Bastirma came to Cairo last Monday, but not as food waiting to be eaten. It came artistically, in the form of an exhibition, brought to Zamalek Market by up-and-coming artist Naila Marei, and visual expert Zein Fahmy.
Luckily, I had the chance to converse with Marei about the art exposition to know more about how all of this came to life.
Of all the names she could have named the exhibition, why did she end up with bastirma? Indeed, there happened to be a bunch of really interesting reasons behind the name.
Beneath the tongue-in-cheek impression the name gives, there actually lies a meaning. It is the focal theme and the glue to all the artwork; Bastirma is suppression in Turkish.
The term is also being referred to in its form of meat, to reflect the resemblance in flesh between human beings (which Marei’s paintings focuses on) and dry meat.
Bastirma also seemed fitting due to its smell, “no matter how much you try to suppress it, the smell will surface; simply reminding us that nothing can nor should be suppressed without backlash,” the artist stated.
Marei, being the free-spirited person that she is, did not want to display her art in another established gallery, because it does not suit the message she is trying to send. Instead, she has taken it to the Zamalek Market, a more urban-ish venue.
Promoting an organic movement for other young artists who are deemed ‘amateur’ was Marei’s main objective from the show, “because we’re all amateurs here,” she told me in a very Lewis Carroll-like manner.
Marei teamed up with Zein, to transform the place into their pop-up exhibition space, which turned out perfectly. They set up a rave-y lighting system in the outdoor patio, and rented street food carts. The place looked very aesthetic, amusing and very Instagramable.
It was filled with Marei’s jaw-dropping paintings; which were mostly portraits. Her consistency with portraits reflected her old curiosity towards the human race and their place in the universe.
Her art is very abstract, alarming and surreal. Content and word guru, Jenan Sheta, helped write compelling captions beside each piece which made me relate (more like, connect) to all the paintings and its details. Each portrait is of a person who is suppressed in one way or another.
“The people in the paintings are people who are in my subconscious but also happen to exist in real life,” Marei said.
Marei’s art pieces are very controversial to our society; however, she believes that people enjoy watching controversial content but they refuse to admit it. “It’s easier to see acts of blood and hate, than acts of taboo love,” she added.
Egypt has helped Marei get to where she is today, she admits. Festering oppression in the society is exactly what drove her to paint, even when it was not about her. She felt the need to leverage her voice on behalf of those who cannot.
The portraits subtly condemn social constructs such as gender roles and the boundaries they set for human beings, instead of having the freedom of the rest of the animal kingdom.
“The human race is suddenly being asked to do much more than other species… women are shamed for the two most basic needs, while men are applauded for them.”
P.S. She also set up matchboxes with her art printed on it as giveaways to everyone at the event. And yes, of course I got one for myself.