Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1188, (13 - 19 March 2014)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1188, (13 - 19 March 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Spiritual Closing of the AISS

THIS YEAR the closing ceremony of the 19th Aswan International Sculpture Symposium (AISS, 21 January-7 March), writes Nevine El-Aref, was held at the Open-air Museum for the first time in 15 years. It started with tambourines breaking the desert silence at sunset, with the museum pieces spontaneously lighting up as the darkness spread. Three dozen male dancers in local costume suddenly appeared at the hilltop clapping the rhythm as they descended, closely followed by the enthralling voice of Ahmad Ghali, the lead singer of the Shalalat band, praising the Prophet Muhammad. After an hour of Sufi performance — Nubian as well as Upper Egyptian — Minister of Culture Saber Arab, the newly appointed Cultural Development Fund (CDF) Chairman Khaled Galal, AISS Commissar Adam Henein and Aswan Governor Mohamed Mustafa gave speeches and honoured this year’s participating sculptors from Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Italy and Egypt.

Speaking after the ceremony, Arab said the AISS was “a magnificent experience at Egypt’s southern gate”, guaranteeing the continuity of an ancient Egyptian art. He added that the Open-air Museum is open to the public and finally on Egypt’s tourist map with 19 rounds’ worth of granite sculptures in a range of sizes and shades: 200 in total. Galal, for his part, affirmed the event’s international standing and said the CDF is exerting the utmost effort to ensure its continuity in the future. Ambassador of Bulgaria Rumen Petrov, the only diplomat to attend, said, “I am very happy to attend for the first time such a great event in which the Bulgarian got to a Bulgarian imprint on Egyptian granite. It is a great thing that it has lasted for 19 years and is still happening despite the difficult time that Egypt is going through.” When the regime changed in Bulgaria, he explained, all cultural activities stopped for four years. Petrov added that this was his fourth visit to Aswan, a city he likes very much.

For Henein, the AISS is Aswan’s third landmark after the High Dam and the salvaged Nubian temples. He feels that his dream of resurrecting the art of granite sculpture has come true. “Initially we had no tradition of modern rock sculpture at all in Egypt. The people who started, a long time ago, had no precedent to look up to, no role models, but they worked to produce things and the people who followed then had a little more to go by. They started from a point of greater strength. Now all this has changed,” he said: 19 years of the symposium have established a tradition, and artists are yearly born in the workshop that accompanies the event. Working in stone for the first time, this round’s young artists surpassed Henein’s expectations, producing not only competent but innovative work. “The impulse has always existed,” he said, pointing to sculpture genes dating all the way back to ancient times. “The AISS is an art school that provides a special atmosphere growing out of local granite.” Such an atmosphere, he concluded, could never existed at any Faculty of Fine Arts.

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