Tuesday March 5th, 2024
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Cairo Exhibit Reimagines the French Countryside Through African Lens

Amado Alfadni’s exhibition at the French Institute reimagines the 20th century French countryside with details of African lore.

Raïs Saleh

Cairo Exhibit Reimagines the French Countryside Through African Lens

In the quiet exhibition hall of the French Institute in Cairo, Sudanese-Egyptian artist Amado Alfadni shows me around his new exhibition, entitled ‘Tales and Stories: Amado Alfadni at La Maison d’Odile’. The space is filled with documentary materials, giving us an intimate look at the life of a certain Madame Odile, a French woman who turned her simple village home into a refuge for the arts.

Photographs of her first communion and her wedding are put on display alongside notes from school and love letters written to her legionnaire darling, and it is through these materials that I am able to immerse myself in another era - and in so doing, gain a new perspective of what the French countryside was like beyond the written letters and the purview of the camera lens, and see the influence of African culture that is often obscured in such a time and place, with African figures and symbols painted over the materials.

“Focusing on history is vital in the creation of art, through it we remember the moments that have shaped who and what we are now, and the moments which affect our art today,” Alfadni tells CairoScene. The artist’s works often use captivating historical cores to draw the audience into a world in which he reimagines African histories through the use of archival materials. In pursuit of such a project, Alfadni went to a small French village called Bernède to pursue a three-week residency. As it turned out, the residency took place in the house of Madame Odile, and after learning of her life and her legacy, Alfadni was inspired to incorporate her unique history into his work. Although Odile may never have been directly involved with African history, the exhibition shows how African influence may have nonetheless been present in her culture and society.

“The village was a space of quiet and meditation, and the perfect place to do work on a project focusing on African soldiers in European armies during the 19th century,” says Alfadni. “I’m sure Odile, a village woman born in the early 20th century, would never have thought that her life might be a source of wonder and inspiration for an exhibition held in Cairo almost a century after her birth.”

Alfadni’s works have always incorporated African imagery, folklore and historical images to bring to life unknown histories. He intersperses the icons of the idyllic rural life led by Odile with his signature references to African mythologies and histories, and the ever present tricolor of the old Sudanese flag. One of Alfadni’s ongoing projects focuses on the lives of little-known Senegalese legions which fought in the German army during the 19th century.

“Everywhere one goes in the world, one learns of little known interactions Africans had with the rest of the world- fascinating stories which modern history books don’t account for,” says Alfadni. These stories have formed the basis of Alfadni’s work, with previous creations delving into the Sudanese jazz legend Sharhabeel’s legacy, and images of Egyptian and Sudanese beauty queens.

‘Tales and Stories: Amado Alfadni at La Maison d’Odile’ is currently taking place at the French Institute until December 23rd.


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