Ayman Ramadan

° 1980

Born in Sharqiya, (EG), lives in Cairo (EG).

Ayman Ramadan moved to Cairo from the countryside when he was 16. He found a job as a security agent and would sleep in the minibuses and cars he cleaned in exchange for a place to sleep. Any money he’d make, he would send to his family. He kept this up for several years until, one day, a passer-by offered him a job and a place to stay. He’d witnessed the fallout of an argument between Ramadan and his boss about money. The passer-by was William Wells, owner of the Townhouse Gallery, Egypt’s first independent art space. Initially, Ramadan copied the work of artists who drew the biggest crowds. His first exhibition, Hallucination Superstition, went up in 2001. It dealt with popular superstitions that occupy the public imagination and how they can be conjured through metal sculptures and silhouettes.

Ramadan was struck by how the cultural features of the working class enjoyed little to no representation in the art world. This also stood out during his residencies in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where it felt like the art world mainly revolved around the well-to-do, highly educated middle and upper classes. In response, Ramadan began to employ and reframe objects, tools, kitchen utensils, sacred and religious objects, and street art from the working-class neighbourhoods of Cairo and the region where he grew up. For example, he stencilled an image of a street sweeper on the streets of Cairo. Not long after, the police brought him in for questioning. In the murky twilight of Mohammed Hosni Said Moebarak’s regime, mountains of rubbish accumulated in the streets of the metropolis, and his Sweeper (2009) became a symbol of the country’s rampant corruption. 

The White House referred to Egypt’s 2011 Revolution as having created a fluid situation. Sparking the revolution, several people literally set themselves on fire in protest. Violent protests ensued, including clashes with the army in and around Tahrir Square. Eventually, President Hosni Mubarak’s regime was toppled, and new elections were called amidst the storm of chaos. Ramadan used the empty, meaningless phrase (The Situation Is Fluid) on a blue road sign, translating the statement into Arabic as well. It canvassed the globe, either as a sign or as work in an exhibition, e.g. Narcisse Tordoir’s 2015 exhibition at M HKA.

Meanwhile, Ramadan was invited to exhibit in Sweden, won a scholarship to study photography in San Francisco, and studied at the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam. His focus began to shift to video art. His video Iftar was shown at Tate Modern, and the Baladi Bus installation was part of a group exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bonn. Ramadan’s work always keeps pace with his immediate environment and the neighbourhood residents eternally willing to help him out of dire straits. In 2015, he created the Mere Real Things exhibition for Townhouse Gallery. He displayed various tools, kitchen utensils and decorative objects from an average Egyptian household, such as broom besoms, shovels, and a wooden grinding wheel for sharpening knives. With the advent of the free market and globalisation, these objects disappeared from the middle class and were relegated to the lower classes and rural villages. Once upon a time, these objects had been part of the Egyptian middle class’ everyday world. In displaying them as useless art objects – readymades – to the art public, Ramadan cleverly magnifies the ‘progress’ that devoured these very things. He teases the collective memory still lurking and alive in the back of people’s minds. Time has allowed these objects to vanish unnoticed, only to reappear as curious art objects, occasionally confusing the public as to what their actual purpose is.

Over time, Ramadan’s oeuvre expanded through a range of media and influences, from minimalist sculpture to photography, video, and performance...often involving the residents of downtown Cairo.



* Argentine writer Julio Cortázar was quoted to announce the  Mere Real Things exhibition:

Ik denk aan die objecten, die dozen, die gebruiksvoorwerpen die soms opduiken in voorraadkamers, keukens of verborgen plekken, en waarvan niemand het gebruik nog kan verklaren. De ijdelheid om te geloven dat we de machinaties van de tijd begrijpen: hij begraaft zijn doden en bewaart de sleutels. Alleen in dromen, in poëzie, in spel - een kaars aansteken bijvoorbeeld, en ermee door de gang lopen - komen we soms op het kantelpunt van wat we waren voordat we dit ding werden dat -wie weet- we zijn.

I think about those objects, those boxes, those utensils that sometimes would turn up in storerooms, kitchens, or hidden spots, and whose use no one can explain anymore. The vanity of believing that we understand the works of time: it buries its dead and keeps the keys. Only in dreams, poetry, play — lighting a candle, walking with it along the corridor — do we sometimes arrive at what we were before we were this thing that, who knows, we are.

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