Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Entry into tourism

The open-air museum displaying art works from 19 successive rounds of the Aswan Symposium is finally on Egypt’s tourist map, Nevine El-Aref reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

At the opening of the 19th round of the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium (AISS), the Head of the Cultural Development Fund (CDF) Mohamed Abu Seada announced that the Ministry of Tourism has put the symposium’s Open-air Museum on Egypt’s tourist map. This move, he explained, will promote Aswan worldwide.

Because the museum was not finished until last year, Abu Seada argues, the Ministry of Tourism was unable to promote it as one of Aswan’s attractions. It was only last year that the finishing touches were completed with an entryway formed of sculptures — a task that was part of the programme last year, with nine previous participants taking on the responsibility to fill the courtyard with red, black, grey and rose granite sculptures. Here is a forest of swaying trees, a martyr with a golden crown, the museum’s guardian with a star-topped magic wand... Another collection depicts the Udjat eye of Horus, the resurrection Akhnaten and the interaction of sunlight with sand.

“The museum offers a different kind of tourism,” Abu Seada said, adding that it is not only an open-air space with art but also a place for meditation. Located in the area of Shalalate, the site of the open-air museum is set in breathtaking scenery illustrating the magic marriage of desert and Nile, with the green of the valley standing out like a string of emeralds alongside the dusty desert plain — now ornamented with 147 granite sculptures in different colours, sizes and shapes. Even more pieces will of course be added in March as the 19th round closes.

Over the last four years the Open-air Museum witnessed major developments led by artist and architect Akram Al-Magdoub. “The museum is now ready to welcome visitors,” Al-Magdoub said, explaining that all obstacles were overcome after the completion of the infrastructure and the installation of lighting, sewerage and drainage systems in the multi-purpose building — with toilets, a cafeteria and a bookstore. It also includes an exhibition gallery displaying sketches drawn by the artists before starting their carvings. All the previous AISS catalogues are on show together with photographs of the artists and their assistants at work.

“This museum is unlike any other,” said Al-Magdoub, explaining that it is an open art gallery of distinguished sculptors who revive the ancient Egyptian art of moulding granite while expressing different schools and styles. “Developing such a museum was a real challenge for me,” he asserted. The more he worked on it, he recounted, the more he found room for improving on his original plans, further developing and spotlighting specific aspects and parts of the space available to him.

The museum, he pointed out, includes three sections that interact with each other. The first holds large pieces scattered freely on the desert floor to act and react with the wild nature of the surrounding mountain. Some smaller pieces are showcased in wood and glass in an enclosed space, others placed in the passageway leading to a theatre with a granite stage ready for performances. To facilitate movement, pathways were paved with pebbles and stone steps provided in line with the desert scenery.

Every sculpture exhibited is perfectly lit to bring out its beauty, while parts of the rocky backdrop are bathed in a violet light forming delicate shadows on the stones. Security gates, a ticket kiosk and information plates are also provided. Al-Magdoub asserted that the museum’s visitors will not only enjoy the piece of art on display but also the opportunity to meditate, refreshing mind and soul. An open area overlooking the Nile on one side and a farm on the other with the desert for backdrop is set aside for that purpose.

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