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Huda Lutfi

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As an artist, my training as a cultural historian continues to inspire the artwork that I do. Like any historian I read the world as a series of signs to be deciphered, reinterpreted and reinvented. My earliest works in the beginning of the nineties were collages, juxtaposing old and contemporary images from various cultural traditions. My fascination with the African, Mediterranean, Indian, European, and American artistic traditions went hand in hand with my admiration for Egypt’s cultural richness, its openness to borrow and reinvent its cultural imageries. After all, Egypt’s long history has allowed it to experience several cultural and artistic phases, the Pharaonic, the Roman, the Greek, the Persian, the Coptic and the Arab/Muslim. This historical concern with
cultural play and metamorphosis has inspired my earlier exhibitions, and which have therefore assumed titles such as: ‘Woman and Memory,’ ‘Conjuring the Past,’ ‘The New in the Old,’ and ‘Calligraphic Abstractions.’ In my latest exhibition ‘Found in Cairo’ which ran through the month of May 2003 at the Townhouse Gallery, I focused on my hometown, Cairo.
I spent more than two years on a sort of archeological dig, carefully collecting objects from the city’s repositories of the Friday market, book stalls and antique shops, and manipulating them in such a way as to induce reflection on our day to day experiences. - ‘Found in Cairo’ deliberately contests rigid notions of identity by including images or photos of faces which are not strictly defined as ‘Egyptian‘, but which have been found in the city’s old book stalls and antique shops. Thus Umm Kulthum (Egypt’s foremost singer),Tahiyya Karyokka (Egypt’s foremost dancer), the Mona Lisa, Freda Kahlo, and Marilyn Monroe become integral faces in my imagined city surroundings. - In the same exhibition, I used the black and white series of recycled photos, in which the female body is shown in various gestures, to expose the cultural obsession with the feminine self-image, to cover her body or not to cover it! - As if to get away from the noise and distracting images and colours of Cairo, and just as many Cairenes do in their nightly Sufi gatherings, a large part of the exhibit focuses on the meditative. Here the challenge was greater, and the question that kept coming to mind as I was choosing my found objects was, how is it possible for me to visually convey the
intangible state of silence, of meditation, the turning away from noise and objects to quietness. The object that I found most appropriate for this was the wooden shoe mould, which I found in large numbers in a downtown shoe factory. These were cleaned, scraped and painted in silver, and on each I inscribed in Arabic, and in endless repetition, the old Sufi adage ‘I am the companion of the one who remembers me.’
Assembled en masse these meditative moulds appeared like a praying carpet, and with dimmed lighting, the whole space conveyed the feeling of quietness that I wished to communicate. - Huda Lutfi, Cairo, May 2004. - - - All images from exhibition: Found in Cairo - Townhouse Gallery - 2003
Huda Lutfi
Middle East


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