Something Else – Off Biennale Second Edition | Ex-changes in Cairo

Alva Willemark, Weight duvet, Cairo — © the artist
“In Egypt, since education (and many other things) are quite messed up, you’ll commonly find a surreal fluidity to the routes people take to get where they want to be, or to do the things they want to do. The same is true within the identified circles of ‘creatives’, and in how this somehow invisible community continues to grow and evolve, with changes that are always interesting to observe.” The words of Egyptian artist Rana Ashraf illustrate the singularity of the local scene, and the thirst for dialogue.


Supporting contemporary creation in the region, bringing it face to face with its western counterpart, allowing emerging talents whose practice can differ from that promised in the classic Egyptian institutions to express themselves, giving space to whilst recognising the limits of various sensitivities: such are the objectives of the second edition of Something Else – Off Biennale. In Cairo, from November 1 through to the end of the year, exhibitions, conferences, workshops, performances and film showings are being proposed by curator Simon Njami and artistic director Moataz Nasr, Darb 1718 founder.



Rana Ashraf, The Air and the Worlds III Pictures



Although the Cairo Biennial has not taken place since 2010, the “Off” fair still brings together hundreds of international artists as well as emerging talent and well-known names from the local scene. The event - “What If It Did Not Happen!” – is driven by the mutual stimulation between the artists in attendance. Egypt’s particular context leads foreign artists to study the local situation, fertile in creativity, its power and its limits, and to present works in response. Meanwhile, Egyptian artists are faced with a different type of production which leads them to inhabit other creative fields. Whilst Egypt’s current situation could give the impression that its deeply entrenched attitude may prove unproductive, the consciousness of this state is in fact a powerful stimulus; flirting with boundaries requires creativity.


What if Europe Did not Reject the Refugees by Marwa Abdallah (Egypt ) Location: 29 Hoda Shaarawy Courtsey : Mariam Chehata



Karem Ibrahim and his dinosaur offer an illustration of this. The installation – Even if they have been, they will never come back – “is talking about Egypt, its society which cannot change with the times, schools that teach nothing of Egypt’s findings of dinosaurs, regimes that have been toppled which try to come back in a new shape and form.”


Karem Ibrahim, Even if they have been, they will never come back



Outlining the power and creative force that this context and this exchange represent, French artist Arnaud Cohen (whose work is currently being exhibited by Cologne’s Gallerie Nagel Draxler) pushes the visitor to go beyond what is shown to them. His provocative work, History Revolving – Egypt – demonstrates the cunning necessary to those who wish to convey a message.


Arnaud Cohen, History Revolving – Egypt  (2018)



Italian artist Mauro Bordin addresses ecological issues and “the reassuring approach used by lobby groups to sell their extremely dangerous products” through his work on paper, Zero Risk. “It’s all about the presences and absences that we observe. The photo represents the image of a scary story/nightmare, but also a sort of monument to the fatal victims of nuclear energy.”


Mauro Bordin, Risque zéro, 2013, oil on paper




Aside from Simon Njami, seven other curators will be hosting a selection of artists from highly diverse backgrounds, to be exhibited across four spaces.


The visitors - made up of the entourage of invited Egyptian artists, the local intellectual elite, and craftsmen attending and collaborating with the locations taken over by the event – will have the opportunity to "think outside of the box and to free our minds from the so-called truths we have been fed with." Find the whole programme here.




Henri Robert