Kenawy & Antje Majewski
Ica Wahbeh - The Jordan Times Weekender
February 15, 2007
Room, 2004, video art & performance, 17' 00"
To the dramatic sounds of string
instruments, barefooted and dressed in black, Amal Kenawy
makes her appearance against the dark background of
the colonnaded yard of Darat Al Funun. On the dais where
she seats herself is a white wedding dress on an iron
dummy, some unstuck parts fluttering in the wind.
Like a modern-day Penelope, she
starts sewing part of it, graceful like a bird in flight,
with measured movements full of purpose.
And then the screen behind her
comes to life. A bride clad in a white wedding gown,
the veil and gloves de rigueur, stands in front of a
bathroom mirror, water flowing somewhere invisible,
a vital liquid spreading like another vital liquid –
blood – both recurrent motifs in Kenawy’s
Through a reverse animation process,
a leafless tree, like a living object, gradually regresses
to a small speck in a bare, clinical room, becoming
a stone, a moving amorphous body that assumes the image
of a beating heart.
The bride’s gloved hands
start stitching the heart, a living organism pulsating
with the rhythm of the music, each pull of the needle
mirrored in Kenawy’s acts on stage.
Stitch after painful stitch pricks
the heart. Scissors incise openings where beads on wires
are inserted by the almost cruel hands that start sewing
a white paper rose on the “breathing” organ.
becomes stifling, the thread wraps around the barely
pounding heart that becomes the body of the bride lying
on a huge white bed. She is covered by a shroud –
never really having had the wedding party – and
gradually, around huge pins with lit heads, threads
are woven in the manner of a huge spider gone erratic,
zigzagging, coming and going, smothering the woman,
like the heart before her, till… nothingness.
The total darkness is converted
into light by the artist who sets fire to the dress
she had been stitching, like another Penelope undoing
her work, awaiting for another day, or like a Scheherazade
finishing a story only to soon start another.
is “The room”, Kenawy’s video and
performance act, powerful, loaded with symbolism and
deep philosophical thought, precursor to her other video
productions that can be seen in the main building of
Darat Al Funun.
Will Be Killed, 2006, video animation & paintings, 5'
is the only concession Kenawy makes to colour; almost
the colour of blood flowing through the body but also
outside it, seeping out to let it die, like in “Stop
– you will be killed”.
dead/dying woman is lying on her back. A rat gnaws at
her entrails, drawing purple blood, a transmogrified
woman standing over her. The scene is repeated in a
set of drawings on the walls of the hall, culminating
in the video (based on the drawings) of the same woman,
first real, then becoming a drawing too. To the sound
of dramatic music, the skilled animation rapidly transforms
scene after scene, faithfully rendering by now familiar
images: rooms (dimensions given) that become of confining
sizes and forbidding bars that become grids; rats that
are metamorphosed into bats, all blood-drawing animals
with lugubrious connotations; trees that become hearts,
abstract shapes and well defined images, a familiar
world and one of fantasy drawn by the imagination of
an evil mind.
will be killed” is set in a real place/location
– a military hospital. Fantastic images and spaces
are projected onto the walls of this actual space, converting
the hospital into a gallery. “The location has
an undeniably intense history; it is a place that has
witnessed conflicts/relations of power and violence.
The superimposition of a picture of myself on the walls
of the hospital emphasizes that this is my understanding
of the place. The work however is not about a particular
place or a specific event, it is about violence in general,
whether on a personal or political level.”
Purple Artificial Forest, 2005, video animation & drawings,
“The artificial purple forest”, Kenawy constructs
and deconstructs spaces and bodies. Purple body parts
appear as normally as trees in a forest, coming together
for a normal body or, single, sprouting branches, leaves
and flowers in a continuous process of metamorphosis.
Pulsating blood, the eternal heart, confining rooms,
the cage-like outline of a hoop skirt containing the
floating legs or a woman, demons, bats, babies, spiders,
butterflies – images succeed each other constantly,
almost subliminally, are by now familiar yet unsettling.
A cobweb is wrapped around a woman, creating a chrysalis
from which, in a strange process of evolution, a butterfly
evolves. The same thread that suffocated life creates
this life-giving pupa. The process is emphasized by
the presence of light bulbs and electric pylons, objects
that bring light, another life-giving element, into
The symbolism is such that you cannot keep pace with
it. Life-giving and life-taking, women, babies, blood,
light and darkness, juxtapositions that talk about transformation
– of life gone into nonexistence, of one form
of life into another, of one species becoming another,
of the power of the human being to effect such transformation,
of its impotence in succumbing to it.
The 33-year-old Kenawy is surreally philosophical and
introspective in her art; too deep, one would say, for
her age. Yet artists are like that, and in her case,
“these images come close to portraying me, to
being an expression of my true self, the self that I
can see clearly way beyond the narrow confines of my
According to her (in response to critic Gerald Matt
who presented, with great introspection, her work at
Darat Al Funun), “these body parts [in “The
artificial purple forest”] and the imagined, hostile
spaces that they lie in, have interchangeable roles,
one devouring the other and vice-versa in an endless
cycle of consumption/destruction”.
Memory, 2002, video art, 4' 00"
done with her brother Abdel Ghany Kenawy, is another
suggestive video work making use of her other imagery.
The “frozen” memory is not exactly that.
It is water rippling in a glass container in which the
artist’s face appears, clear at the beginning,
slowly getting shadowed and finally, like in many other
images before it, shrouded in an opaque veil that makes
it (implicitly her existence) disappear. A wedding photo
of a couple appears, a tree (the same that becomes a
heart in “The room”), written pages, and
then, again, nothing, but the water waving gently in
its cold receptacle.
In a reverse climax from “The
room’s”, fire this time serves to create,
not destroy. A small fire flickers at the bottom of
the vessel, growing stronger with each lapping flame,
paradoxically “creating” the ever-present
wedding dress instead of consuming it, leaving it floating
in the water.
Water and fire, life and death, creation and destruction
– contrasting notions Kenawy makes ample use of
to tackle deep existential problems and look inside
I looked within myself, I began to realize myself as
an independent entity that contains a set of laws which
rule and govern my body as a physical being. However,
these laws do not represent or convey the true nature
of myself for the do not correspond with my feelings
about life and non-existence,” said the artist
in her “personal statement”.
So the search is on, and in the process, she creates
powerful, moving, surprising art that leaves one thinking,
questioning conventional concepts, and a bit reeling.