Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr’s films, sculpture and paintings reflect the realities of life under what could be described as a totalitarian regime in his native country and thus might be considered a political activist as well. Time and again these works describe an inability, as he puts it, ‘to act and react to what is seen’, which in many respects is about a collective sense of powerlessness in the face of a self-serving government.
In An Ear of Mud, Another of Dough (2001), 2000 ears sculpted in mud and dough line a wall, with a video displaying someone shrugging their shoulders in non-committal fashion and the buzzing sound of flies in the background. Taken from an Egyptian proverb derived from folk tales, it features Goha, a ‘wise fool’ who deafens himself to the relentless complaints of his wife by stuffing one ear with mud and another with dough.
While Goha may be able to deafen himself and shrug his shoulders to the relentless assault, perhaps Nasr is saying to do that would be irresponsible; that there’s something rotten about the whole situation which is why there are so many flies around. The other aspect that Nasr suggests is that they don’t have the ability to deafen ourselves anymore while at the same time they are listened to by 2000 ears, but not heard.
The Water (2002) is a film showing reflections of people in a puddle of water that gets violently snuffed out when someone suddenly steps on it, but as the water settles someone else is reflected until someone else steps on it. Man Made (2006) shows someone wearing a horse’s bridle, blinded and being prevented from eating or saying anything as well as being lead to go somewhere by someone.
Both these works deal with the other aspect of the situation, that is the inability to be heard, or the tendency of the Government (the stronger side) to silence the weaker side.
The Maze (2012) is a lawn manicured to display an ancient Arabic Kufic script which says “The People Want The Fall Of The Regime”, which might be a bit too direct for the city officials in London as they have turned down a request to have it installed at Hanover Square.
The directness of the message might be understandable given the fact that Nasr got shot by the police while demonstrating against the Government when he was a teenager.
The images of western European teenagers freely and joyfully running around the maze (thankfully it was shown in various European countries) point to what Moataz Nasr couldn’t do as a teenager in Egypt.
Fiat Nasr (2006) is another project which describes Governmental let-down, or dismay with the establishment, when Italian car company Fiat joined together with Egyptian manufacturer Nasr in 1979 to produce cars in North Africa.
The disappointment is evident as the reality of the results of this merger, 30 years on are depicted in the rusty wheels of these locally produced Fiats.
The sun boat (2016) is an interesting sculpture in which arrangement of the poles sticking out are vaguely reminiscent of an ancient Egyptian ship, known as the ‘Khufu Solar ship’. King Khufu (the Pharoah) was responsible for building the pyramids of Giza around 2500 B.C. and the Khufu Solar ship was found carefully buried in the river bed near the pyramids, most likely as part of his burial.
Why its called the Sun Boat probably has to do with why the Khufu Ship is called the Khufu ‘Solar’ Ship; it was a ritual vessel used to carry the king, after he had been resurrected in the afterlife, and the sun god Ra, across the heavens. It did not have a sail, but used oars and most likely was used one time to carry the embalmed body of the king from the palace to the pyramids.
Other than a remembrance of the greatness of ancient Egypt, the other proposition that this sculpture brings is what happened to all that greatness?
It seems that being shot by the police as a teenager and being criticized as an outsider for not having been to art school when he won third prize in an art competition in the 1990’s has made Nasr more determined to succeed.
The government interestingly, seems to have arrived at a conclusion that its better to be on his side, rather than to try to snuff him out or silence him, in allowing his Darb 1718 art community centre to be set up in 2008, and with his Egypt pavilion pick at the Venice Biennale this year. Its these kinds of developments that put a country on a path of greatness again.