Artist and filmmaker Jasmina Metwaly’s latest video installation considers the significance of military uniforms in Egypt since the 2011 revolution.
The artist and filmmaker Jasmina Metwaly’s (b. 1982, Warsaw, Poland) most recent project centers on the cultural signification of military uniforms in the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Commissioned as part of the Consortium Commissions, an initiative of Mophradat, in collaboration with the Hammer Museum, Anbar (2019) is a three-channel video installation with accompanying textile components. Here Metwaly considers the uniform as an emblem of the paranoia and anxiety that descended on Egypt in the years following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. The work is organized around three characters—a former conscripted soldier, a tailor, and an activist filmmaker—who each demonstrate particular ties to the Egyptian military. The tailor, for instance, dressed Mubarak and his successor Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as well as the late military leaders Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. Metwaly suspends her three characters in distinct yet porous narratives that reveal specific moments of revolutionary history not typically represented by mainstream news outlets. The videos employ various formal devices that intimate different approaches to filmmaking while showing the ways in which ideology and power are embedded into the folds of everyday life.
Anbar is accompanied by a suite of three uniforms that Metwaly produced in collaboration with the Polish costume designer Marta Szypulska. The designs of the uniforms are loose interpretations of traditional military fatigues, made from fabric with a unique pattern fashioned after a butterfly motif that appears in the related videos. The motif offers an alternative to standard military-issue camouflage, the use of which is restricted for security purposes in Egypt. By pairing government regulation with the vagaries of fashion, Metwaly embraces the legitimacy of the uniform while undermining its logic. The garments play up the decorative use of military insignia and camouflage in contemporary fashion in order to further underscore how laws regulating uniforms are a proxy for safety and fear, standardization and national identity. Taken together, the works in the exhibition speculate on how uniforms confer power and serve as disguises for the ordinary civilians who enter the ranks of the military.