When I first meet Khaled Hafez in 2013, we prepared his exhibtion „Berlin Chromosomes“ at Galerie Naimah Schuetter. He is one of the most renowned Egyptian artists, and I was much impressed by his work, his remarkable personality and all the attention we got for that exhibition (which took place just during the Arabian Spring Revolution). This interview was done when Khaled came to Berlin on March 9th, 2018, for the vernissage of his solo show „Realms of the Hyperreal“at NOME Gallery in Berlin-Kreuzberg. The exhibition runs from March 10th to April 20th, 2018 and is not to miss!
Gesa Noormann – Khaled, you had your first solo presentation „Berlin Chromosome“ at Galerie Naimah Schuetter in 2013. It was about the plurality of identities, the translocation and a multiplicity of hybridization and constant historical changes which not only fits the local history of your native city Cairo, but also the history of Berlin. How do you feel coming back to Berlin with your new show „Realms of the Hyperreal“ at NOME Gallery in Berlin? What is your personal relationship with Berlin?
Khaled Hafez – Berlin is a love story since day one; in fact Germany is…. I came first to Germany when I was 22, in 1985; it was still West Germany… It was a love-at-first-site affair; younger then, I hitch-hiked like everyone else; it was different times, before visas, immigration entry barriers, and other travel constraints. I came back only in 2007 for a group show, and an exhibition or the other ever since, sometimes with up to six visits a year.
At Naimah Schuetter Gallery I attempted to recount a personal story with the city: drawing played an integral part of the show; it was a great show, great opening and great reception. The city and the Naimah Schuetter gallery team paid me the tribute of love with a great opening and a great show. At NOME Gallery, I worked with Luca Barbeni –who is initially a curator before assuming the role of the gallerist—with every piece; painting and sculptural video installations play equal roles in the build up of the exhibition. In Realms of the Hyperreal solo presentation at NOME, we attempt to create a visual narrative with every work submitting the visual threads to another work. Identity exploration still intrigues me and constitutes an integral part of every work; the video installations (two in all) were selected to pose more universal questions that transcend any one question: this time I explored memory, personal spaces, and my “revisionist” perception of the past seven years public sphere politics, the politics of my very own past seven years. As always, the city as well as the NOME Gallery team exceeded my expectations.
GN – Starting with the „Philadelphia Chromosome“ in 2005, your works since then are much about representing a hybrid culture that combines elements of East and West or, as international media called it, a “the collision of cultures“. Even in your new series, we still find that unmistaken mix of of ancient iconography with contemporary elements of déjà vu from advertising. Are these (and other) dichotomies still the driving element in your work?
KH – Indeed; historical elements’ appropriation in my work allows me to hybridize, and in fact deconstruct and reconstruct new realities, alternative realities; this happens naturally through visual hybridization. The process by which an ancient god’s mask is given to a top model from a fashion magazine or a body builder from an advertising of transcontinental Gym chain allows me to hybridize and juxtapose on both visual and conceptual levels; this breaks the barrier between past and present; I demolish the preconception of time as we would expect it in a painting. The figures: transformed, hybridized and metamorphosed transcend the space and time of our real world; those figures ooze life in their own dimension; when Jean Baudrillard proposed the term “Hyperreal”, he was referring to an image of a time-space continuum that is frozen in a photograph, creating its own aesthetics due to the limitation of the one medium, hence it becomes “an image of the real that is not forcibly real”, hence: a work about the real that has no “similar” origin; the artwork becomes its own reality in its own time-space dimension. The choice of ancient figures’ elementsare usually from the East, and choice of the “bodies –be it bodybuilder or top model—is from Western magazines, hence the East and West dichotomy and Juxtaposition within a timeless vacuum.
GN – You did a remarkable video in 2006, „Revolution“ that is also shown in your current solo show at NOME gallery. At the moment you seem to be more into paintings, do you have any new videos in mind? There has recently been published very interesting videos, like f.e. Japanese designer’s Keiichi Matsudas „Hyper-Reality“ that deals like you with hyperreal realities. What do you think of this kind of video art (as a person that disdains to be called „video artist“ and prefers „film maker“) and how could be the style and aesthetics of a new video of yours today?
KH – I agree that my film / video practice slowed down in the past four years; in fact I have not scripted a video narrative since 2011; my last scripted production was The Video Diaries: 11.02.2011. My works for the two consecutive Venice Biennales: 2013 and 2015 (the 55th and the 56th Biennales) were non-narrative works: I shot and edited the 2013 production between seven cities around the notion of water, rivers and seas. The work of 2015 was an animation based on the elements from my painted surfaces; hence the work was around inflicting 2-D animated life into a painting reference. The reason for not getting into a narrative production is that I lost interest in politics: totally, categorically and for the moment I can claim “for some time”. Politics always –since 2001—drove my film/video practice, and it is in politics that I always found my “irony” method to tell my narrative. Since 20011, too many people lost their lives: young, poetic, thought that change could happen by thought, ideas and “young methods”. I cannot approach my work in irony many more, and irony is my “vocal dimension”; the method I am good at when I express. I seek the smile of the viewer as she/he approaches my work, and irony dwarfs in front of loss of life. I resort more to painting and installation to express, and keep video till one day when I am inspired to do so. Hyperreality is a proposition of Baudrillard since 1980, and ever since many artists have been inspired by the thought, each in a different method; the idea of an artwork simulating reality and a real without origin is seductive.
For me, I like to perceive myself as a filmmaker, not as a video artist. Video is only a tool to create film, among other tools. If you ask me, the worst art I have seen in my life, and the most detestable was/ is from the video genre. Filmmaking is the original act, where writing, scripting, editing and sound unite to form a narrative. Non-scripted video pieces are too risky: many times mediocre. Anyway, inspired art –no matter what the medium is—manifests and has captivating power. Mediocre pieces from all genres exist all around as well. I prefer and like to think of myself as a filmmaker rather than video artist.
GN – According to you, what influence do politicians like Trump and new political right-wing movements like AfD in Germany have on the understanding between Eastern and Western cultures? How do you as a cosmopolitan mind evaluate these new nationalistic tendencies?
KH – Nationalism is a threat from the East and from the West: religious right wing to nationalist right wing. To me both are mentally terrorizing even if not radical; it is why many from the Egyptian intelligenzia chose and voted for a military solution of a ruling religious right wing. If you ask me: I think it is a vicious circle: neo-colonialism drives people out of their countries because the colonial forces deals with dictators who enslave their own citizens who opt for terrorism or immigration or collaboration with corrupt regimes, all feed into nationalist thought from all protagonists. Vicious circle that leads to no solution except the choices of law, equal opportunity and civil rights.
GN – And how has your personal situation as an artist in Cairo changed since the „Arab Spring“ in 2013?
KH – I guess I am not the same person as before 2011, and my practice will never be the same again after 2013. I lost interest in politics; I changed my priorities to visual values that transcend simple events. I like to create works that would be timeless in 25 years from now. How and for how long I have no idea; I teach two days now, and enjoy my studio practice five, including weekends. For the past 30 years I have built my career in Cairo, and I would still do so in the next years. I slow down sometimes: it may be linked to projects, deadlines, and/or age and the selectivity / choices that come with experience. I used to travel 12 times a year for exhibitions a few years ago; I decided two years ago to select more and arrange priorities. I am always optimistic, perhaps politics will inspire me again: I have no idea. Today music inspires me a lot; I have five turntables, 1500 vinyl records, equal number of CDs, some are pirated, so I play hours of music every day as I work, and when I do not work. If I were not a painter I would have loved to play rock music and Jazz, electric guitar or alto sax. Maybe it is time to learn German and Italian, and perhaps a musical instrument to make noise in my studio.
GN: Thank you so much, Khaled, for this interview. Take care and hope to see you soon in Berlin or in Cairo or maybe Venice?