During her short but dynamic career, Amal Kenawy was one of the most prolific and successful North African artists of her generation. Using video, animation, performance and installation, she addressed social oppression, patriarchy, women’s rights and politics. Her work frequently employed theatrical and cinematographic vocabularies, illustrating controversial and often confrontational allegories to address social realities that range from love to death and from memory to violence. Kenawy transformed everyday objects, juxtaposing them in ways that create a distant and imaginative realm that leads viewers to wonder about reality and to consider it from a different perspective.
Amal Kenawy completed The Silent Multitudes shortly before the January 25, 2011 uprising in Egypt. At the center of the work is a large structure built in an architectural style typical of informal dwellings in Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods. Over one hundred liquid petroleum gas tanks surround it, giving the viewer a feeling of discomfort and suggesting the impending danger of an explosion or a gas leak. Evoking throngs of angry citizens ready to revolt, these gas tanks form the walls of a space that encloses a video showing the tanks swaying. As it alternates between grinding sounds and eerie silence, the video amplifies the tension created by the space and escalates notions of fear and instability. Made with “the most trivial and ruthless of objects,” as the artist described the gas tanks, The Silent Multitudes is a poetic reflection on the everyday crises that continue to characterize life in contemporary Egypt and the Arab world.