WÉTIKO: COWBOYs AND
3 SEPTEMBER - 3 OCTOBER 2014
ROSE ISSA PROJECTS, LONDon
82 Great Portland Street
The Egyptian artist-photographer Nermine Hammam came to international attention following the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, when her critically acclaimed series Upekkha and Unfolding - showcased in 2012 at the Mosaic Rooms in association with Rose Issa Projects - beautifully captured the heady atmosphere of the uprising. For Hammam’s second solo show in the UK, Rose Issa Projects is presenting Wétiko, the artist’s current series, as well as launching a monograph covering her most recent body of work.
In Wétiko: Cowboys and Indigenes, Hammam’s theme is media manipulation of contemporary affairs, and how our trust can be subverted by the constant rewriting of narratives. Having experienced the chasm between what she witnessed in the streets of Cairo and what was portrayed in the news, she says: “I began to consider how myths are fabricated in society, how images are manipulated for political support, and what implications this has had on humankind.”
Hammam chose her titles from the writings of Native American philosopher Jack D. Forbes. Forbes uses the Native American word “Wetiko” to describe a “person or spirit who terrorises other creatures by means of terrible evil acts”. To Forbes, our compulsion to consume the earth’s resources has led to exploitation, war and terrorism, and Wetikos are at the centre of contemporary life, consuming other people for private purpose or profit. They are in our governments, our corporations, our powerful elites, and our places of worship, and they control public opinion. For Hammam, the pressing issue is not why Wétikos have influence, but what we can do to dispel that influence. This is the premise of Hammam’s Wétiko – Cowboys and Indigenes: how to create a new way of seeing when the published image and word can no longer be taken at face value.
The series draws parallels between contemporary news photography and the paintings of European 19th-century Orientalists and the American artist-correspondents of the Wild West, such as Frederic Remington and Charles Marion Russell. “If we change one element in an image, it can affect our entire reading of the scene, and if we replace one element with another, a story can be retold,” Hammam says. For example, Remington’s Days on the Range (Hands Up!), from 1902, depicts a posse in pursuit of an unseen foe. In the foreground, a rider aims his gun forward as though he is about to fire. In Hammam’s composition however, a young male is caught in the crossfire. Trying to keep his head down, he flees from the gun and our gaze – will he survive or not? In trying to discern the “goodies” from the “baddies” Hammam brings another layer of interpretation to the scene: that our differences are far more subtle than we realise.