Artist and graphic designer Nermine Hammam will be holding her fifth exhibition at the Townhouse Gallery. Metanoia is comprised of a series of 77 digitally-reworked photographs, which explore the alarming living conditions of developmentally disabled patients in the country.
Nermine Hammam’s art thrives on its sense of transformation, her subject matter being as substantial and thickly layered as the creation of the images themselves. The intensity and depth of her work are pushed further in Metanoia, however. It is a project that has been finished for over a year, but not shown in Egypt until now.
Metanoia, a term defined as profound and often spiritual conversion, captures Hammam’s personal encounter with some of the patients. Hammam spent three months in close contact – talking, eating, napping, walking, laughing – with her subjects. The resulting photographs mark a complete departure from her earlier work, “I spent more time not taking pictures, more time adjusting to the space,” she explains “I had to change the lens, get physically closer to my subject.” Formally, the series remain to be an artistic continuation of her previous work.
Through her earlier exhibitions, such as Apotheosis (2005) and Palimpsest (2007), Hammam honed her process of digital manipulation, using it to interpret her alternative, and often-marginalized subject matter. She begins by scanning the original images, layering destroyed film and introducing painting and text, eventually re-processing the compositions into a new form. In Ashoura (2006) this artistic technique met head-on with what was critically reviewed as her most intense subject matter: documentation of the Shi’ia commemoration of Ashoura in Nabatieh southern Lebanon. The intensity of this dramatic and bloody recreation of the massacre of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet, is magnified by Hammam’s technical alterations.
In Metanoia, text and Hammam’s trademark super-layering are noticeably absent. Even if she has completely altered some images, it is not necessarily evident to the untrained eye. The pictures retain a clearer, more austere quality, allowing the depth of the subject matter to reach through to the viewer. The inability to distinguish between reality and alteration parallels Hammam’s experience. Although she always becomes engrossed in the heavy content of her work, Metanoia resulted in an unexpected strong personal reaction. Hammam’s resulting perceptions of herself and humanity contributes to the more tender, more bitingly simple, images she shares with her viewers in the exhibition.
“I realized that, as humans, we can be so incredibly cruel to one another. I watched the nurses, who abused their authority, treating the patients with complete insensitivity, totally disregarding their humanness…” Hammam, forced to question reality and our own subjectivity as humans, had to come to terms with the fact that extreme cruelty is an innate human characteristic: it can surface anywhere at any time.
Now Metanoia, and its raw, yet painterly depiction of human suffering, infiltrates Cairo’s consciousness. The work poignantly reminds its audience that to truly address such suffering, we must first turn inward to confront our own conception of one another, a journey that is nothing if not eye-opening.
Metanoia is on display at Townhouse Gallery from 18 April to 12 May 2010.
Nermine Hammam (1967) obtained her BFA in film from NYU’s Tisch School of Arts. Hammam worked as a project assistant on Spike Lee’s Malcom X and with renowned director Youssef Chahine, and shortly following she switched mediums, taking up graphic design. Returning to Cairo in 1994, she trained formally in graphic design, before starting her own company, Equinox
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