Public Space With A Roof

Hala Elkoussy

“The point of departure of my work is how identity is constructed, transformed and expressed through the making, coding and consumption of an image. Within the parameters of a visual culture which is trying to come to terms with an inherited discouragement of figurative representation, there is a continuous feeding-off, assimilation, recycling and adaptation of western popular and mass media imagery. Control of the content of news, literature, and art production manifests itself officially through stringent censorship laws, and unofficially through conservative currents that direct public life and foster self-censorship. Existing within a cultural system in which the photographic, except in the context of family photography and advertising, is viewed with skepticism, even feared, my practice attempts to coin a personal/public language. I take my cue from the codes of mainstream modes of visual expression, such as advertising, and proceed to push the boundaries of the ‘photographable’ and the ‘photogenic.’ Meanwhile, I attempt to break down and question socially transfixed roles and the process of social integration/marginalisation of difference. My work is largely framed in the ‘art world’ according to my place of origin and background as a Middle-Eastern woman. I am quite aware of the inevitability of such classifications in the absence of local informed critical readings. ‘Peripheral’ art history is still authored in the ‘centre.’ The ‘unknown’ tends to be read as a collective to simplify the process of assimilation and the processing of information about the unknown ‘other.’ In my work, I build-in mechanisms which work against readings that reinforce and perpetuate preconceived reductionist ideas about my concerns as an individual. I attempt to broaden the viewer's experience of an artwork from the ‘periphery’ as more than just a product of geography and politics, but as a fluid space for the interplay of personal, social, conceptual and aesthetic concerns.”
Hala Elkoussy is concerned with pushing the boundaries of the ‘photographable’ and the ‘photogenic’ as she questions socially transfixed roles and the process of social integration/ marginalisation of difference. In her latest work Peripheral Stories, she uses photography and video to explore the edges of the city. Geographical peripheries become the stage on which an investigation of less tangible issues of marginalisation takes place. Although not explicitly political, Elkoussy’s work inevitably generates political reflection, and, on occasion, has generated media outcry. She is co-founder of the Contemporary Image Collective, an independent, artist-run platform based in Cairo, dedicated to the visual image. She taught photography at the American University in Cairo and has been actively involved in organising and curating several projects including PhotoCairo (2003) and In A Furnished Flat In Cairo (2004). Her work has been shown in Bamako, Beijing, Cairo, Dakar, Ramallah, Taipei and several European cities. She is currently an artist in residence at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam.