Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Painting against terrorism

Nevine El-Aref spoke to Mohamed Abusaeda at the Luxor Painting Symposium

Painting against terrorism
Painting against terrorism
Al-Ahram Weekly

“Eight years on, the Luxor International Painting Symposium (LIPS) is gaining more success,” Mohamed Abusaeda, the former Head of the Cultural Development Fund (CDF), said during the closing ceremony of the eighth round of the event. It was only a week before leaving his post to lead the National Organisation for Urban Harmony.

Abusaeda went on to state that “the LIPS has proved that art is the widow through which nations could exchange their civilisations as well as being the only concrete way to face dark and destructive ideas that are widespread all over the globe.”

This year, for the first time, the LIPS introduced a programme for younger artists in addition to the main programme. Artist Ibrahim Gazala, the commissar for the last seven years, was replaced with artist Mostafa Abdel-Moati, a move undertaken with variety and change as a goal. The LIPS committee also picked six young artists from fine art faculties in Cairo, Al-Minya and Alexandria to participate in the eighth round.

This, in addition to 25 artists from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, Oman, Italy, Spain, Germany, Cyprus, Argentina and Macedonia. Artists Ahmed Abdel-Wahab from Egypt, Jafar Islah from Kuwait and Dong Jining from China are the guests of honour.

On the fringe of the eighth round an exhibition was held at the Fine Art Faculty at the University of the Southern Valley in Luxor displaying selected pieces from previous rounds of the LIPS.

Ahmed Al-Orabi, the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Luxor says the exhibition has been a great opportunity for cultural exchange. Luxor, he adds, is the best place to hold the LIPS not only because it is a historic town filled with monuments but also because it was home to one of the oldest civilisations on earth.

“Although the LIPS is only eight years old, many artists from all over the world are eager to participate because Luxor is the cradle of civilisation where the artist could easily find himself, learn from the source,” he said.
“This year I did not have a theme in my three paintings,” artist George Bahgory said. “Through the 15 days of the LIPS I drew three abstracts of what I saw everyday in front of me in the garden of the hotel. Here is a visit by a hoopoe that came everyday to collect worms from grass. There is a tourist in her bikini sunbathing. And, finally, the Egyptian diva Um Kalthoum, whom I always hear when painting.”

For her part Italian artist Isabella Tirelly completed two paintings on ancient Egyptian themes. In the first Amun Re meets Hathor in the Valley of the Kings. In the second, Queen Hatshepsut asks the Karnak Temple gods for help. Tirelly says her style is unique because she uses modern technology to speed up the process. She first creates a digital image, then prints and paints it by hand.

Egyptian artist Reham Al-Sadany too was influenced by the story of Queen Hatshepsut engraved on the walls of her temple at Al-Deir Al-Bahari. She depicted the ancient queen  as a modern person looking in the mirror. The queen looks like a man with a beard – her public role as pharoah, but her mirror image is of a pretty woman – her private image. “I drew Hatshepsut the way I think she saw herself in antiquity,” Al-Sadany said.

Representing the powers invested in her by gods such as Maat, she also has two horns on her head. In a second painting Al-Sadany presents the shifting moods of a woman.

“My painting style is to express the psychology of people, not their physical features,” she said. “These two paintings are only my warming up to expressing my feelings for Luxor, more paintings on this marvellous city are to be completed.”

The paintings of Moussa Omar from Oman were not influenced so much by Luxor as the heritage of his own county. He employed his trademark style of painting a sackcloth with symbols and signs from heritage and nature, and glued the result onto wooden holder.

German artist Claudia Eleonore produced two abstract painting in warm colours, featuring a heart and a key of life. “Before coming to Egypt,” she said, “I was really stuck with the question of what to paint but when I visited the Valley of the Kings on Luxor’s west bank and saw the monuments and rural people with their coloured clothes and small houses I decided to express my feelings and emotions through bright warm colours. Red takes up a large part of my paintings because it is the colour that properly expresses my feelings about the whole scene and experience,” she said. Eleonore described the LIPS as “wonderful” because it brings participants to Luxor to exchange thoughts and views and attendlectures and workshops.

Romanian artist Coastin Brateamu remarkably completed 12 paintings in his 15-day stay in Luxor, but he selected only two to be exhibited for the closing ceremony. He mixed figurative with abstract styles, using ink, acrylic and oil to express the black magic spirit of the desert. He depicts the necropolis god Anubis surrounded by Nubian women portraits, ancient Egyptian kittens and foliage motifs from Islamic monuments.

Mahdeya Ali Al-Taleb from Saudi Arabia said she benefited much from the symposium, completing two paintings in her usual style depicting women’s feelings using Arabic calligraphy, which on her arrival in Luxor became hieroglyphs. Her first painting shows a woman with one winged arm around on her shoulders like a collar. It mimics the semi-circle of shadow cast by the sun. Her second painting shows the same woman holding a wheat ear in one hand and the key life in the other.
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“We are working hard to make culture more influential in Egyptian lives, not just to organise art events,” Abusaeda said on the occasion of the symposium, only a week before leaving his post to lead the National Organisation for Urban Harmony. He announced that a Mediterranean-focused Mosaic Symposium is to be launched by the CDF (possibly to be held at the Creative Centre in Alexandria, the Fustat Centre for Handicrafts here in Cairo or the Creative Centre in Qena, Upper Egypt), in addition to the Painting, Sculpture and Calligraphy symposiums.

Abusaeda said the notion of art for art’s sake is not appropriate at a time when terrorism and sectarianism are so rife. “It is obvious we need to institute a cultural project targeting people’s minds and changing their lives,” he said, “and at the same time generating income.” A number of new, carefully curated workshops and gatherings are planned to this end in 2016, Abusaeda announced, and promotion is being intensified on the web, at cultural and educational venues.

Examples of this “new vision” include The Golden Voice competition for singing talents, the Book Banks initiative for donating books to be restored and redistributed in remote and provincial areas through cultural loci like the Hanager Arts Centre. A second book bank is to be established at the Mustafa Mahmoud Square in Mohandesine. The Iqraa (or “Read”) initiative provides outlets for ministry-published books at university campuses, four of which now exist in Cairo, Tanta and Sohag.

The Fustat Festival for Folk Art and Handicrafts, on the other hand, adopts the slogan “Gain a new handicraft”. Through free four-month workshops followed by exhibitions, it aims facilitate mastery of the skills and so preserve them. “An exhibition of cultural products is to be organised in October in collaboration with China,” Abusaeda announced, “because 2016 is the Egypt-China cultural year.” The exhibition will facilitate cultural exchange for six months, covering every facet of art and literature and supplemented by lectures, workshops and seminars targeting marketing as well as production. Egypt, Abusaeda said, possesses the means and facilities to produce cultural products, of which there is an abundance, but it lacks the skill to market and invest them.

All of which, Abusaeda concluded, is to be seen in the context of cultural development as opposed to cultural activities as such:

“When a play relating the life story of the Mameluke Prince Taz at his house in Al-Sayeda Zeinab is staged and attended by the locals, this raises the cultural and archaeological awareness of the people about the monument they see every day. That is our goal.”

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