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"Portraits of Ashoura: Nermine Hammam"
2006-04-09 until 2006-04-30
Townhouse Gallery / Factory Space
Cairo, , EG Egypt

The digital photographs in Portraits of Ashoura depict Shi’a men participating in rites commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed at the Battle of Karbala on the 10th day of Muharram 61 AH (680 AD). The men bear the marks of the self-inflicted violence commonly associated with Shi’a Ashoura practices in Nabatieh, Southern Lebanon, where these photographs were shot, as well as in Bahrain, India, Afghanistan and Iraq. Although one of the most visible of Ashoura traditions, the self-wounding pictured in Hammam’s exhibition is being practiced less and less due to its controversial status even within Shi’a constituencies.

Hammam’s pieces offer multiple readings, their significance coming in and out of focus respectively, based on the viewer’s ability or willingness to contextualize the images within the historical, social, political and religious traditions of Nabatieh’s Ashoura tradition. Alternately, these images lend themselves to association with the visual and ideological conventions characterizing a more widely disseminated, but equally historically, politically and culturally grounded mass media.

The design-oriented digital manipulation of the photographs, the references to documentary genre and traditional portraiture, the larger-than-life size, the low-cost poster material on which the pieces are printed – all these elements lend the images a certain resonance within an international field of image exchange. Hammam’s images might just as easily be read within a news media tradition associating the Middle East (and especially Arab males) with violence, extremism, and danger, as well as a pop culture tradition of gory action/drama/adventure genres and hero-villain dynamics.

Portraits of Ashoura appears to indicate that, while clearly part of a self-identifying and religiously grounded tradition, the specificity of Nabatieh’s Ashoura practices are also inescapably linked to the modes of representation and associated discourses promoted via an “international” mass media culture.

Hammam graduated from the Tisch School of Arts, New York University with a BFA in Filmmaking. Her work has been exhibited at the Townhouse Gallery (Cairo 2001, 2002), El Hanager Art Center (Cairo, 2001), Espace SD (Beirut, 2004) and the Fortis Circus Theatre (the Hague, 2003).


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