Juxtaposition is the act of positioning two or more things side by side or close together as per the Merriam Webster dictionary. In visual arts, juxtaposition entails making the ordinary look extraordinary and represents one of the essential techniques in the Surrealism art movement. For example, overlapping two images together in impossible combinations.
In the sculptural installations and wall objects of Egyptian-born, Vienna-based visual artist Hazem El Mestikawy, juxtaposition creates technically elaborate and thematically engaging works. With flawless precision and a geometric complexity, El Mestikawy carefully overlaps and arranges different sections or modules and ultimately locks or glues them together – like a puzzle – to create a homogeneous unity. Architectural in forms, El Mestikawy’s creations entwine thought and form and use a variety of inspirations from the artist’s heritage such as the most fundamental principle of Sufism of unity in multiplicity. Geometric forms as well as letters or numbers are repeated symmetrically to form patterns and provide the impression of infinity, abstraction and purity. The notion of meditative process, repetition and time, as also found in Islamic art and architecture and ancient Egyptian art, is a constant guiding spirit.
Because they are made out of cardboard, newspaper, recycled paper or printed-paper and glue, each piece looks simple and fragile. Yet each recurrent structure is both complex and solid demonstrating the significance of the scientific process he invented and mastered. Requiring meticulous precision and intensive labor to consolidate, his intricate process, based on physics and mathematics, takes conventional sculpture to a level difficult to imitate. His signature media of cardboard and paper provides a mental platform for viewing from either of two perspectives, strong or light, massive or fragile. This coexistence is particularly tangible in the two series displayed in Hazem El Mestikawy’s first solo exhibition Juxtaposition at ArtTalks.
In the first series, El Mestikawy explores the key highlights of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. In ‘18 Days’, the artist refers to the number of days the protests lasted in Tahrir Square, from the day the revolution erupted until the day Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign, symbolized in the 18 units that create a dome or the square. In ‘White’, El Mestikawy choses the date of Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, 2011, playing with the numbers where coincidentally, the year 2011 can be read backward as 1102. Finally, ‘Al Horriya Panel 4’ and ‘Behind The Back’ reference one of the three demands that stirred the 2011 revolution – Freedom.
In his second series inspired by the Islamic tradition of calligraphy, the works ‘I Am The Other’, ‘Aequalis’, ‘Viewpoint’ and ‘La #3’ are a continuation of his exploration of the importance and meaning of letters. With 2 or 3 Arabic letters, El Mestikawy playfully deals with identity and gender. Ana (I) / howa (He) / heya (She) / Hor (Free masculine) / Hora (Free feminine) represent a contemporary and minimal calligraphy he has created over the years, rooted in history, to provide a continuity from past to present and a debate on where to go from here.
In both series, El Mestikawy seeks to create minimalist work in reduced forms yet rich in layers of meaning. He gives the viewer an opportunity for contemplation and reflection that ultimately everything should fit together in the end.
Hazem El Mestikawy was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1965. He currently works and lives in Vienna, Austria. His installation, Nine A Letters, was acquired by the North Carolina Museum of Art. In 2011, El Mestikawy has been a runner up to the prestigious Jameel Art Prize, launched by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. His work, Patent Pattern, won the grand prize at the thirteenth Asia Art Biennale in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2008.