On a Paper Trail to find Gypsum

 Installation view of Paper Trail, a group exhibition of Cairo-based artists dedicated to works on paper. Image courtesy of Gypsum Gallery

Installation view of Paper Trail, a group exhibition of Cairo-based artists dedicated to works on paper. Image courtesy of Gypsum Gallery

I was surprised when I entered the doors of Gypsum Gallery. Like any establishment in Cairo, you can never tell what is behind closed doors from first appearance. The city is a maze (for the uninitiated eye) and can seem impenetrable. So, as I climbed the steps and knocked unsteadily at the large wooden door, I was pleasantly taken aback by the treasure trove that unfolded before me.

 Fadwa Ramadan, Untitled 4, 100 x 100 cm, Ink on paper, 2016. Courtesy of Gypsum Gallery

Fadwa Ramadan, Untitled 4, 100 x 100 cm, Ink on paper, 2016. Courtesy of Gypsum Gallery

Once an old law firm, the gallery unfolds over several interconnected rooms. The whitewashed walls maintain their original architectural features and the layout of the space entices you in, wanting to explore more.

I was there to meet the gallery founder Aleya Hamza, who has achieved incredible success in the four years since she opened the space. (More on that interview to follow).

The current exhibition, Paper Trail, curated by Hamza and Saida Al Harakany, founder of Adsum Art Consultancy, is a group exhibition devoted to works on paper. It is a large exhibition with almost 120 old and new pieces by 12 artists who live and work in Cairo.

The first room is full of delicate pieces by Fadwa Ramadan. The pencil drawings featuring the Amizagh script warrant close inspection and set the tone for the exhibition, which is that the drawings and prints seen in the show are works of art in their own right, not simply studies for larger pieces.

 Nada Baraka, Progression of the Unnecessary, 25 x 34 cm, Monoprint on paper, 2017. Courtesy of Gypsum Gallery

Nada Baraka, Progression of the Unnecessary, 25 x 34 cm, Monoprint on paper, 2017. Courtesy of Gypsum Gallery

Personal highlights include the work of Islam Zaher whose series of brown ink drawings are inspired by Franz Kafka’s 1922 short story Investigations of a Dog. He uses ink to trace out the shapes in calligraphic style and underneath uses minutely detailed crosshatching to flesh out the form. Later, I discovered some of his paintings in the store room and when viewed together, it is clear this artist has a wealth of talents and is someone I want to learn more about.

Also worth taking a second look at are the monoprints of Nada Baraka. The loose colour-filled pieces are abstract and emotional and are placed well to dialogue with the multi-layered drawings of Hany Rashed. Although the latter were made in 2001, they are not dated. Both Rashed and Baraka are dealing with a timeless subject, that of identity and self-image and trying to make sense of the human experience.  

 Islam Zaher, Study of a Dog, 35 x 25 cm, Brown ink on coloured paper, 2012. Courtesy of Gypsum Gallery.

Islam Zaher, Study of a Dog, 35 x 25 cm, Brown ink on coloured paper, 2012. Courtesy of Gypsum Gallery.