|To understand Nermine Hammam’s art one has to first understand the sequence in which she comes to create it. Anachrony, showing at Safar Khan gallery, is a mystical series of photographs transformed into paintings depicting anonymous human figures covered in drapes of fabric, and creating ethereal forms against desert and mountain settings.
Born in Cairo in 1967, Hammam, studied film in New York and worked with Simon & Goodman and renowned film director Youssef Chahine before breaking away from the film industry and opening her own design firm Equinox Graphics. It wasn’t long before she realized she needed to focus on artistic creation and now she works exclusively on her art, exhibiting her work worldwide.
Anachrony, explains the internationally-acclaimed artist, is a highly personal work and also a collaboration with her family and nature. It was born out of love, she describes, and represents a reconciliation.
The images are inspired by a dance performance by artist Karima Mansour and Hammam’s teenage daughter in Fayoum’ desert. Draped in fabric, the two dancers performed unchoreographed moves with nature, the wind dictating the flow of the fabric.
Hammam photographed the dancers in action, then scanned the images, made some digital alterations, and finally added paint to the printed pieces.
Anachrony is Hammam’s quest for tranquility and peace of mind after spending three months in 2009 photographing patients in Egypt’s state-run Abbasiya mental asylum. The pictures, which are also inspired by Japanese Zen art, expose the mental process by which she recovered from the horror of the terrible conditions that she witnessed during her stay.
The 2009 exhibition about Abbasiya, called Metanoia, can be found on her website. They faced heavy censure from authorities because of their stark graphic images and the harsh, unflattering truths they revealed about the state-run asylum. Hammam recalls the nightmares she had from the shocking scenes at the institution, with patients huddled amid rows and rows of metal frame beds and peeling paint on the walls. She especially remembers the many cats she saw running around the facility. The images stayed with her long after she finished the Abbasiya photo shoot.
“It’s like they came home with me,” she says, describing the guilt she felt after leaving the asylum since she was part of the society that created it. “We’re the crazy ones to leave them like this and leave each other.”
Hammam’s trip to Fayoum and the images in Anachrony were part of her healing process. In Anachrony the artistic sequence symbolically reflects the process of getting rid of these images. Covering the dancers in fabric was a deliberate choice, as the fabric starts out holding them firmly like the nightmares and negative thoughts trying to escape from the artist’s mind. Eventually, the fabric begins to stretch and flow, like thoughts that fly away with the wind. The works carry a haunting sense of emptiness with no clear indication of time or location. “It’s like silence after the storm,” Hammam says.
Hammam is interested in understanding reality and how it is constructed by society. She says she rejects the process of ostracizing people from society and always wants to give a voice to the voiceless.
“Sometimes my head goes there, like the people we call crazy, but I control myself,” says Hammam. “Society has taught us to control these thoughts.”
• March 27 – April 18
• Safar Khan Gallery
• 6 Brazil St., Zamalek
• Tel: +2 (02) 2735-3314 / (011) 1007-0707
• Open Mon to Sat, 10am–2pm, 5–9pm