Critics’ Picks

View of “Global Slum,” 2012.

View of “Global Slum,” 2012.


Maryam Jafri

11 Road 12, Mahmoud Sedky, Agouza
October 29–December 2, 2012

“Global Slum” is Maryam Jafri’s debut solo show in Egypt and the inaugural exhibition at Beirut––a new art initiative and exhibition space that recently opened in Cairo’s Agouza district. Claiming the institution building’s incursion in the landscape of Cairo as a curatorial act––an especially urgent one in light of the current situation in Egypt and the region––Beirut has dedicated its first season of activities to the subject of contemporary labor.

Consisting of nine grids, each comprising one panel of printed text and eight photographs––different views of one location––gathered from image banks around the world, Jafri’s latest body of work looks at various environments, populated or not, as performative sites of production. It becomes evident that what we see is not what we get. Instead of rural fields, corporate office interiors, sites of military battles, a school, a hospital, or a prison, we perceive sets––replicas of entire cities built for different purposes––as sites of simulation and role-play. But all of these sites—whether used as a film set, a training camp for real warfare, or a scenography for S/M play—involve physical labor and real economies. The workers in the open-plan offices of Ramoji Film City are not burned-out software developers, but exhausted set designers, while real employees in an Apple store in China don’t know that they work in a fake shop selling Foxconn products. Fabricated slum houses in the state of Georgia fail to educate visitors about poverty, whereas the school desk in the dungeon in Munich might for the customer of the establishment’s services replace the psychiatric couch. In the accompanying texts, Jafri traces connections between these sets and their global economies, and encourages us to look at these advertisement photographs not just as sites of commercial image production or intimate role-play, but as sites of material and immaterial currency.