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Cairo Biennale opens, prizes awarded

The 12th edition of the International Cairo Biennale opened this afternoon at two venues, the Palace of Arts and the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art, in the grounds of the Opera House in Zamalek during one of Cairo’s worst sand storms. Attendance was lower than usual, but a group of participating artists and local practitioners were there to witness Egyptian Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, inaugurate the show, alongside the Biennale’s artistic director, Ehab el-Labban, and Mohammed Talaat, the director of the Palace of Arts.

This was followed by an opening at al-Bab Gallery, which is hosting an exhibition of the Biennale’s guest of honor, the Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. Exhibiting widely in Asia, Europe and the US, Nara is best known for his carefree style and trademark motifs of cartoonish little girls and dogs, which he uses to tackle existential topics.

The winners of the Grand prize and three Biennale prizes were announced. The Grand prize of LE100,000 was awarded to Egyptian artist Amal Kenawy for her piece “The Silence of the Lambs”. Kenawy has a diverse visual repertoire across a variety of media and techniques. She often tackles issues related to gender, desire and pain, interweaving reality with dreams. “The Silence of the Lambs” is a departure from her previous work as it critically reflects on the state of contemporary Egyptian society. Projected in a warm domestic setting where Kenawy served the audience freshly cooked pasta, the video documents a public performance she orchestrated on Champollion Street in downtown Cairo, where she shepherded a group of local workers crawling on their knees across the street. The video explores the resulting dynamics between the artist and the public.

Two of the Biennale prizes, each worth LE50,000, went to Moroccan artist Monir Fatmi and Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg. The third was shared by Zimbabwe artist Kudzanai Chiurai and Lebanese American artist Annabel Daou.

Fatmi’s video piece is inspired by the French film L’enfant Sauvage (“The Wild Child”), which narrated the story of a boy taken from a rural district in Southern France into the custody of a doctor and his housekeeper to be educated and civilized. Fatmi manipulates the video to question contemporary understandings of civilization in relation to new forms of imperialism and cultural hegemony. Djurberg presents stills from her clay animated videos of young women engaged in various kinds of vileness. Inspired by her visual subconscious, the artist makes no moral claims and highlights the artificiality of the narratives through her clay dolls. Daou created a site-specific installation entitled “From Where to Where”, which questions concepts of time and place in relation to what constitutes identity and belonging. Chiurai makes a sarcastic commentary on political exigencies through three stencil images depicting a Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Enterprise and Minister of Health.

The awards ceremony is held tonight at 7 pm at the Open Theatre of the Cairo Opera House.

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