Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 January 2012
Issue No. 1081
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Luxor has Africa in its art

Almost 12 months late, the fourth round of the Luxor International Painting Symposium celebrated African art as its theme. Nevine El-Aref attended the closing ceremony

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Clockwise from top: an abstract painting showing different scenes of Luxor's rural life; LIPS artists before Karnak temples; Seada, Saad and Ghazala honouring an African artist; a rural tapissary; colourful rural houses; an artist at work

When Mohamed Abu Seada, head of the Culture Development Fund (CDF), announced six weeks ago that the Luxor International Painting Symposium (LIPS) would be resuming in the New Year period, the 25 selected artists scrambled to travel to Luxor to take advantage of the interaction with nature and history to create a piece of art of their own.

This fourth round was scheduled to be held at the same time last year, but was cancelled at the last minute because of the 25 January Revolution and the events that were unfolding at the time. It was the first interruption of the LIPS since it was first launched in 2008.

Several artists doubted that the LIPS would go ahead this year, since the CDF, like other government sectors in Egypt, has poorer financial resources and a much lower budget than in the past. Such doubts and the late announcement of the launch led to an unfortunate decrease in the number of candidates submitting their work to the committee. Of these artists, 25 were selected to go to Luxor.

This year, Abu Seada told Al-Ahram Weekly, in response to political events in the Arab world and the outbreak of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria known as the Arab Spring, the CDF administrative and art committee selected "Africa: Revelation of Identity in the Globalisation Era" as the slogan of the fourth round of the LIPS. As a consequence, all this year's participants came from continental Africa. Artists from Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Sudan, Senegal, Mali, Cape Verde, South Africa, Ethiopia and Egypt gathered as usual for two weeks in Luxor to paint and exchange ideas, theories and visions in art as well as introduce another facet of Luxor as an international centre of culture and art.

"It is also free for Egypt, and it shows the whole world that Egypt is safe and sound and welcomes its visitors to admire its ancient Egyptian heritage," Abu Seada said.

He continued that this year, as in previous rounds, the CDF provided the artists with the local flight ticket from Cairo to Luxor and back, as well as all the basic materials they needed such as paints, brushes and palettes. Each artist has also an allowance of $1,000 to cover per diem expenses for the two-week duration.

Abu Seada announced that, as part of the CDF's plan to revive the Luxor International Atelier (LIA) set up in 1945 in the village of Gourna on Luxor's west bank, it would be building studios in the same Hassan Fathi architectural style on a 9,000-sq-m plot in New Gourna allocated last year by Luxor City Council.

He also called for support from artists, businessmen, intellectuals and cultural institutes around the world, and from whomever could help with the construction of the ateliers through financial donations or gifts of materials or technical aid.

The Egyptian artist Helmi El-Touni has offered LE10,000 and gallery owner Ahmed El-Rashidi has given another LE5,000.

Abu Seada explained that the LIA aimed to provide an 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. It also hopes to encourage new artistic visions with extended historical roots that can further enrich the art movement in Egypt and further afield.

This aim, Abu Seada said, would be implemented through an offer of grants lasting for three months for 25 artists, in addition to a three-month course of art studies for another 25 young artists to develop their painting and drawing skills. Courses in photography, graphics and sculpture would also be offered.

Luxor really was a very inspiring place, Abu Seada said, adding that there, within the vicinity of the desert and thus in tune with the era of Pharaonic history, the sense of serenity and divinity was overwhelming and artists would be able to better focus by immersing themselves totally in their creativity.

As a new trend, 15 students from the Faculty of Fine Arts took part in this round as assistants for participating artists. This gave them a chance to gain artistic and international experience, and at the same time work on their own paintings in the workshop.

The closing ceremony was held last week in the conference room of the Isis Hotel, where Luxor Governor Ezzat Saad, Abu Seada and Ibrahim Ghazala, the LIPS commissar, opened the art exhibition displaying the work of the painters. Every painter provided from two to four average size paintings that reflected the artist's own vision of the process of life, or else the mood that caught him or her while they were working in the agreeable ambiance of Luxor, combining as it does a natural, individual environment and the great and glorious civilisation of ancient Egypt.

Here are an African knight riding a colourful horse; a couple of modern dancers in Libyan national costume dancing in the desert; a portrait of the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis; three cartouches decorated with a red obelisk and various ancient Egyptian deities; a monochrome Egyptian farmer holding a pot full of dates; a clustre of rural houses painted in bright colours; an Upper Egyptian folk dance group during a performance; a belly dancer performing in an oriental coffee shop, where the spectators with African facial features are clapping; and a fishing scene on the Nile.

A number of abstract paintings featuring a portrait of a woman with a white pigeon on her head; a mixture of colourful geometrical and foliage drawings on a background of green, blue, yellow and a little bit of red; and the evil eye embodied in a large painting showing the udjat eye (Eye of Horus) in squares and circles drawn on a checkered background.

Some paintings have blended nature with abstract, such as was shown by the work of Nigerian artist Abiodun Ogunfowadu. His abstract painting was of three farmers placed among Nile flowers.

Although the paintings by the main LIPS participants revealed a vision of their own, the students exhibited work that reflected the political events of the last 12 months since the outbreak of the Egyptian 25 January Revolution. One of these paintings was an artistic simulation of a snapshot exchange that showed up three weeks ago on Facebook and featured military police dragging a woman by her hair in Tahrir Square. One large piece showed graffiti used by protesters during the revolution such as "25 January", "Chaos", "Leave" and "Friday of Anger", as well as the faces of Sally Zahran and Ahmed Bassiouni, who lost their lives in the revolt.

Following the opening of both exhibitions, Saad and Abu Seada honoured three artists from Morocco, Ethiopia and Egypt for their great and influential efforts to promote and develop fine arts and culture on the local and international levels. The artists were former Moroccan Minister of Culture Mohamed bin Eissa, who was described as a visionary man of culture and human development; Ethiopian art critic Aida Muluneh Bio, director of the Modern Art Museum in the Gebre Kristos Desta Centre at Addis Ababa University and Egyptian artist Mohamed Heggi, a professional artist in several press publications who also painted the drawings that accompanied Naguib Mahfouz's novel Ahlam Fatret Al-Naqaha (Dreams of the Rehabilitation Period) when it was published in the Egyptian magazine Nos Al-Donya.

During the closing ceremony, more than 25 fine artists and critics from Egypt and Africa called on all concerned cultural and art institutions to establish an Africa Art Biennale in collaboration with other African cultural institutions.

In their appeal, the artists wrote that "the African Art Biennale was aimed at exchanging art experiences among the artists of the African continent as well as adopting all their creativities in the face of globalisation and attempts to blur the African identity."

At the end of the LIPS ceremony, a spectacular dance performance was given by the Luxor Folk Dance Company. A dozen dancers in vivid costumes in all shades of red and yellow, and black and white, shook the rhythm of a traditional band.

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