Luxor, the artists' view
joins in the applause at the closing ceremony of the first Luxor International Painting Symposium
On the esplanade behind Luxor Temple stands a honey-coloured wooden stage. The backdrop is the peristyle courtyard of Pharaoh Ramses II with its papyrus bud columns. Before it, a dozen dancers in vivid costumes of all shades of red and yellow shake to the rhythm of a traditional band. The Qena folk dance group is presenting a performance of The Wedding, which features the customs and traditions of the people of Upper Egypt when they celebrate weddings.
The dance was part of the ceremony to mark the end of the first Luxor International Painting Symposium (LIPS) launched this year by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the Luxor International Atelier (LIA) and the Cultural Development Fund (CDF) in an attempt to interchange different artistic skills, schools and experiences between creative Egyptian, Arab and Foreign artists.
A part of the esplanade adjacent to the stage has been transformed into a small gallery to show the work of the participant painters. Every piece reflects the artist's own vision of the process of life, or else the mood that caught him or her while painting in the agreeable ambiance of Luxor, which combines an individual natural environment with the great and glorious civilisation of ancient Egypt. Here are a running black horse, a dark-red gate of an old city, the Nile embracing the desert, an example of a painted Gourna house, and feluccas navigating the crossing of the Nile. A group of abstract paintings featuring a veiled woman caught is squares of various colours; a mixture of geometrical and foliage drawings on an orange and dark-blue background; the soul's journey to the sky where it is converted into a Pharaoh and spots of colour that form an abstract scene. Some paintings have blended nature with history and abstract, such as is shown in French artist Ann Vignal's work where she uses plain papyrus papers to portray fish with colourful spots and lines.
Kuwaiti artist Sherif Ashkanani has inserted a photograph of a royal Pharaonic couple in one of his paintings, while Moroccan artist Youssef Khorassani has drawn Luxor town and placed on the top of it a small photograph of the Old Kingdom Sheikh Al-Balad (chief of the village), Ka-aper.
The second part of the closing ceremony was held at the LIPS plateau, where Hussein El-Guindi, supervisor of the CDF, gave each of the painters an honorary certificate and an award featuring the beautiful and well-executed face of a Pharaonic woman.
"It is a long-awaited dream come true," Ibrahim Ghazala, the LIPS commissar, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "Finally, artists will have their ateliers in Luxor." Guindi said that LIPS was not only an event that drew 25 painters from all over the globe together for two weeks to paint and exchange ideas, theories and visions in art, but it also introduces another facet of Luxor as an international core of culture and art, but was also a free promotion for Luxor through art where tourists could enjoy watching painters at work and perhaps spend a few moments in contemplation and admiration.
LIPS is one of the various activities of the newly- established LIA at the old village of Gourna, adjacent to the Valley of the Nobles on Luxor's west bank. Luxor Supreme City Council (LSCC) has allocated the few houses left in situ to give visitors a view of how Old Gourna was before the relocation of their original residents to another, more developed village, for the LIA.
"It is really a very inspiring place," Ghazala says. He adds that there, within the vicinity of the desert and so in tune with the age of Pharaonic history, the sense of serenity and divinity are overwhelming and painters will be able to focus more on the immersion of their creativity.
The LIA aims to provide the opportunity for creative artists from around the world to produce their art in a historical atmosphere surrounded by the diversity of ancient Egyptian monuments with their distinguished forms and images, as well as encouraging new artistic visions with extended historical roots that can add more to the enrichment of the art movement in Egypt and the world.
This aim will be implemented through an offer of grants lasting from three to six months for 15 young artists and a three-month training course of art studies for amateurs who wish to develop their painting and drawing skills. Courses in photography, graphics and sculpture will be also provided.
Guindi says the LIPS will be organised annually, like the older Aswan International Sculpting Symposium which has been held every year since 1996. Every year, it will bring 25 artists to Luxor: five Arabs, 10 foreigners and 10 Egyptians. The three most unusual and innovative artists will receive awards, and the CDF will provide a catalogue displaying some of their works and their biographies. This year's honorary figure was artist Sabri Mansour.
According to LIPS regulations, the CDF will provide artists with all the basic materials required such as paints, brushes and pallets. Each artist will have a per diem ranging from between LE3, 000 and LE5,000, the sum the artists demanded. They see this sum as being a little lower than sums offered by similar symposia. At three weeks, the symposium is also a little longer than most.
Guindi promises to consider all suggestions and comments made by artists and visitors to the LIPS in an attempt to prevent making the same mistakes in future rounds.
"This is our first experience in this field and it could obviously bear little fault. What is important is to know it and try to avoid it in the following rounds," Guindi said.
He added that all the paintings submitted to the LIPS would be shown at a special exhibition in Taz House in Mediaeval Cairo and then at the Creative Centre in Alexandria.
On the LIPS plateau some artists were working hard with their brushes to meet their deadline, while others were inserting the final touches to their paintings. Spanish artist Elsa Pons Fifueras produced five paintings using a special drawing technique coupled with collage, paper and glue. She considers three of her works to be "masterpieces", while the other two, she says, were finished in a hurry. She felt that participating in the symposium had been a good experience where she could meet colleagues and explore other topics of understanding art painting.
Lebanese artist Baderat Al-Baba considers the choice of Luxor as the venue for the LIPS as "great".
"The scene of the Nile embracing the desert, which I see every morning when I step outside my balcony at the hotel, has inspired me a lot," she told the Weekly. She said that the scene and the monuments of Luxor had led her to think of making a series of paintings. The first was about the legend of the Nile doll which was thrown into the river and then emerged. The second series she submitted featured natural scenes in an old village.
Egyptian artist Gamil Shafiq submitted three black and white drawings that complemented each other. The first features a group of running horses, with the foremost one standing still and gazing out of the picture; the second is the face of a smiling woman with short dark hair; and in the third three fish swim across the Nile.