Scaffolding a Familiar Epoch, 2021
A performative intervention At Stephenson Pharmacy
42 Abdel Khalek Tharwat St., Downtown, Cairo, Egypt
Curated by Marwa Benhalim.
Yasmine ElMeleegy performs as an artist, researcher, historian, museologist and contractor to untangle the past, present and possible future of a 19th century pharmacy in downtown Cairo. Stephenson Pharmacy was founded by George Stephenson in 1889 during the British occupation of Egypt. It was nationalized by President Gamal Abdel Nasser's regime, and later bought by Ehsan Samman, whose son runs it to this day. The pharmacy’s aesthetics with its embossed cabinetry and medical tools collection brought all the way from England at the time of its establishment, reflect its colonial history, begging the question if it is a pharmacy or museum.
Scaffolding a Familiar Epoch simulates a participatory museum-like experience that surpasses nostalgic narratives while maintaining the allure of fiction and anthropomorphism necessary for the restorative process. ElMeleegy explores how notions of repair and restoration can be expanded from objects, monuments and spaces to reflect processes of physical and psychological healing. Her intervention and meticulous restoration of the Stephenson Pharmacy is not an act solely based on assumptions, but one that questions the notions of personal and collective memory, while her sculptures, and audio and visual guides infuse the pharmacy with yet another layer of mystery.
Scaffolding a Familiar Epoch employs these artifacts, aesthetics and architecture to shed light on a history that appears out of sync with our times. It juxtaposes models of cultural consumption, looting and displacement associated with Western museums, with the current state of the healthcare system, dominated by large-scale production and capitalistic practices that have marginalised the role of the pharmacist.
This project is supported by Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al- Thaqafy Exceptional Grants for Artists & writers).