Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Art, glass and politics

Mai Samih attends a mosaics workshop dedicated to the New Suez Canal at the Russian Cultural Centre in Cairo

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Russian Cultural Centre in Cairo organised a mosaics workshop from 16 to 20 August. The workshop was led by artist and teacher Saad Romany also known as Saad R. Mikhaiel, and was dedicated to the opening of the New Suez Canal and in appreciation of Egyptian efforts to improve the world’s maritime navigation.

A display featured portraits of political leaders such as Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as religious figures like Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros III.

Ebtesam Helmi is a Faculty of Commerce graduate who took part in the workshop. “I have always had a passion for the arts, and I found this opportunity to study mosaics with Saad Romany to be among the best moments of my life,” she said. “We started at nine am, and we could portray any person we liked. I chose my mother.”

Despite previously attending art courses at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Zamalek and having a photography diploma from a famous satellite channel, Helmi had no background in mosaics. But thanks to the course she was able to advance her knowledge. “I’d definitely participate in a similar event in the future,” she added.

“My husband is an engineer who takes courses at the Russian Cultural Centre. He saw the mosaics workshop advertised and told me about it. I have never worked with mosaics before, but I like art in general so I decided to sign up for it,” said Nermin, also a Faculty of Commerce graduate and a participant in the workshop.

She had decided to make a mosaic of the Virgin Mary and said it took a long time to master cutting the glass needed to the appropriate size. “Professor Romany told us to work on the larger parts first so that our hands would be used to cutting. Then we would find it easier to cut the smaller parts for the face, like the eyes,” Nermin said.

“The course was perfect, despite the short period of time,” she added. “Professor Romany advised us to repeat our work at home so we would have the time to sharpen our skills.”

“I took part in a previous exhibition organised by Professor Romany of ornaments,” said Sahar Mohamed, a Faculty of Arts Education graduate who has a Master’s degree in art.

“I feel I am in a familiar atmosphere in which a very experienced person gives all he’s got. I am very happy to be taking part in this course and am looking forward to attending more. He really makes it easy by his instructions and the materials he provides us with,” she said.

Mohamed was making a mosaic of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. “This is the first time I’ve attended a mosaics workshop,” she added.

“I have always been into the arts, especially drawing, and I have been trying to teach myself mosaics through books. Ever since I came to Egypt, I’ve been looking for somewhere to learn it properly, and then I heard about this workshop,” said Nagat Morshed, an economics graduate from Yemen who has lived in Egypt for the past three years. She was working on a portrait of a veiled girl wearing Afghan national dress.

“I found this portrait in a shop in Egypt, and I have had it hanging up at home for some time. It’s the shades of orange in her clothes and the look in her eyes that are the most challenging for me to translate into mosaics,” she added.

“But I have learned how to master the use of shade and light and how to integrate colours. I have also learned how to render the details of the face, which is something I didn’t find in the self-teaching books I looked at.”

 “I have always been interested in the arts, so when I read about the previous courses I immediately sent a message to ask about the next course and found out about this one.” said Mona Zeidan, a pediatrician.

“I decided to portray myself, but I changed some of the colours in the background of the image. In the course I learned how to divide the glass to show the muscles in the face. The most wonderful thing was being able to choose who to portray, which meant learning different styles and techniques.”

Father Matthew Abdel-Sabour, from St Mary’s Church in the Gamaleya district of Cairo, who was also taking part in the workshop, said he was working on a portrait of the Virgin Mary.

“I was looking for a place to learn the art of mosaics, so I went to the Coptic Arts Institute where I found out about this course. Unlike the simple courses we took at the Institute, this one teaches us how to make mosaic portraits,” he said.

“The difficult part is that it needs someone with a good sense of art as each piece of glass needs to be cut in a certain way in order to fit the larger composition. It can take an hour just to cut each piece in the correct way.”

For Saad Romany, the workshops are an “attempt to revive a dying art. I first started the workshops in England in 2009, and then I organised others in Holland, Belgium, Germany, Canada and France. Students from Italy, Spain and the US also came to join them. I usually organise four workshops around the world each year,” he said.

This was not the first workshop he had held at the Russian Cultural Centre, as his association with it goes back to 2012. He instructs both beginners and professional mosaic artists who have been working in the field for more than 20 years and want to sharpen up their skills.

“There are 14 students in this workshop, which is the maximum number who can attend. I prefer a small number so that I can give them the appropriate attention,” Romany said.

“Because the inauguration of the New Suez Canal was such an important event we dedicated the workshop to it. Our previous micro-mosaic workshop was dedicated to the late actor Omar Sharif.”

He continued, “This is a mosaic teaching workshop in which I am helping people make portraits, which are the most difficult type of mosaic to make. I chose it on purpose, as a person who can make a mosaic portrait can make any other type of mosaic, including landscapes.”

“But if someone makes a mosaic of a tree, it is unlikely that someone else will then compare that to the original tree. This is not true of a portrait, where the trick is to give an idea of the character of the person as well as imitate what he or she looks like.”

“I ask people to choose the type of portrait they wish to do, as it is very important that they choose their own images since this way they are more likely to excel in making them,” he added.

The key to a successful mosaic image, according to Romany, is to use the correct cutting tools for each material and then to feel free in using your imagination.

“We would like the workshop to last longer. A week isn’t enough,” Helmy said of the workshop. Mohamed agreed.

“I’d like to take part in another workshop as practice makes perfect. I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank professor Saad for all his great efforts,” she said.

“I’d like to learn how to depict the rest of the body and not just the face. I’d also like to participate in similar courses in future, as mosaics teach patience,” Father Abdel-Sabour said.

“My next workshop will be in Germany,” Romany concluded. “I’m doing my best to organise at least two workshops a year in Egypt, a mosaic one and a micro-mosaic one. What I aim at in these workshops is to revitalise this art in a simple way. It has been neglected in the past due to the time and effort it requires.”

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