Play on representation; the Egyptian experiment

Osama Esid

Curatorial project with Masasam

The relationship between the “West” and the Arab World at the turn of the XXI century requires reinforcement and regeneration due to the international political events and circumstances of the last years. The need to encourage cultural meeting points and to promote profound mutual awareness is essential. The work of Osama Esid is a visual manifest of this relationship, investigating the social preconceptions and stereotypes that have been created on either side in the past, and which in some way still persist in our collective unconscious. The inquiry into “Orientalism”, with its exotic and sensual connotations, from an artistic contemporary point of view generates a huge range of creative and theoretical possibilities which reveal the existing contradictions in the creation of clichés.

The exhibition “A play on Representation; The Egyptian Experiment” reopens the debate on these fundamental issues which unite East and West and which once so concerned Edward Said. If we follow his interpretation, the West constructed a beautified and alluring image of Orient, a fantasy which, we must not forget, was part of a precise historical moment, and responding to an imperial agenda it was designed to contain and control the Orient. Thus Said dismantles the concept of Orientalism in a negative way. It is exactly Said’s negative presumption which Osama Esid questions in his photographic oeuvre. Apart from the Imperialist discourse it stems from, can nothing positive be derived from it? For Esid that image of Orient constructed by the West also penetrated the East, “the oriental fantasy exists on both sides”. Furthermore and here is where Esid’s motivation and inspiration lies, one can inquire into a stereotype to create new interpretations using its own language and mechanisms and feeding on those same inner contradictions, without needing to pigeonhole a culture.

Thus in the “Orientalism and Nostalgia” series, Esid reconstructs a theatrical period scenario but displaces it in full XXI century in one of the most important capitals of the region, Cairo. The aim of each piece is to acquire the atmosphere of those old vintage pictorialist photos, where beauty becomes the main protagonist. He highlights the more sensual side of Orientalism, referring to those essentially feminine spaces which also remind us of French XIX century painting. He retrieves the sensuality and eroticism in the gaze and enticing pose, although endowing his women with a defiant intensity, no longer passive and complacent, but on the contrary women who are in control of their bodies and their destinies. By acknowledging beauty in this context, Osama Esid brings forth another representative twist, which is to try to modify the current widespread vision of his region, one characterised by images of war, terrorism and fundamentalism. On the other hand, the “Workers of Cairo” series presents a direct contemporary account of the most common professions and jobs of this immense metropolis. Once again, however Esid portrays it as if it belonged to another time, endowing his models with a timeless quality. The strength of this series, which is so reminiscent of the work of August Sander, lies in forcing both the Western and Eastern audience to observe those armies of average men who create our day to day lives, the mundane heroes, who we refuse to acknowledge and would prefer to ignore.

The questions that derive from the work of Osama Esid and this play on ways of representing the “other”, are: How do Westerners perceive those they denominate “Orientals”? And, how do both Westerners and Orientals represent those they call “others”?



3rd February to 13th March 2011 at the Citadel of Pamplona, Pamplona

11th September to12th October 2008 at GETXOPHOTO, International Photography Festival, Getxo, Vizcaya

This exhibition has also travelled to:

12 June – 12 July 2008 at Center for Arab Studies, Granada
25 April – 4 May 2008 at 5th African Film Festival of Tarifa, Exhibition Hall Cárcel Real, Tarifa
20 December 2007 –  20 January 2008 at Maestra Sala de Arte, Jaén
11 – 29 June 2007 at Teatro Cómico Principal, Córdoba


Catalogue designed by Masasam and produced by Casa Arabe and the International Institute of Arab and Muslim Studies for the exhibition Play on representation; the Egyptian experiment by Osama Esid.

17 x 24 cm
72 pages
Produced by Casa Arabe and International Institute of Arab and Muslim World Studies
Designed by Masasam
Languages: Spanish- Arabic
ISBN: 978-84-690-9578-2


Photographic session where the public poses as a model within a period scenery (responding to the series “Orientalism and Nostalgia”) or moving in the street (with a background recreating the series “Workers of Cairo”). The resulting photographs are exposed for the duration of the exhibition and are subsequently delivered to participants for free.

Esid recreates a “photographic studio” in a new context, with pedestrians no doubt different from those he photographed in Cairo, where he tries to capture in a snapshot his looks and poses by moving them in a space of two times; our time in Another time. Thus, Osama Esid with his classic camera of large format with vintage lenses portrays anyone who grants to move to a supposed “East” in a supposed “West.”

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