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Oum Kalthoum

Digital image on Hahnemuhle paper white rag 


187 x 100 cm

"I shall never forget Her who is the giver of happiness; She it is, O Mother, who, in the form of the Moon, Creates the world full of sounds and their meanings, And again, by Her power in the form of the Sun, She it is who maintains the world. And She, again, it is who, in the form of Fire, destroys the whole universe at the end of the ages.”

-Tantric Hymn to the Goddess Shakti


Oum Kalthoum is from Hammams’ Ma’at series named after the Egyptian goddess of truth, order and justice. It pays homage to seven iconic women all with Hammam’s face; “It all started with this urge, a primal one, to embody all the women that I admired, despised or desired to become. To become One with the female archetype.”


Here the late iconic singer, Oum Kalthoum, is transformed into a larger than life composite of images; a harmonious blend of the earthly and the spiritual, of male and female, in a single perfect whole. She is flanked by serpents reaching out ceremoniously, and in symmetry, on either side of her head. The serpent is the Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyph denoting Woman; it is also a mystical symbol of self-knowledge, of salvation, eternity and reincarnation; and a force of nature, projected through atmosphere, with the power to create or destroy.


"These images (the Ma'at series) are a reaction to my unsettled external environment, a shamanic, transformative ritual to conjure harmony and restore order. My warrior women combine the symbols of male and female power in one. In uniting these opposing energies, Ma’at takes on a transformative quality, asking the universe for healing, and recalibration, through art."

Oum Kalthoum, Nermine Hammam
Nermine Hammam

Born in Egypt (1967), Nermine Hammam is an Egyptian photo artist, living and working between Cairo and London. As an artist, she photographs the world and then alters the images she captures: her works are intricate composites of layered images and symbols, transformed through the prism of an aesthetic that combines digital manipulation and painting to form a rich and highly personal tapestry.


Hammam obtained her BFA in filmmaking from New York University's Tisch School of Arts, going on to work with Simon & Goodman and renowned film director Youssef Chahine. In images that pay homage to artists such as Diane Arbus and the Russian filmmaker, Tarkovsky, Hammam seeks out individuals in states of abandonment, marginalization or altered states of consciousness, relentlessly uncovering the vulnerability behind the mask, the frailty behind the gun and the hidden power structures within the family unit. Strongly influenced by her background in filmmaking, her images form sequential narratives, like the stills of a film, related in time and space.


Concerned with the subjective nature of reality, Hammam subverts the stereotype, unmasking it, in all its two-dimensionality, forcing us to question the limits of images we hold in our minds and mistake for truth. Stereotypes of gender or military might become meaningless signifiers in images that attribute true power to a balance between opposing energies of the universe. Like voodoo dolls, her warrior women, the successors of Egypt's ancient goddess, Ma'at, evoke the transformative power of art, a ritualistic call for the restoration of order and harmony. In Hammam's work 'stasis' is represented as a beguiling but impossible Utopia. Instead, she engages with that constant state of flux, at work within us and around us. Hers is a celebration of archaic symbology that points to ancient truths, lying concealed, just beneath the thin veneer of politics, ideology and religion.


Nermine Hammam's work is widely exhibited and has been included in public and private collections around the world. This includes international biennales such as the Bamako Biennale for Photography, in Mali (2011), X Biennale, Cuenca Ecuador (2009), and Photo Biennale, Thessaloniki (2009). Over the past decade, her work has been shown in more than fifty international exhibitions, both solo and collective, around the world.

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