ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Hamdy Reda as part of our Artist Spotlight.
Hamdy Reda is a visual artist, curator and cultural activist, living and working between Egypt and Germany. Born in Cairo in 1972, Reda holds a BFA – Painting with honors from University of Helwan, Cairo (1997), and took part in numerous workshops and training programs in art history, curation and cultural management throughout his career.
Alongside his artistic career, he founded Artellewa, an artist residency space located in Ard El Lewa, a popular district in Giza. For 10 years, Reda served as the Artistic Director of the space, where he received over 100 local and international artists and sought to activate a dialogue between the artists and the community.
Reda’s work has been exhibited at many venues within Egypt as well as around the world, and he is a recipient of various artistic awards, which, together with the interest of art critics in his work, is evidence of his high profile as an artistic talent. Reda’s artwork includes several visual mediums, such as painting, experimental photography, installation, and interactive art works. His involvement in the curating and management of many art and cultural activities locally and internationally reflects his interest in promoting the language of creative dialogue and developing mechanisms for artistic interaction.
ArteEast: What has your practice/ career focused on during the past five years?
Hamdy Reda: In addition to my practice as a visual artist, I used to be the curator and managing director of Artellewa art space, until the closing of our programs at the end of 2017. Since then, I have started to focus solely on my art practice. I started to complete some of my ongoing art projects like The Backyard of the Paradise, which was planned to be exhibited in a solo exhibition at the American University of Cairo Gallery of Photography (AUC) in March, 2020. The show has been delayed because of the Covid- 19 pandemic. This postponed project relates to the premise of thinking about life as if it were a shut-eye between a dream and an awakening. This vision is manifested through my aesthetic studies of the scenery of urban sprawl and its endless specifics, the scenery of my surrounding world, and of silent nature, along with scenes of numerous trips to several destinations which have come together and accumulated in my visual memory. It is waiting for the right moment and space to be exhibited.
Nowadays I am most focused on the production of some of my new projects, such as a photography series of portraits related to immigrant friends under a working title Thoughts on Identity. I use the portraits and stories of immigrant friends as a mirror for my own portrait, following my immigration to Germany a year ago.
AE: Where have you been during the pandemic? Have you been documenting urban and societal shifts during these unsettling times?
HR: The pandemic started when I was moving from Cairo, Egypt to live in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Therefore, I was busier with adjusting to my own life, and I still am. Moving is not easy during a pandemic, especially now that I have plans to live between the two cities. Being partly a migrant did not allow me to have a good observation point from which to view the shifts in each location. I was able to have more time to reorganize my files and previous art projects, as well as have the opportunity to reflect about my new situation.
AE: How, if at all, have you been making use of this time of self-isolation? Have there been any creative gains or challenges?
HR: I had the opportunity to produce some of my artworks and work on new strategies for art and cultural projects. Now I’m working on my new project Thoughts on Identity. I have also been working on founding a new art collective in Germany for immigrant artists: Nile Rhein Collective. This collective seeks to foster art and culture meeting points and dialogues.
The Nile Rhein Collective is an interdisciplinary working group, including visual artists, performers, musicians, writers and culture managers who moved from cities located on the Nile River to live in cities located on the Rhine River in Germany. We aim to establish a Non-Governmental Organization in the future, concerned with the interests and practical activities of its members. The intention is for the NGO to activate communication and dialogue between members, and between the collective and their German peers. It will achieve this through the production of an annual cultural program, including workshops, exhibitions, and collective group activities engaging the public. The goal is to create visibility and engagement for the participants’ art and cultural products in the German art and culture scene, while also communicating and networking with other collectives.
AE: In addition to your own practice, you are a curator and the founder of Artellewa art space in Cairo. Since Atellewa’s closure in 2017, have you been working on any curatorial projects?
HR: While I had planned to start focusing on my art practice, I couldn’t avoid thinking about and undertaking curatorial activities. In 2018, I curated a group exhibition about Cairo in the German city where I had moved. Also, I helped a friend establish a new art space in Kaiserslautern, inspired by Artellewa art space: Brownian Motion, which refers to the interactive movement of particles. Brown is the dominant color of this art space, which focuses on photography and visual arts.
AE: Can you discuss what you see as Artellewa’s legacy in Cairo’s contemporary art scene?
HR: Well, I think there are others who could answer this question far better than I. First of all, those emerging and established young Egyptian artists, between the ages of 20 and 35, who started their careers as contemporary visual artists at Artellewa, and experienced the environment of Artellewa and its open-minded ideas, they will retain this experience and its imprint on their portfolios forever.
Artellewa’s art space and successful programs, which existed during a decade of difficult social and political conditions, present solid proof that artists are capable of moving on with their creativity regardless of their life conditions. It was one of those alternative spaces that helped art, culture and creativity move forward.
Last but not least, Artellewa’s great legacy is the proof of possibility. Artellewa was established to prove that it’s possible to create a contemporary art space with a local and international impact, with a very low budget, in an informal district, far from the cultural heart of the city. Its existence has opened eyes and minds to this possibility and inspired many others to undertake similar projects, both in the same neighborhood and elsewhere.
The space of the formal Artellewa itself has become an active creative lab called ALFabrika, created by CLUSTER (Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research), a platform for urban research, art and design initiatives.