Unboxing Gaza: Bringing a part of Palestine to the heart of Cairo

Amira Noshokaty , Saturday 20 Mar 2021

This edition of Cairo Photo Week (March 11-20) came with many happy surprises, one is the re-opening of Rawabet art space, and the other is bringing Gaza to the heart of Cairo

Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Photo credit to Amira el Noshokaty

This year's edition of Cairo Photo Week (March 11-20) came with many happy surprises, most notably the re-opening of Rawabet art space in Downtown Cairo and the bringing of Gaza into the heart of the Egyptian capital.

This time machine exhibition is a tribute to the late Armenian Photographer Kegham Djeghalian (1910s-1981), who survived the 1915 Armenian genocide, moved to Palestine, got married, lived all his life there and established ‘Photo Kegham,’ Gaza’s first photography studio in 1944.

Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Photo credit to Amira el Noshokaty.

The black and white photos are bewildering. Like embarking on a time machine, the exhibition titled "Photo Kegham of Gaza: unboxing (work in progress)" zooms into the social history of Gaza since the 1940s.

Three red boxes of negatives, portraits, families by the sea shore, women in school, celebrities that visited Gaza, and official letters of correspondence all hang on the wall and look you in the eye.

Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Photo credit to Amira el Noshokaty.

At a closer look, you can easily follow the soft narration that plays in the background, which helps in unpacking the stories behind the photographs.

“He was so kind... He was the king of photographers... I used to like photographing sunsets, he used to tell me, there are also sunrises… When seeing all his photographs I suddenly realised that there is someone who is writing the history of Gaza in photos, and that was his true genius,” the narration goes on.

Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Photo credit to Amira el Noshokaty.

Curated by art director, visual artist and fashion stylist Kegham Djeghalian, the grandson, the exhibition displays four thematics. The first two attempted to map out Kegham’s professional practice and socio-political engagement.

The third is a closeup on the personal and family album of the photographer, and the fourth was dedicated to Kegham’s key photos.

Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Photo credit to Amira el Noshokaty.

“I unboxed and curated the exhibition in one-and-a-half months only,” Djeghalian told Ahram Online. The exhibition is a work in progress, for there are many stories and photographs that are yet to be documented. This rich emotional journey that Djeghalian took when delving into the photo archive of his grandfather made him insist on not adding any dates or captions to the photographs on display.

Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Photo credit to Amira el Noshokaty.

“I was in a state of trance while curating this exhibition. It was very touching. I would wake up at 6 am to jump into work, and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I used to cry a tear at least every morning when I looked at these photos,” he added, explaining that he wanted the audience to connect directly with the photos that touched them.

Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Photo credit to Amira el Noshokaty.

Currently, Djeghalian aims to safeguard and document more stories and photographs of his grandfather’s archive so that a very rich and rare part of Gaza’s intangible heritage is safeguarded and open for the world to see.

Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Gaza to the heart of Cairo
Photo credit to Amira el Noshokaty.

“At this point, I aim to transcribe all of the oral narration in the exhibition. The narration is by people who encountered him in their life and on whom he left a mark. This is so precious and I am thankful that I managed to reach these people… all of this recording was done over messenger, zoom or phone-calls,” he noted.

The exhibition also documents the history of Gaza. Photographs of the railway that used to connect Egypt with Palestine, photos of Gaza’s airport, famous figures who visited like Egypt’s late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Che Guevara, Egyptian singers such as Abdel-Halim Hafez, and many more.

“I am elated, for it is probably the most important project that I have done on many levels; first and foremost on the personal level, in regards to my own heritage. I come from a lineage of two people who suffered a lot, and the two most atrocious acts against humanity in the 20th century were against the Armenians and Palestinians, and my grandfather captured that.”

Photo Keghdam of Gaza: Unboxing (A work in Progress) exhibition, part of Cairo Photo in Rawabet art space, downtown Cairo this (March 11-20).

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