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Bogeys by
Ramy Essam

Ramy Essam (b. 1987, Mansoura) is a celebrated Egyptian activist and artist based in Helsinki, Finland. Ramy rose to prominence performing protest songs on the occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo during the revolution in 2011. His commanding baritone gave voice to the people and Ramy was hailed as the grungy poet-laureate of the revolution. Since then, his songs havecontinued denouncing Egyptian corruption (“Balaha”), commemorating imprisoned activists (“El Amiis El Karoo”), and supporting global protest movements (“Rise Up Sudan”). 


But being bestowed the title “voice of the people” complicated Essam’s relationship to hiscreativity. Music had always been his creative outlet, but it also led to persecution, violence and ripped him from his homeland. “How can I sing to you, oh my country, if you see my death for the sake of a song?” he asks in “In My Silence is My Death”. Ramy has lived in exile in Sweden and Finland since 2014. 

While battling PTSD in 2021, Ramy began drawing, which he had not done in twenty years. Drawing offered a creative outlet away from the trauma, oppression, and censorship he had endured as a musician. He called his cartoon-like characters “bogeys” and soon they accumulated in the hundreds. Drawn with pure intuition (“my spirit speaks for itself” explains Ramy) the bogeys began morphing into abstract shapes and geometric patterns, taking on a life of their own. For the first time, a selection of bogeys will be on display to the public, both as silkscreen prints and projections. 

The bogeys will appear alongside a nine-minute soundscape featuring nine vignettes including “Revolution and Frontline”, “Exile” and “Torture”. Made from field recordings, spoken word interludes and flashes of the rock music that he holds dear, it is the most personal music Ramy has created. Hanging from the ceiling are silk fabrics printed with English and Arabic lyrics from four of his songs, among them “In My Silence” and “Harara”. 

The Cowgirl Gallery is honoured to present Bogeys by Ramy Essam. Ramy hopes his bogeys and their message of the cathartic power of art reaches those who suffer from PTSD or struggle with their mental health. The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Ramy’s father Essam who bought Ramy his first pen and urged him to draw. 

Sound piece by Samuli Kivelä and Ramy Essam. Poetry by Ramy Essam and Galal El-Behairy. Silkscreen printing made by Nora Zolotov. Visuals by Patch Hofweber. 

With support from Malmö Stad and Swedish Arts Council.

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