Located in the Kodak passageway, across from the Jewish Synagogue on Adly Street in Downtown Cairo, Hassan Khan’s first solo exhibition in Egypt in over a decade marks a stellar collection of works that showcase the artist’s diverse talents and makes use of both public and private space in an inventive way.
Utilising unused store fronts, the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival, or D-CAF, displays Khan’s works in several rooms. The Kodak passageway in downtown was an accessible, open location that lent itself perfectly to the exhibition and the different works. At the very busy opening, the passageway was buzzing with people, but two arbitrary electricity cuts delayed the enthusiastic crowd from sampling all of Khan’s work, with some halls and rooms having electricity when others did not, then the other way around a few hours later.
One of the things the D-CAF does best is explore urban locations as venues for performances and art shows, usually challenging our understanding of location and audience. For Khan, this collaboration was not his first experience with the festival but he has been largely absent from the art scene in Cairo, citing poor art infrastructure in the city and not wanting to show his works in conditions that compromised them. Fortunately, Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research renovated the Kodak passageway, providing an appropriate venue to properly show large-scale works that range from video installations to text-based works and photography.
Khan’s method is not constant; he takes strides to reach form through text, images, objects, music and videos. In one of his most memorable pieces, a video installation titled Jewel, he places two men in a room that mirrors the one audiences watch the installation in and has them perform a shaabi dance to beautiful music that he composed. Jewel is an installation that showcases Khan’s many talents. The remarkable music, striking choreography and imagery makes it difficult to walk away from the installation, despite the lack of a clear narrative.
The story behind Jewel, like others in the exhibition, was inspired by Cairo. The artist based Jewel on a scene he saw in the streets of Abdeen, while another piece called The Agreement is based on his memories of the city in the 80s. Banque Bannister, an exact replica of a bannister at Banque Misr also speaks of the city.
Khan’s future projects include an exhibition in Munich called The Comedians where the centre piece is a film and a sculptural space for it. The idea is to work with lookalikes of famous comedians in Egyptian cinema and revive their legacy. Khan intends to shoot it in a customised location he will build himself to resemble generic film sets and have the lookalikes channel the comedians, giving him a chance to tap into what he called the genius of someone like Foaud El Mohandis, an artist has always wanted to work with but could not.
Khan’s exhibition runs until 26 April and we can guarantee that, no matter what your taste is, there will be something that challenges and even enthralls you in the collection of his works. The exhibition is diverse and varied and gives you a chance to experience art in downtown in a way you never have before.