Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

A house of worship and art

Rania Khallaf attended this year’s Caravan Art Festival

Al-Ahram Weekly

This year “Amen‫:‬ A Prayer for the World” is the title of the Caravan Art Festival, an annual event that, thanks to the unique idea behind it and its constantly renewed themes, has gained in popularity among artists and viewers alike. Inaugurated at Al Bab Hall, Cairo Opera House ground, the event, mainly sponsored by Sodic and the British Council, brought together many artists from all over the world with the brief to produce a human figure in a pose of prayer from a white fibreglass figure using whatever media they preferred: an inspiring yet challenging task, especially for those who had never practised sculpture. But the finished pieces, seen together, give the impression of a place of worship. According to Paul Gordon Chandler, founder and president of Caravan speaking at the opening, following the exhibition in Cairo, the 30 statutes will fly to United States to join another 18 not displayed here at Washington DC’s National Cathedral (30 August-6 October), and then at New York’s Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the largest in the world (12 October-16 November).

Some artists painted on the surface, other added items, others still cut up the statute itself. One of the most representative pieces is artist that by Salah Al-Meligy, the head of the Fine Arts Sector, a serene depiction of the tranquility of prayer. Al-Meligy says he dealt with the fibreglass freely, as if it were a canvas. “The act of praying itself is a source of energy. Connecting the worshipper with the creator of the universe, prayer gives a sense of relaxation. Therefore, I was keen on showing this positive energy by using bright colors. While painting, I remembered the Al-Hiw cemeteries, named after the mountain in Nag Hammadi. I remembered its specific shapes, and the primitive drawings inscribed on the walls by the locals. I was also affected by the clay dolls I used to find on the Nile banks, back in my childhood. I felt like a little boy colouring one of those dolls.” Nag Hammadi, the artist’s hometown in Upper Egypt, is also the inspiration behind the cactus-like shapes dispersed on the sculpture.

Al Bab (Arabic for “the door”) is, however, too narrow an area to provide the sense of tranquility required. Too little space separates one sculpture from another, and though many mosques are similarly cramped it was a drawback for this viewer. Reda Abdel-Rahman, one of the exhibition’s co-curators, painted an ancient Egyptian woman with two black pigtails and huge blue wings made of wire. She sits on a small black donkey with her hands on her thighs, just as ancient Egyptians used to pray, holding a dish full of blue scarabs. It is one of the most inspiring pieces. Mohamed Abla’s piece, by contrast, was not very effective; he painted a female warrior with a mirror in her hands, decorated with cheap plastic flowers. The woman, painted in grey and white, wears a flowery crown on her head and keeps a straight face as if she addressing some familiar god or intimate friend with a broad smile. It feels like a rather nonchalant prayer. Anwar Abu Bakr’s piece, painted in fluorescent pink and yellow, is likewise too gaudy for the theme. In black and white Hossam Sakr painted a sad and confused look on his worshipper’s face, with the figure holding a cloth on which the artist painted bizarre black and white figures like pirates — a treasure-hunt map. Karim Abdel Malek went to the extreme. He cut the form into two pieces: the upper half of the worshipper’s body hangs in the air from a big old key, in turn connected to a long heavy iron chain. The lower part of the worshipper is held by a metal stand. Painted in gold, the statue gives an impression of confusion, as if it struggling to balance modern life with religion.

Caravan was founded in Cairo in 2009. “Caravan started six years ago in Cairo,” Chandler explained at the press conference, “with the aim of bringing western and eastern artists together. This year, the idea was to invite artists from different nationalities and religions to express their notions about praying.” “As an amorphous group, the 48 artists are making a single statement: they are together praying for peace, justice, and well-being for all humanity,” Chandler added. “Seventy percent of the sales will go to the artists, with the remaining 30 percent benefiting Tawasol, an Egyptian NGO aiming to eliminate poverty. This money will be dedicated to establishing a school in Ezbet Khayrallah in the shanty-town of Establ Antar, which lies in a larger area being developed by the real-estate company Sodic,” Hani Sarie-Eldin, executive chairman of Sodic said in his inauguration speech. According to Chandler in a private conversation, “The next round of Caravan will take place in 2016, as the event will officially be an international Biennale.”

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