People named Mohamed are encountered frequently across the globe, but for Melbourne-based Egyptian artist Ezz Monem, the name has personal resonance: his birth name was Mohamed Ezzeldin M. Abdelmonem. As well as being his first name, Mohamed is also a subject for creative exploration: it is the world’s most popular male name (with an array of spelling variants) and its most famous bearer is, of course, the prophet and founder of Islam.
As part of his recent Masters research, Monem began to form an extensive archive in order to build “a visual portrait” of the name Mohamed. He collected snippets from a long list of Egyptian films. The films sometimes referred to the prophet in a religious context, but more often involved various fictional characters, or actors named Mohamed in the credits. Monem would trawl through the films and make notes every time the name was used or displayed.
Monem began digitally manipulating the collected scenes, making a series of strategic erasures. In films where someone says the name Mohamed, for example, he muted all sound except for the utterance of the name. Likewise, in film credits, he erased all text apart from where the name Mohamed appears. The resulting installation In Search of Mohamed includes multichannel video and photography works that explore the tensions between “the reverent and the profane”, he says, describing his investigations as highlighting the “ghostly boundaries of representation”.
“It is about isolating and highlighting, so that you get some ambiguity,” Monem explains. “The connection between the name and the image is removed. You don’t know what or who is the ‘Mohamed’ being referred to in the scene.”
This article was originally published in the March/April 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.