Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Thebes reborn

Warm palettes, calm waters and monolithic monuments characterised the work produced at the Seventh Luxor International Painting Symposium, writes Nevine El-Aref

Thebes reborn
Thebes reborn
Al-Ahram Weekly

After three years of gloom, things are looking brighter in Luxor, the world’s greatest open-air museum of ancient Egyptian monuments. This is due, in part, to the “My Country is Beautiful” initiative. The campaign was launched in early 2014 by the Egyptian Tourism Authority, in collaboration with the private sector, to promote domestic tourism.

Tourists roam around the awe-inspiring Luxor and Karnak temples. Feluccas and cruisers are constantly in motion on the Nile, as are the horse-drawn hantour carriages along the corniche. The shops and coffeehouses of the souk are buzzing.

Only the Valley of the Kings and the Amenhotep III funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile remain quiet, with small groups of Russian tourists appearing every now and again.

According to one shopkeeper, Amm Ahmad, “Luxor has finally regained its appeal.” Coachman Mina Labib agrees. “There is much more business now,” he says, “and the governorate is helping with hay for the horses and provisions for the family.”

The Seventh Luxor International Painting Symposium (LIPS) benefited from the busyness and cheer, with numerous people flocking to the entryway of the historic Old Winter Palace Hotel, where the work of the participants is displayed.
Ranging from views and faces of Luxor to Arabic calligraphy and semi-abstract reflections of the Arab Spring, the paintings share the warm colours of the surrounding nature and a sense of joy.

This year, for the first time in the history of the event, the Luxor governor, Major General Tarek Saad Al-Din, contributed a painting. His work showed a view of the west bank and was titled Luxor.

Saad Al-Din says that painting, which he has practiced from an early age (winning a cash prize of LE5 in preparatory school competition), runs in the family, with both his father and two brothers being keen painters.

Saad Al-Din announced that (pending the cabinet’s approval, a 40-day procedure necessitated by the current lack of a city council) the governorate has allocated a 900-square-metre plot of land in New Gorna on the west bank to the Luxor Ateliers, to replace the space encroached on in the aftermath of the January 2011 revolution.

Also present were the Head of the Culture Development Fund (CDF), Mohamed Abu Saeda, and LIPS Commissar Ibrahim Ghazala, as well as the media and dignitaries.

An architectural design by Gamal Amer, which draws from the Gorna style of the legendary architect Hassan Fathi, awaits the funding promised by the CDF. A fundraising campaign two years ago garnered only LE5,000.

The Luxor Atelier is essentially a residency, giving artists from around the world an opportunity to work in Luxor, surrounded by ancient Egyptian monuments and the magnificent landscape. “This will encourage new artistic visions that can enrich art movements in Egypt and beyond,” Abu Saeda said.

He went on to say that the plan is to provide three-month grants to 50 artists, half of whom will be established and half will be young or emerging artists. There will also be courses in photography, graphic design and sculpture.

The Luxor Atelier, Abu Saeda pointed out, dates back to 1941, when artist Mohamed Nagui suggested founding it in the house of Sheikh Abdel Rassul, the local farmer who discovered Luxor’s mummy cache. The idea was to develop the skills of fresh graduates of the Fine Art College at a time when World War II had put an end to international scholarships.

The seminal author Taha Hussein, who was minister of culture at the time, approved the establishment of the Atelier, which operated until 1964. In 2008 the CDF launched the LIPS and adopted the idea of re-opening the Atelier.

At the closing ceremony, Abu Saeda honoured three artists who made a distinguished contribution to the promotion of culture and fine art: Emirati artist Ahmed Al-Yafey, founder and owner of Art Hub Plastics Arts in Dubai; German artist Ewald Karl Schrade; and Egyptian artist Ramzy Mostafa.

“I hope I will live to see the opening of the Luxor Atelier,” artist George Bahgory said, expressing his attachment to his native city. Over the 15 days of the LIPS he completed two views of the city, using the warm colours of blue and green to convey his sense of the city.

“I painted my dream of Luxor,” Bahgoury said, explaining that he had sketched out the paintings back in Cairo before travelling. “I drew my nostalgia for Luxor but after I arrived in the city I painted something else that might be called a mixture of nostalgia, feelings and nature.”

Hala Amous, a Tunisian artist, was taking part for the first time. She also completed two paintings: one with a grey circle in the middle and the other with a dark yellow circle. Inside each circle you can see the Sphinx, the temples, the golden mask of King Tut, the Nile, the sun and palm trees.

She based her paintings on the circle, she explained, because she was overwhelmed by Egypt’s monuments. The nature and history made her dizzy, she said, and the circle seemed an appropriate means to contain the flood of information, as well as containing a symbol for both the Nile (in grey) and the sun (in yellow).

Abdel Karim Eid, from Sudan, was struck by the similarity between Sudanese and Egyptian civilizations. His first painting reflects “the marriage of Egyptian and Sudanese civilisation, where Arab and African life depends on the Nile.”

It is divided into three sections: portraits of African faces with Nubian head covers; Arabic letters in Kufi style; and female figures and palm trees. The second painting is a black and white abstract dove evoking to the Arab Spring.

Egyptian artist Ashraf Raslan was inspired by the serenity of the Luxor monuments and a sense of the divine, with what he called a palpable the presence of “our ancestors who held Egypt more sacred than anything else.”

His two paintings are of a winged man and woman against a gilt backdrop. He explained the images as his depiction of humanity’s struggle through life: “A human being starts his life with a scream and continues to struggle with pain, loneliness and frustration.”

For Raslan, what counts is to endure the struggle with dignity and treasure what little happiness life gives us. “The man and the woman in my paintings represent the sacred soul of our ancestors.”

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