The Ace of Spades: An Exhibition that Addresses Human Exploitation

By Hania Moheeb

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“The Ace of Spades”, a particular and intriguing title for an art exhibition by Shatha Al-Deghady and Amado Al-Fadni, still needed further elaboration after walking amidst the very expressive figures of the two artists at the Soma Art Gallery.

About the Exhibition

Al-Deghady and Al-Fadni came up with the idea and developed it together over the past year. The show that includes several figurative pieces depicting human exploitation over the years like sex slaves and enslaved soldiers is set up in a layout that simulates that of playing cards, recalling the story of the Ace of Spades.

“Playing cards arrived to Europe through the Mamluks of Egypt, hence they relate to the military culture and have had historical connections with wars and armies. In some countries, buying and playing cards entailed the payment of tax duty, so the government would hold back the Ace of Spades from the deck until it is stamped upon payment of such taxes.

Consequently, some underground movements started to secretly print aces of spades to complete the card decks without paying taxes, but those who were caught doing this used to face the death sentence, and that is why the Ace of Spades was labeled as the unlucky card,” says Egyptian born Sudanese artist Amado Al-Fadni, commenting on the title of the exhibition.

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Al-Fadni

Shatha Al-Deghady was the one behind the idea when she started researching the history of playing cards, learing that the most prominent card crosses roads many times with the theme of the exhibition: it was the card confiscated by the authorities, it was a symbol of death and it also bears the stamp of the manufacturer, which also makes it a symbol of possession. All of this echoes the situation of the unfortunate human beings who have no control over their fate; the ones portrayed in the exhibition.

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Al-Deghady

Artwork

Most of Al-Fadni’s work focuses on enslaved soldiers in regional wars, especially from Sudan where he uses a number of images dating from 1864 to mid-twenties of the 20th Century of Sudanese soldiers in different uniforms of the Egyptian, Turkish, British and German armies. “Those soldiers played different roles, where even the same soldier could be sold from one army to another. I came across the story of a certain soldier who was fighting with the French in Mexico, who then went on to fight with the Ottomans in Greece, then in Jerusalem with the Egyptians and in Sudan with the British, and so he fought with four armies in three different continents. He was practically sold as a weapon, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and constantly being used,” says Al-Fadni.

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Al-Fadni

Floating very lightly on the walls are the elegant female figures of Al-Deghady, who states that eroticism is quite different from pornography. “Through this exhibition, I am attempting to shift the power dynamics: choosing nudes is like a huge statement of not covering our bodies. It is part of the whole concept using the colonial cards. Here, I am using the erotic cards from the twenties where I am condemning the use of women’s bodies as a commodity. My works are not about sex, but about sexuality.” According to Al-Deghady, her art is mostly conceptual and this is the first time in four years of exhibiting that she works with nudes.

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Al-Deghady

Near the hall entrance is a large rounded red sculpture that is identified as a magnified red wax seal. This seal is the sign of confiscation or claiming property of a certain object. According to Al-Fadni, both artists at this point claim property of this exhibition hall.

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Techniques Used

Both artists use the photo transfer technique, which involves transferring photocopied images from paper to other surfaces be it canvas, wood or metal. This gives more room for the artist to alter the image, adding his or her touches of color, sketching or collage, creating a genuine piece of art.

They also use the monoprint technique that is the creation of one specific impression or print of an image, without the possibility of printing several copies, that is usually made from woodcuts or etching.

The issues that both artists tackle in their special exhibition ought to address a larger audience. Al-Fadni speaks enthusiastically about the two years following the revolution when artists were able to do so through numerous outdoor functions and he hopes that this would happen again where artists move out of the walls of galleries.

Artists’ Biographies

Shatha Al-Deghady is a contemporary visual artist born in Cairo, Egypt in 1987. She graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts (Cairo) from the printable designs division in 2009, and worked as a designer in several fields. Currently, she is an independent visual artist working on studying and experimenting modern art by using different art mediums.

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Amado Al-Fadni is an Egyptian-born Sudanese artist. His childhood was influenced by both environments: the Cairene street and the Sudanese home. The relationship, and sometimes tension, between the two strongly influenced his view of both cultures, and this dual perspective led him to create art.

His work discusses the relationship between the included and the excluded, and opens dialogue on issues of identity and politics. By working with forgotten historical events and current state policies, he raises questions of power dynamics between the individual and authority on a social and political
level.

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