Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Facelift for Rome Art Academy

Egypt’s venerable Art Academy in Rome, founded in the 1920s as a place of study for Egyptian artists in Italy, has recently been renovated, writes Nagwa Al-Ashri

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A large-scale project to renovate the Egyptian Art Academy in Rome has just been completed. The project, started in 2008, was supervised by former academy director and interior design specialist Ashraf Reda.
Using the four elements of water, earth, air and fire, Reda gave each floor of the academy its own colour scheme. The first floor is now blue, representing the sea, while the second is finished in brown and olive, representing earth. The third floor is in light blue and violet for the air or sky, while red and orange, the colours of fire, have been reserved for the top floor.
The academy contains residence quarters and studios for Egyptian art students and professors studying and working in Italy, as well as a cinema and theatre, exhibition areas and a library. Its collection of modern art features the work of prominent Egyptian artists, while a museum of antiquities, called “Egyptomania”, contains 200 pieces of art related to various stages of Egypt’s history, including some of former king Farouk’s Pharaonic-style furniture.
On the façade of the academy, the admonition of the ancient Egyptian figure Ptah-Hotep to his son can be read, “boast not of your knowledge and let not your education inspire you with conceit. Seek advice from the ignorant just as you seek it from the wise.”
Greeting visitors at the academy’s gate is a 1964 sculpture by Adam Honein entitled “The Warrior”.
The academy owes its existence to Ragheb Ayad, a young Egyptian painter studying in Rome with financial help from his colleague Youssef Kamel in the 1920s.
Ayad found that many European countries had created academies in Rome for their artists, places where artists could work and receive tutorship from the masters.
In 1924, Ayad wrote to Egypt’s minister plenipotentiary in Rome, Ahmed Zulfikar, suggesting that the Egyptian government create a similar academy for the use of Egyptian artists. The government approved the idea, and the academy was created in 1929 in the leafy Villa Borghese district of Rome. A year later, it relocated to the Collo Opeyo Palace, near the site of the palace of the Roman emperor Nero.
The first man to run the academy was an art student by the name of Sahab Refaat Almaz. In 1930, the Italian diplomatic mission in Cairo suggested relocating the Egyptian academy to the Julia Valley, where most of the other art academies are located. In return, it wanted a gift of land from the Egyptian government to create an institution for excavation studies in Egypt.
In the Egyptian official documents of the time, the academy is described as “a governmental entity affiliated with the Royal Egyptian Ministry of Education, which creates opportunities ­— through competitions — for Egyptian students to communicate with students from different countries and to study the history of Rome and classical Italian art.”
Egyptian artists were sent to the academy on fellowships to stay for an average of two years, with the aim of producing art that could later be displayed at annual exhibitions organised by the Ministry of Education in Cairo.
A government agency called the General Department of Fine Arts was in charge of creating the curricula for the students and arranging for lessons in languages and history. A two-month scholarship to tour Italian cities and see important artworks was also granted to painters, architects and sculptors who had finished their studies in Rome.
Prince Youssef Kamal sponsored many of the Egyptian scholarships to Rome. He is the same man who created the School of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1908 and financed it up until 1925.
The academy began its work in 1930 by offering accommodation and work space to five young artists: two architects, two sculptors and a painter. In later years, dozens of artists who had worked or studied at the academy became leading figures on the arts scene in Egypt.
Meanwhile, the correspondence continued between the Egyptian and Italian governments regarding the mutual gifts of land. The negotiations failed to make much progress, partly because of World War II, but in 1958 Egyptian ambassador to Italy Tharwat Okasha brought the idea back to life. A deal was signed in 1959, the architectural drawings were ready by 1960, and construction began in 1961. The building was finished in 1965.
In January 1966, the academy started operations at its new location in the Julia Valley at Villa Borghese. To celebrate the occasion, a small square near the academy was named after the Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawki, and a statue by Gamal Al-Segini of the poet was also unveiled.
The first director of the Egyptian academy was Mohamed Nagui, formerly director of the Modern Art Museum in Cairo, who took up his post in 1947. Nagui was followed in 1950 by Abdel-Kader Rizk, and in 1956, Salah Kamel, an art professor and cultural attaché in Italy, took over.
Saleh Abdoun, former head of the Cairo Opera House, became director in 1979. He was succeeded by Farouk Hosni, the future minister of culture, in 1987. Mustafa Abdel-Moeti, former director of the National Centre for the Arts, took up the post in 1987, and he was followed in 1995 by Magdi Kanawi, an art professor from Alexandria.
In 2000, Farouk Wahba took over. He was followed in 2002 by Samir Gharib, former director of the Egyptian National Library, or Dar Al-Kotob. In 2004, interior design professor Ashraf Reda, who has supervised the recent modernisation, became the new director. Reda left in 2011 to head the Plastic Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture. The current director is Jihan Zaki.

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