Sunday,21 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)
Sunday,21 April, 2019
Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Reveries in stone

Religious belief, philosophical ideas and personal impressions were all abundant at this year’s Aswan Sculpture Symposium, Nevine El-Aref reports

Reveries in stone

The 23rd Aswan International Sculpture Symposium (AISS) closed this week with a dance performance and a display of the finished works at the Open-Air Museum overlooking the Nile near Shallalat, a one-of-a-kind space still struggling with legal red tape to be placed on Egypt’s tourist map, where all the previous rounds’ works are on display. Present at the closing ceremony were Culture Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem and Aswan Governor Hani Mahmoud as well as the newly appointed head of the Cultural Development Fund (CDF) Fathi Abdel-Wahab and AISS Commissar Hany Faisal. Sadly, for the first time since the symposium’s establishment in 1995, its founder sculptor Adam Henein was absent for health reasons. 

According to Abdel-Wahab, the 45-day annual event has been a catalyst for a whole artistic movement in Egypt (a view with which Abdel-Dayem wholeheartedly agrees): “Now we have several other art symposiums that need to live up to it.” This year’s entries, he added, have brought the total number of sculptures made since the symposium began to 320, with 222 showcased in the open-air museum, 90 distributed Aswan, 21 in Cairo and Alexandria and three in Mansoura. A collection of seven works was given to the Media Production City in 6 October, and three works from this round should go to the New Administrative Capital. Abdel-Wahab also proclaims this year as the first in the symposium’s history to witness Saudi participation following talks between the CDF and the Royal Commission of Al-Ola province. 

Reveries in stone

For the new commissar, the most special thing about the event is its continuity: the way in which it accumulates human accomplishments over the years: “The sculptures are a kind of bridge between the natural beauty of Aswan and the grandeur of its ancient temples, a new stamp of identity.” Of 150 applicants this year only eight (as opposed 15-17) could be selected, however, due to austerity measures within the ministry – Lyudmyla Mysko and Vasyl Tatarskyy from the Ukraine, Ivane Tsiskadze from Georgia, Siti Kanta Pattnaik from India and four Egyptians: Ahmed Magdy, Al-Shaimaa Darwish and Abdel-Magid Ismail (who were in the 22nd Workshop, a mini symposium in which young Egyptians learn stone sculpture with a view to  launching their careers) as well as Iman Barakat (from the 21st workshop) – but Faisal feels this helps narrow down the symposium’s vision and improve quality. There were eight workshop artists: Aya Soliman, Rawaa Mohamed, Taha Abdel-Karim, Abdel-Rahman Alaa, Philip Adly, Mohamed Elbakry, Maisoun Mostafa and Hadeer Maged.


Reveries in stone

Like the previous rounds’, this year’s sculptures vary widely in style and theme. Pattnaik’s piece commemorates Afghanistan’s famous Bamiyan Buddha, destroyed by Taliban in 2001. It is a vertical structure with the figure of the Buddha carved on one side underneath the sacred peepal tree with Sanskrit writing above. “All my work is related to history,” Pattnaik told me, “not only Indian history but also world history.” 

Tsiskadze, for his part – who, experienced in symposiums though he is, says coming to work in Egypt was a dream come true – made a sculpture of the 13th-century Seljuk philosopher Nasreddin Hodja, a popular and folk figure of fun and paradox in much of the Muslim world. Nasreddin Hodja is sitting on a donkey backwards holding a pigeon in his hands. “I was determined to make Hodja sit like this to show that his wisdom is not comprehensible to the masses.” 

Under the title Tornado, Mysko made a large, upward-moving spiral at the top of which rests a small house. She used rose granite which has a rough texture to show the tornado itself and smooth, polished black granite for the house. Mysko, who wants to show how much more powerful nature is than anything manmade, is a lifelong admirer of ancient Egyptian art, which she says is “like fantasy and fairy tales” and tries to draw on in her work.

Tatarksyy’s abstract composition The Old Way, on the other hand, is a reflection on the irregular course of human life: “Our life never progresses in a straight line, it always goes up and down and changes direction all the time.” A tall rectangular block is enveloped in a shell of winding curves which rise on one side and fall on the other, representing birth and death. 

Barakat’s piece is a composite of two shapes in conversation, evidencing her signature style of working with crystalline or paper-like textures.

Reveries in stone

Darwish’s Son of the Sky, a reflection on her own experience of giving birth, is an embryo-like shape on top of a tall geometric base. “The embryo,” she says, “is like Adam, while the base represents the force of light that opens up in the sky preceding the arrival of the son who will build the earth or ruin it.” s

Magdy produced a giant spinning top that seems to move faster and faster as you look at it, growing its own wings. “We live a fast and cluttered existence and in my art I create what I would like to see: an abstract world without noise.” 

Ismail, best known or his figurative sculptures, made an abstract composition on the theme of disruption. It features two tall slabs intercut by a cylindrical force which, even though they are both one block, are clearly distinct.

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