INTERVIEW BY BARBARA GURRIERI FOR HER MASTER’S DEGREE DISSRTATION THESIS; UNIVERSITY OF PALERMO, ITALY 2006
BG-It is a fact that the Western World has adopted a form of welfarism towards Eastern Countries. What do you think?
KH- I find it very true, but not without interest; when we see what happens in petroleum Arab gulf states, as well as sub-saharan African countries where there is petroleum, gold or diamonds, you find that this Western help is not for the sake of humanitarian or egalitarian interests.
In the art world after septemmber 11, 2001, I find it very legitimate to find an interest in the Arab World, the Middle East; Arab artists are now in fashion, after the waves of African artists in the nineties, the wave of ex-eastern bloc artists, and the wave of asian artists. This geographic-ation of the arts is a reflection of this welfarism projected by the West towards the East.
BG- Vision of a cheesburger memory is interrupted by some phrases (ANTI-DEPRESSANT; ANTI–HYPERTENSIVES; ANTI–EPILEPTICS; ANTI–MIGRAINE; ANTI–CHOLESTEROL). Why? What is their aim?
KH- In fact those plates symbolize the contemporary urban culture in a city like cairo: it exists in the Middle East, in the Arab world, in Africa, yet the urban pressures and the stresses of cosmopolitanism is just like everywhere else in the world, East or West.
The protagonist in Visions of Cheeseburger Memory is someone who is obsessed by cheesy Hollywood culture of violence; in his depression and his over-worked daily life, and under the effect of his contemporary/modern medicines that keeps him awake and sustaining, he starts to adopt the roles of his favourite heroes. We discover that our daily life and behaviours became too affected by the globalization image culture.
BG- The icon of the flower, a constant presence in your paintings, transmits a sense of rebirth. What does this refer to? To whom is it addressed?
KH- The flower is an element in my painting that represents metamorphosis, continuous change, eternity, rebirth and a process of continuous movement and transformation. You always see the human figures are metamorphosing from the modern batman to the ancient Anubis, from cat-woman to the ancient Bastet and Sekhmet; all figures are in continuous motion from one side of the canvas to the other. I try to adopt the ancient egyptian way of painting: there was no composition whatsoever as we know it since the renaissance, only elements are placed in a graphic lay out to interpret a narrative: there must be a story. In my work I love creating a story and at the same time painting; I love the “process” of painting, layering thick paint and showing layers below layers.
The flower also represents sensuality and sexuality, but I personally don’t want to “play” in the area of nudity, overt eroticism or “artistic porn”, since I find the artwork then “too easy”, too accessible, too predictable. I still enjoy eroticism with some tones of esoterism. The flower symbol allows me to play like that.
BG- Do you get your icons both from internet and net or only from TV networks?
KH- I get my icons for my video work from the Egyptian television that is very “retro” and backwards in terms of technology and content. I like the distorted quality of the image. I usually take the broadcast film images and digitize them to give that “bad quality” effect. Sometimes I get film from the VHS video clubs that still exist in cairo, since DVDs and VCDs video clubs are not many still.
For my painting I use western magazines sold in flee markets and sale shops. Sometimes I scan and print on canvas to enlarge or repeat images.
BG- Is there a bond between the collage used in the video and the one in your painting?
KH- Definitely there is a bong. I consider myself a collage mentality; perhaps this comes from the fact that I grew up in a very socialist-Nasserist Egypt, where the whole population has to recycle literally everything; we see it a lot in the car sub-industry. When a car is hit in an accident we don’t change the parts; we mould, cast and re-form and remake. In Egypt we still have the old metal-smith job called “Pannel-beater” the person who puts back the crushed metal into shape; this job is abolished from most Western countries.
So the bond is simply the process of “visual recycling”.
BG- Your expressive language spaces between video and painting. Is your approach the same in both these languages?
KH- The answer is definitely NO and Yes. No because I believe the medium dictates the approach; the technical differences between painting and video is massive, yet eventually there is a “bridgeable gap”.
The “yes” part of the answer arises from the fact that I personally work for the past ten years on the topic/project of “identity”; when we apply my rule “the medium dictates the approach”, we find that in “idlers logic I approached my identity as an Arabo-Middle Eastern entity by the three Arab protagonists, their suspicious, abnormal yet innocuous behaviours in their carefully constructed surrounding. In my painting I only examine my ancient egyptian versus Arabo-islamic identities through transforming images known in the global culture into ancient sacred figures known only to some local public.
BG- Your work is also political. What led you in this direction?
KH- I grew up in a socialist Egypt; an Egypt that adopted a Soviet pattern of socialism. I saw the massive ad rapid change to the global open market culture that led to economic, social political and even military consequences. Many artists of my generation are somehow politically and/or socially engaged, a phenomenon that disappeared entirely after the military defeat of 1967, through the seventies and eighties, only to reappear in the late nineties.
BG- Sub –cultural movements and underground art tend to affect media on collective imaginary. Do you think that form of semiological guerrilla warfare have a bond with your works?
KH- Not really; in Egypt there are only two factions that cannot really fight today: the relatively wealthy official institution, that produces less interesting art projects and works with “stagnant” official creators who are entirely outside the contemporary international art map due to the “modest” art practices. The second group are dynamic independent artists who seek the sponsorship of their projects outside the official institution, and many of their projects are self-financed. I belong to the second group. What I want to say here is that my work is the product of my local and international engagement, and the product of “my studio”. The works are not made to intimidate; I love creating stories to ask questions while not trying to propose an answer; I look for witty solutions more than aesthetic ones, and the issue of collective imagery is a questions of decades if my works will have massive or any effect at all.
BG- After considering your position both as an artist and as human being, deliberately unrelated to all movements, how do you relate your works with both the present and past artistic world?
KH- I love Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism; both movements were influenced by Dada and Fluxus. I incline to include my work in this direction as all of those approaches and “beautiful minds”.
BG- I have got the impression that your works ask a lot of questions but give very few answers…do you agree?
KH- Absolutely; I even wrote you this before I read your question. My basic and principal concern when I work is to enjoy the process of art-making, more than the result; the result is only “orgasmic”, art-making is the process of love-making ?
When you do that you don’t think of answering questions ?
BG- Suppose there is a difference…how important is the concept of freedom expression in your work and in your life?
KH- Essential. This is why I teach and do communication work to finance my art sometimes. It is indispensable for me to do what I want regardless if my work will ever be seen, be provocative or politically correct or disturbing.
In 2006 I sold in my opening in Galleria San Carlo in Milan 13 paintings, and those were my first sold works since 2001. I never cared and I never gave a bit of my liberty of expression, and I always think that I work for myself first.
BG- Do you think that travel and decentralisation have been and still are fundamental in your work?
KH- It definitely helps a lot; apart from opportunities, working and showing with diverse cultures, colleagues and audience is a wealthy experience for the creator. I think it is one of the most beautiful habits in the contemporary artist repertoire.
BG- What makes you lose control?
KH- Lack of perfection, unnecessary mistakes that we cannot learn from, deadlines and broken promises.
BG- What kind of future do you imagine for your Country?
KH- Eventually political change. Perhaps for the better or not for the best. But I have hopes, we have four Nobel prize-winners in less than 25 years, several world champions in several sports like pentathlon, squash and wrestling, and innumerable magnificent artists in all fields; I guess this means hope.