Cairo Stencils

By Issa, Rosa | The Middle East, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Cairo Stencils


Issa, Rosa, The Middle East


OM KALTHOUM WAS THE MOST famous Middle Eastern singer of the 20thCentury. Born in 1904 in a village in the Egyptian Delta she arrived in Cairo in the 1920s. Every Thursday night for more than 10 years, her concerts were broadcast on the radio, and millions of people across the Arab world would gather in homes, cafes and restaurants to hear her sing. Her funeral in 1975 was the largest ever seen in Cairo.

CHANT AVEDISSIAN'S STENCILS are the result of more than 20 years of peripatetic research during which he integrated his formal studies in Canada and France with the iconographic heritage of unknown pharaonic artists; the geometric and abstract concepts of Arab architecture; the baroque and floral motifs of Ottoman textiles; and glamorous 20th century images of well-known figures in the Arab world. The series started in 1991, in Luxor, Upper Egypt, during the Gulf War, and was a turning point in Avedissian's career.

While studying in the West, in Montreal and Paris, Avedissian realised that western modern academism and its cultural mechanism was part of a system in which he would become an exotic outsider if he lived outside its centre. Yet he made the decision to return to his birthplace in Cairo. Here he fused the techniques he had acquired in the West with the heritage of his complex Armenian-Egyptian background.

Egypt--his grandparents adopted homeland after their flight from the massacres in Armenia--became essential to his art.

Back in Cairo, Avedissian's work and vision were soon influenced by the late Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy (1900-89), with whom he worked for 10 years. Avedissian is not in awe of the West. He encourages his audience to look to the East for inspiration, knowledge and craftsmanship.

The main themes of his monotypes are the bygone eras of romance and glamour, musicals and melodramas, revolutions and ideals, beloved childhood heroes--stars, divas and leaders, the famous and anonymous people of the Egyptian socialist propaganda machine, and urban and rural daily scenes. These depict an era, the Egypt of the 1950s, when the country was at the height of its cosmopolitanism and Middle Eastern intellectuals mingled freely with the public.

The era also represents the height of Egyptian popular culture: when Egyptian cinema--'Hollywood on the Nile'--dominated most of the Arab world. …

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