Salma Hayek Stars in Youssef Nabil’s Entrancing Ode to Belly Dancers

The work is inspired by the golden age of Egyptian cinema.

Youssef Nabil, I Saved My Belly Dancer #XIX (2015) Image: Courtesy of the artist
Youssef Nabil, I Saved My Belly Dancer #XIX (2015)
Image: Courtesy of the artist

What do you get when you mix a belly-dancing Salma Hayek with 1950s Egyptian screen sirens and a flannel-clad cowboy on a white horse?

The answer is Youssef Nabil’s newest work, “I Saved My Belly Dancer,” which will be on view at The Third Line in Dubai from February 3-March 5, 2016.

Youssef Nabil, <i>I Saved My Belly Dancer #XIX</i> (2015) <br>Image: Courtesy of the artist

Youssef Nabil, I Saved My Belly Dancer #XXIV (2015). 
Image: Courtesy of the artist and The Third Line, Dubai.

The 12-minute video is accompanied by a series of film stills created by hand-coloring black-and-white gelatin silver prints, a technique favored by the artist for the final products’ resemblance to Egyptian movie posters and billboards from the golden age of cinema.

In his work, Nabil’s inspirations spar with nostalgia for a fictional past. “I Saved My Belly Dancer” takes its aesthetics from the 1940s-60s, when Omar Sharif was king, and Egypt was known as “Hollywood on the Nile.” In the decades since, belly dancers have been struggling to survive in Cairo, where, as danger Amie Sultan tells CNN, “It’s typical for someone to say I would never let my sister become a belly dancer or for a mother to say my son can never marry a belly dancer, but she’ll bring one to her son’s wedding.”

Youssef Nabil, I Saved My Belly Dancer #I (2015) Image: Courtesy of the artist

Youssef Nabil, I Saved My Belly Dancer #I (2015).
Image: Courtesy of the artist and the Third Line, Dubai.

This is the artist’s second film; the first was “You Never Left” (2010), an eight-minute allegory exploring exile and Egyptian identity. But even outside his video work, film has always been a central inspiration for the artist, who states on his website that he “observes his life as if he were in a cinema, watching and witnessing every moment of his own movie.”


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