Dear Shaded Viewers,
I attended the opening for Youssef Nabil's I Saved My Belly Dancer featuring Salma Hayek and Tahar Rahim. I fell totally under the spell of both the series of hand coloured gelatin silver prints and the sensual and powerful video that was also a part of the exhibition. It was not the time to have a little chat so we made a rendez-vous for a few days later in his apartment. I made a little film that probably I will never post so here are a few excerpts from our conversation. Not that these images need any explanation but I will give you a little of the back story anyway. I met Youssef on his first trip to Paris 23 years ago – exactly September 1992. It was also the same time that he started to get into his art and photography. We were having dinner with friends in a beautiful apartment with the view of Notre Dame outside the window. But back to I Saved My Belly Dancer.
DP: How did it all get started?
YN: The idea came actually after the Egyptian revolution. A revolution was happening to the country and chaos was everywhere. We had two Egypts, two divided countries, one who wanted freedom and equal rights, and the other, I am sure wanted the same thing, but for a more conservative, religious Egypt. I thought of myself and everyone I know from Iran who had told me how the Iranian revolution started and now the same thing was happening in Egypt and I was so worried about my country becoming another Iran . I was in New York and I was following all the news and everything happening until the Muslim Brothers came into power and it was another very sad, shocking period where everyone was worried and we did not know what was going to happen next and little by little lots of individuals started attacking directly and indirectly if you want to call it ‘immoral’ and one of them was belly dancing in clubs. They managed to shut 12 clubs in Egypt but nothing really official, you see it coming you see it happening by those individuals little by little until it becomes a rule. So I had this idea in mind and literally the title came to me first that I wanted to save the Belly Dancer from disappearing, this art form that if you think about it it is probably the only pure art form in our region that is very typical to the Middle East and especially to Egypt since the Pharaohs. You see images of women dancing on temples in Egypt. So, three years ago I started writing the story making the story board and trying to think who can play the main character, the Belly Dancer, and I had in mind Salma Hayek. I even drew the story board with her face without knowing her. How we got to know each other is that we met in Paris a year and a half after and I told her that I was working on this video about belly dancing and you are my Belly Dancer. She knew me because she collects art and she has my work in her houses so we connected immediately and we felt like we already knew each other and she said “I’m going to do it.” She is super nice and super fun to work with we just were waiting for a time that she was free to do it and of course Tahar Rahim, the main actor, I worked with on my first video called You Never Left, he did with Fanny Ardant . I wanted to work with him again because I think he is an amazing actor and also someone that translates my feelings very, very well. It was again another perfect combination with Tahar and Salma after Tahar Rahim and Fanny Ardant.
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