Arguments around the affinity between art and pornography have been too frequent in Egypt recently. I have mentioned Mahmoud Amer’s accusations in recent posts. Sophia Azeb has described the hysterical responses to Aliaa Elmahdy’s naked self-portraits. Against the gaudy backdrop of these arguments – where conservatism and protest, Islam and Western, religion and ‘secular’ art are divided into predictable encampments – consider this painting by Mai Heshmat. It’s her proposal for the new Egyptian stamp – now Mubarak’s head has been deposed – and demonstrates a refreshing humor. This woman’s facelesness is suggestive of the way bodies have become canvases for political debate. Remember the logic that virginity tests were carried out by the army on female activists in order to establish that they could not claim to have been raped by the soldiers. And yet the work, veiled in colour, seems playful, even celebratory. There is something jarring in her acid green outline: it is an ambivalent and satirical image. This is art which provokes thought without seeking to be provocative.
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January 31, 2012