments of change. Its part of our job”, says Guirgus adding, “It just goes to show how integral art is in the way we build societies.”
With the closing of the Dubai show, Guirguis is now working on a commission for the American embassy in Saudi Arabia that will open in 2015 at its new consulate building. Next year she also prepares for another solo show at San Francisco’s Wendi Norris gallery.
“I don’t know what the future is I wish I could predict that but I think the present is quite amazing,” says Guiguis.
She explains: “a lot of art has been and is being made in the middle east and in north Africa, for quite sometime, that’s incredibly engaging.”
“It seems like right now finally the eyes of the world are directed towards our region and I think sometimes people are surprised that there’s an art world in the middle east or in north Africa and I always find that strange because its always been there but sometimes we have blinders on,” she says.