Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Painting’s desert island

The fifth round of the Luxor International Painting Symposium was as successful as it always has been despite all the obstacles it faced this year. Nevine El-Aref marks a special round

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In Luxor, the scene is as normal as it can be: a warm winter breeze blowing off the Nile, the awe-inspiring Luxor Temple is dimly lit, showing a very distinguished part of Egypt’s ancient history. Feluccas (flat-bottomed boats) are docking on the shore and hantours (carriages) are promenading along the corniche.
Yet the city atmosphere is overshadowed by a despondency bordering on gloom. Luxor is empty of all but its residents who stroll along the corniche, roam around the souq (market) or on dock. waiting for the Nile ferry to transport them to the west bank of the Nile.
The controversial constitutional decree announced recently by the elected president Mohamed Morsi and the issuing of the constitution draft have also overshadowed the city’s atmosphere and the residents’ mood.
All international booking was cancelled and the city’s tourist high season is already over; everyone has returned home. At Abul Haggag Mosque Square, thousands of revolutionaries are camped out in protest of the constitutional decree recently announced by Morsi, which breaks the deadlock over the drafting of a new constitution. They feel the decree grants Morsi broad new powers on the pretext of protecting the revolution from counterrevolutionary forces. They are also calling for the modification of some articles on the constitution draft.
This gloomy mood has even taken its toll on the Luxor International Painting Symposium (LIPS), which is now in the fifth year. Although beautiful smiles appear on all faces, sadness and annoyance are reflected in people’s eyes. Side talks on recent political issues and events can be also heard.
At the Isis Hotel exhibition hall a collection of 100 paintings hang on the walls displaying their very own vision of life, or else the mood that caught every artist participating in the LIPS while painting in the agreeable ambiance of Luxor, which combines an individual and natural environment with the glorious civilisation of ancient Egypt.
Here is the baboon, the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom, along with the ibis bird; farmers in colourful galabiyas (gowns) hold large jars on their heads or sit around at home feeding kids; painted mud-brick houses are decorated with foliage; dancers wear folkloric costumes; painted wooden boats float ahead; carriages stroll along the corniche; a fishing scene communicates a sense of serenity. There are also number of abstract paintings featuring the river Nile, rural areas and communities in Luxor.
This is shown in the work of Russian artist Aljona Shapovalova. She made five paintings of irregular lines in yellow, white and dark gray expressing her own vision of the Nile in abstract. “I was totally fond of all I saw in Egypt but I preferred to document my impression about the Nile this time,” she said. When back home, Shapovalova asserted, she will record her impressions of the gigantic ancient Egyptian monuments in paintings.
Shapovalova feels that LIPS is one of the greatest symposia she has ever attended. “It is very well organised and artists are provided with all that they need to create a great piece of art,” she says.
Georgian post-expressionist artist Rusudan Khizanishvili chose to express Egyptian culture and people within their own community. She painted wedding parties, teatime and market scenes, but in abstract form and symbols.
Khizanishvili pointed out that LIPS is not only a symposium for painting but also a fine-art school that teaches and trains young artists who accompany the 25 Arab, foreign and Egyptian participants.
Since last year, 15 students from the Faculty of Fine Arts took part in LIPS as assistants to the participating artists. This gave them international exposure while at the same time providing them with a chance to work on their own paintings in the workshop.
Some paintings of this round have blended portrait with abstract, such as those shown by the well-known Egyptian artist George Bahgoury. He made four paintings featuring a portrait of an Egyptian woman with one large eye staring at different backgrounds; yellow symbolising sand, blue reflecting the Nile and white for peace and serenity. “This is a message of love I am sending from Luxor through art to all Egyptians within the recent heated and stormy political waves that are hitting the country,” Bahgoury says. He explains that he selected a very modest style of painting combining portrait, which is a classic style of fine art, with another contemporary form. “Here I am imitating my ancient Egyptian ancestors who combined all styles and types of fine art.”
The German artist Elien Skopnik also combined portrait with abstraction through painting three portraits of woman in different positions with her billowing hair decorated with hieroglyphic signs.
Egyptian artist Ahmed Sakr, who is also dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Minya University mixes the ancient Egyptian style of painting with the modern. He paints the sun disk Atun and Habu temple in white sea sand on a dark blue background. He decorates both drawings with modern signs as opposed to hieroglyphs. These signs feature the relationship between Adam and Eve but in a symbolic way. “Here I can express all my ideas concerning the warm relationship between men and women without shame,” he said.
Some exhibited work reflects recent political events and their effect on people and industry. Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla’s paintings largely expressed the economic and social situations that Luxor’s residents are suffering after the decline of tourism.
The Egyptian-Canadian artist Wagih Yassa, participating in the LIPS for the first time, feels the symposium is very important as it allows every artist to enjoy the wide scope of intellect, where there is no limit to creativity and imagination. It also combines different art schools in one place, which is a great opportunity to admire and interact with difference.  
Ibrahim Ghazal, the director of the Luxor International Aterlier, says LIPS is growing and attracting more artists. This year it featured, for the first time, Ecuadorian, Colombian and Iraqi artists. “Now after this round a cultural tie in fine art is to be held between Egypt and Colombia,” Ghazala asserted, adding that training courses in art for young artists would be exchanged between the two countries together with new techniques for using art in social development.
“With this round, LIPS gained a new look,” said artist Mohamed Tarawi, a member of the LIPS committee. The LIPS concept is no longer that of a symposium of painters in which 25 artists from all over the world gather to paint the town’s landscape and natural scenes. “It is a cultural and human demonstration that unites different cultures and civilisations in one place, where artists can exchange ideas, theories and vision,” Tarawi says. It also introduced another facet of Luxor as an international core of culture and art: “cultural dialogue through paintings.”
LIPS is one of the various activities to revive the town set up by the Luxor International Atelier (LIA) in the mid-1900s in the village of Gourna on Luxor’s west bank. Mohamed Abu Seada, the head of the Cultural Development Fund, says a 9,000-sq-m plot was allocated by the Luxor governorate three years ago in New Gourna to house the LIA, where ateliers are to be constructed in the Hassan Fathi architectural style.
“People will not only visit Luxor for its awe-inspiring ancient Egyptian monuments or for sailing across the Nile but will also have a modern art attraction,” Abu Seada says while installing the LIA foundation stone along with Luxor governor Ezzat Saad.
He points out that construction work is going ahead and renews his call for support form artists, businessmen, intellectuals and cultural institutions around the world and from whoever can help with the construction of the ateliers through financial donations or gifts of materials or technical aid. Last year Egyptian artist Helmi El-Touni and gallery owner Ahmed El-Rashidi donated an amount of money to support such a great cultural project.
The LIA aims to provide an opportunity for creative artists from around the world to produce their art in a historical atmosphere, surrounded by the diversity of ancient Egyptian monuments with their distinguished forms and images. It also hopes to encourage new artistic visions with extended historical roots that can further enrich the art movement in Egypt and beyond.
This aim, Abu Seada points out, will be implemented through an offer of grants lasting for three months for 25 artists, in addition to a three-month course of art studies for another 25 young artists to develop their painting and drawing skills. Courses in photography, graphics and sculpture would be also provided.
Abu Seada says this year obstacles stood in the way of holding such a round but it was due to the Ministry of Culture’s obligations to raising cultural awareness among the masses and promote art that it refused to cancel any of its activities. He went on to say, “The ministry’s budget cut was the main obstacle but with the low budget we managed to organise such a decent symposium.”
During the closing ceremony Abu Seada and Saas honoured three artists from Colombia, Qatar and Egypt for their great and influential efforts to promote and develop fine arts and culture on the local and international levels. The artists are Juan Alberto Gavira, cofounder of DESEARTEPAZ and REDESEARTEPAZ, networks of cultural centres in Latin America interested in using art to social-transformation ends; Sheikh Hasan Bin Mohamed Ali Abdallah Al-Thani, vise chairman of the Qatar Museums Board and pioneer pastel artist; and Mohamed Sabri, lifetime member of the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid Spain in 1967, whose work is on display in several museums in Egypt an abroad.

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