interviewed by Samar Martha, February 2007

For 'In Focus' you've proposed to make an art installation that involves work with local community. Could you explain why you wish do that?

The art work will be a cube of approximately 2m each dimension, made of palm wood. To start it will be an empty, open structure, an installation which will be only completed by the contribution of people from different cultural backgrounds living in London. People will have the opportunity to bring things for a period of around 3-4 weeks.

It will be a kind of empty/open gift for the people of London and the people of the city will be invited to contribute a gift in return, which will become part of the work, of the structure, of the net. Everybody will put their own object into context with other contributions.

First I'll run a ten day photography workshop with local community members along the subject of life stories. After which I will invite people to bring and place their objects into the installation, the objects that are related to their own identity and not to a cultural group, for example Moslem community, or how they are labeled by government or society. I want to focus on the individuals’ unique statements and not on labels. It should become a powerful and peaceful kind of shrine with openness, well wishing, markers of different lives in the city.

The palm wood structure will be made in Egypt, like traditional afaz-baskets. For me the afaz is a modern, innovative design object with multiple functions: in Egypt it is used for transportation of fruits, bread, vegetables, animals. On the streets it becomes a table, a small shop to display the fruits or bread for selling. They are still made of palm wood, without using any nail or glue. They are time consuming to construct with care and are made by specialists.
It's like a fragile, open, organic net structure. In addition I want to exhibit a group of Photographs: Afaz in the streets of Cairo. Depending of each context they become various kinds of modern still life's with different meanings.

Do you often work with different communities?

Usually my work doesn't involve work with communities. I do it only if it is necessary for the work, for example when I exhibited at the National Gallery in Cape Town in 2000. The title of the exhibition was 'Navigation Xcultural". I installed a grid structure made of palm wood in the National Gallery and invited the people of Cape Town to contribute things related to their own identities into the structure, to complete the installation.

It was important for me that this Afaz structure was made in Egypt North Africa and transported to Cape Town South Africa. The travel of that structure was part of the work.

People from all different kinds of cultural/social backgrounds, different religions, etc. contributed their things. Even during the opening and after. The installation became very powerful, loaded with energy. In that context the work even became political and was exhibited for 2 more years in Cape Town.

I developed the idea for that work when I was invited in 1999 to run workshops with the Moslem community in Cape Town and as well was teaching at Stellenbosch University.

Sometimes on one day I would meet totally different communities, who would never meet each other during their lifetimes. Also I discovered that certain people would never enter the National Gallery, as there was the idea of 'European Art' declared as Art on one side and on the other side the 'other' culture had to be exhibited at the National History Museum.

You currently live in Germany, is that where you were born and raised?

Currently I spend around 5 months per year in Germany, the other time I'm travelling and working between Egypt and other countries depending on my projects.

The first years of my life I spent in Alexandria and the Nile Delta, a rural area in Egypt. After that I moved with my parents to Germany, where I was raised between Moslem and Christian cultural contexts. Experiencing the ethics of belonging and not belonging.

So how do you identify yourself as an artist? How does this need to belong affect your work?

Life was my inspiration to become an artist, to try to design the world around me. Art is and always has been the only way to express myself, using my own language, beyond words, beyond belonging. I feel more comfortable observing from a distance.

Generally my work is enriched by the dual feedback from Egypt and Germany, as well as influences from travelling, spending time in many other countries. Some of my work has played on the tension of in between-ness.

For example using the Mashrabiya screen as a symbol for seeing without being seen. Weaving words into these screens which are only visible from a distance. If the viewer comes to close, the words disappear.

I included different layers of meanings, codes into my work, especially in my photographs like the cityscapes and landscapes I made in Cairo and the Nile Delta Egypt, or the 'Woman Cairo 2000/1421' photographs.

I'm aware that usually people read my work differently depending on their own cultural or social context. They see what they already know.

What are you working on currently and your future projects?

Currently I am preparing a work for the Sharjah Biennial in April 07. When I visited Dubai and Sharjah several times last year my ideas became very influenced by the situation there. I decided to create an architectural, 3 dimensional, high, reflective glass billboard: 8m wide x 2.5 m high x 1m deep. The piece will be placed in the middle of the heritage area of Sharjah, blocking the way and reflecting the surroundings. In the evening, depending on the sunlight the glass will be transparent in places. The letters 'MIRAGE 07' will appear.

Inside the Museum I will exhibit a documentary photographic series showing my trip through Sharjah and from there to Dubai. Mountains, different landscapes of Sharjah, palm farms and tracks transporting big rocks from the mountains to build Dubai.

For fall 07/beginning 08 I am planning to show at the Townhouse Gallery Cairo, in Alexandria and after that at Third Line Dubai.

For these 3 locations I'm currently in the process of developing a project, which will relate to the communities and architectures there.

From Still Life, Cairo, 2006 series
Photograph mounted behind perspex
Courtesy of the artist