Egyptian artist Yasmine Chatila is no newbie to Manhattan’s Upper East Side art scene — one of the world’s toughest art markets to break into. Born in Cairo with a master’s degree in photography from Colombia University School of Arts, Chatila again impresses critics and art aficionados alike with her new exhibition, “Reveries & Delusions” — showing at Edelman Arts gallery, New York City.
Chatila’s films, still shots, and collages have been exhibited and shown in various galleries and film festivals around the globe — from the Paris Pompidou Museum to the Reina Sofia Museum in Spain and the Locarno Film Festival.
Chatila made her mark on the international art world with her controversial “Stolen Moments” exhibition — a series of photographs capturing private moments of New Yorkers in their homes.
Although voyeuristic in method, Chatila subtly deconstructed the images, altering the faces of the buildings and subjects to protect the identity of her muses.
Putting her spy gear aside, “Reveries & Delusions” takes a more traditional artistic approach with a series of collages sourced from current and vintage periodicals rendered, scanned, digitally reworked and printed as photographs.
Chatila’s aesthetic orientations are linked to current global political and cultural climates, infused with her feelings on war, religion, the environment with a dash of pop culture.
Daily News Egypt spoke with Chatila about her recent exhibit, the January 25 Revolution, and the future of the Egyptian art scene.
Daily News Egypt: Tell me a bit about your background, when did you move to the US?
Yasmine Chatila: I was born in Cairo in the mid 70s. After living in Paris in my early 20s I moved to New York because it was the center of the art world at the time. Now the art world is more decentralized and can be accessible from many different places and in many different ways.
You were in New York when you heard about the start of the Jan. 25 Revolution. How did you react to what was happening?
My first fear was that it could turn very violent, but I was pleasantly surprised and very moved by the peaceful intent behind the revolution.
I was very proud of the Egyptians for standing up to such an omnipotent and terrifying force and bringing it down through peaceful resistance in the footsteps of Ghandi and Mandela.
The entire world was inspired by it and we should be proud of such an incredible moment in human history.
And where do you feel we should go from here?
I think the important thing now is for an inspired representative of the ideals behind the revolution steps forward as a leader in the elections in order to prevent a power vacuum that could be filled by someone even worse than Hosni Mubarak.
Do you find any similarities between Cairo and New York City?
The most prominent similarity I can detect is the diverse personal narratives overlapping and interrelating in the vast ocean of people living on top of each other.
I saw your “Stolen Moments” exhibit in NYC in 2009, which was very intriguing. Have you ever considered doing a similar project in Cairo?
I will not be doing a “Stolen Moments” in Egypt. Although Egypt is a country with beautiful architecture, from a cultural perspective, America lends itself more easily to photography and voyeurism.
And even though I am acutely concerned about people’s privacy and painstakingly make sure that the identities of my characters are disguised, I don’t believe that would be enough for Egyptians to accept it.
How did you come up with the idea for “Reveries & Delusions?” What was your inspiration?
I was in a crowded airport in South Africa on my way to Mozambique when I shut my eyes for a rest. Streams of images flooded my mind and I could not distinguish them from each other.
Pictures from the Economist, Newsweek and Time magazines intermingled with Oprah’s new fetish and models glowing cheekbones. Plump ruby colored lips dissolved into a little boy’s puddle of blood with seamless indiscrimination.
These random juxtapositions seemed outrageous as I watched the spectacle unfold in my mind’s eye. I began tearing out images that stood out, images that had something iconic about them.
In the exhibition, I noticed several religious, war, and societal references. Did Egypt/Islam influence any of these pieces?
I come from a multi-religious background but it is spirituality rather than any one given religion that is most important to me.
I have had some experience with Islam from my years in Egypt and some experience with Catholicism in my Italian background. I am now studying Buddhism and am interested in learning about theological issues and human belief systems.
I reject the intolerance of any fundamentalism which to me ignores the complexities of the human condition.
“In God We Trust” is a powerful piece, are the stacked pennies a temple of some sort?
In capitalist societies we worship the money above everything else. That’s why I put it in a place of worship. The pyramid made of pennies is an Aztec pyramid which was another place of reverence, further reiterating the idea of worshiping money.
Your process for “Reveries” uses a bit of a surrealist approach. Tell me more about this.
By using the surrealist approach, I meant to indicate that I did not create these images in order to tell a linear story; often the surrealists used nonsensical methods to gain a greater understanding of their subconscious mind.
Are there any stand-out Egyptian artists that you are into?
I like Ghada Amer and also many Middle Eastern artists such as Nabil Nahas and Walid Raad.
How do you feel the Egyptian revolution will affect the art scene in Egypt?
The revolution, if proved to be successful, will open the door to free artistic expression and a protection of freedom of speech. This in turn will empower art to be a vehicle for democracy and greater human understanding.
What are your future hopes for Egypt, particularly for the art scene?
I think there is an encouraging trend for Arab collectors to purchase the work of Arab contemporary artists it is in this way they are supporting our voice in the world. I think the Middle Eastern art scene will continue to flourish — just look at the astounding auction results for Middle Eastern art.
As for Egypt, it is my hope that a secular and tolerant government that is forward-looking and environmentally conscious will be elected.
Art can better flourish in a society free from intolerance and oppression.I believe we should start looking at the gross national happiness rather than gross national product as a measure of a successful and well balanced society.
Yasmine Chatila’s “Reveries & Delusions” closes on July 29 at Edelman Arts: 136 East 74th Street, New York, NY 10021.
Chatila uses different religious symbols to reinforce the idea of "worshiping" money".
"Message from the Elders."