Kochi: Lebanese filmmaker Rania Stephan’s video installation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a multifaceted work that uses VHS clips from Soad Hosny’s films to explore the late Egyptian star’s screen image.
Structured like a three-act classical tragedy, the work is an accumulation of footage from more than 60 VHS copies of feature films that starred Hosny between 1959 and ’91. The installation captures the career and mythology of the iconic Egyptian actress (1943-2001), points out Beirut-based Rania.
“The entire film is made from images and sound taken from Hosny’s films. It is built like a tragedy in three acts that ends in death. The film operates like a kind of pre-vision on the tragic destiny of this actress,” elaborates the artist, who has been working with film for the last two decades.
Rania, 58, proposes a singular and poetic rewriting of a lost golden age of Egyptian cinema by montaging scenes from different films. “Irreverent, playful and serious, my work reexamines the legacy of complex representations of the modern Arab woman,” she adds about the installation at the main Aspinwall House venue of the 108-day festival concluding on March 29.
The artist re-configures the narrative structure of biopics or documentaries by splicing them together with found archival footage with her own. “I often use films produced across the Arab region,” she points out.
Rania’s inspirations are movies from the Arab region during the latter half of the 20th century. They range from the 1960s Egyptian blockbusters to the artist’s own 1990s tapes. “They try to stand at a crossroads of cultures and influences, East and West, and remains a place of both exile and return,” adds Raina, who focuses on what she calls “the archaeology of images, identity and memory”.
This video installation was first showcased in a New York institution, following its premier at the 10th Sharjah Biennial (2011), where it had won The Artist Prize.
Made exclusively from pirated videos that the artist excavated from the street-side stalls that dot Cairo, the city infuses into the tapes from which Rania pieced her work together. Hosny’s work tells the actress’s story better than anyone else, according to the artist. For, they also mark “the rise and fall” of Egyptian cinema.
“With that, we see a fall of collective aspirations in a region facing a precarious political context,” the artist notes. “From Hosny’s younger years as a glamourous siren to characters that were revolutionaries or melodramatic aging dames, the actress inhabited every typecast role imaginable for women in the latter half of the 20th century.”
Rania uses intense and intuitive editing in her work that unapologetically carries her personal history with popular media — one that is beyond, or perhaps cannot be solely attributed to a Lebanese experience.
The artist is also showcasing another video work at the biennale titled ‘Train-Trains: A bypass (1999-2017)’, which she has constructed from footage depicting her 1999 journey tracing a decommissioned rail line that linked Palestine and Lebanon.