History is made in Giza: contemporary art in dialogue with the Egyptian pyramids

CAIRO: The ancient Egyptians viewed death as a temporary interruption rather than the cessation of life. Death was simply part of the journey, to an individual’s immortality and the experience of the hereafter. The Pyramids of Giza are not only breathtaking for their monumental stature – to this day a feat of human ingenuity – but also impressive for their spiritual significance and resistance against time.

The Pyramids of Giza were given new life earlier this week when multidisciplinary arts entity Art D’Egypt unveiled “Forever is Now” on October 21. The title of the exhibition, which runs until November 7, is appropriate given the history of the pyramids and, now, their new role in the first-ever contemporary art exhibition held amid their majestic presence since 4,500 years. The exhibition, curated by independent art advisor Simon Watson, features works by 10 contemporary artists, including Sultan bin Fahad, Alexander Ponomarev, Gisela Colon, Joao Trevisan, Lorenzo Quinn, JR, Moataz Nasr, Sherin Guirguis, Shuster + Moseley and Stephen Cox.

“Eternity now” by Gisela Colon. Supplied / Hesham Al-Saifi

Organized under the auspices of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNESCO Patronage, the exhibition is the fourth organized by Art D’Egypt since its inception in 2016. These have included Egyptian and international contemporary art exhibitions. art at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, the Manial Palace Museum, and Al-Muizz Street in historic Cairo.

“Eternity Now” by American artist Colon (2021) shows how today’s art can interact with the UNESCO heritage site. It features a 30 foot long golden elliptical dome that could pass for something out of space. The formal geometric aspects of the dome embody the mythical form of the glowing orb of the Egyptian sun god Ra, “the venerable chroma of gold being ubiquitous in Egyptian symbolism and ritualism,” as Colon explains. Visitors can get a magical glimpse of their own reflection and that of their surroundings, which includes Giza and its pyramids, by looking into its brilliant exterior. The work thus allows the viewer, the work and the ancient pyramids to be in the space of a brief second.

“The exhibition was historic, in the sense that it placed contemporary works of art in the context of ancient history,” Colon told Arab News.

“Here, I came back” by Sherin Guirguis. Supplied / Ammar Abd Rabbo

Staging 10 contemporary art installations by Middle Eastern and international artists was no small feat, but Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, founder and director of Art D’Egypt, did not give up.

“I think if I had known how difficult it would be to stage this show, I might have avoided it,” Abdel Ghaffar told Arab News. “Our archaeologists are generally not won over by the idea of ​​contemporary art, so it took a long time to convince them to stage this spectacle at the pyramids. Placing art here has made a statement to the world, as the pyramids are not just an Egyptian heritage, but a world heritage. The pyramids are one of the only ancient wonders still standing. Until now, there has never been an exhibition of contemporary art at the Pyramids of Giza.

A powerful curatorial tactic was to place each work in perspective of the pyramids themselves so that their silhouettes and inherent characteristics play with the forms of ancient structures.

LA-based Egyptian artist Guirguis’ work, “Here I Have Returned” (2021) – a title inspired by a poem by the great Doria Shafik – features an elegant abstract curved shape with two steel discs hanging from it. two strings ringing in a window. Guirguis’ installation perfectly frames the three pyramids of Giza as if it were made for this very place. It is also scented with jasmine harvested by Egyptian women. According to Guirguis, the play is meant to honor Egyptian women from the ancient past and those of the 1950s who fought for their freedom.

“R III” (2021), Sultan bin Fahad. Supplied / Hesham Al-Saifi

In “R III” by Saudi artist Fahad (2021), a labyrinth of stacked white cubes features hieroglyphic inscriptions belonging to King Ramses III. The inscriptions were discovered by Saudi archaeologists in the northern part of the kingdom. Fahad’s cubes, framed by the powerful shapes of the neighboring pyramids, sparkle when seen in the moonlight. The work investigates the historical roots between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The powerful piece by Egyptian artist Nasr “Barzakh” (2021) features a series of oars joined together to form a triangular corridor. Inspired by the Egyptians’ solar boat, designed to transport the souls of the pharaohs to the heavens, the artwork allows viewers to glimpse the pyramids in the distance – perfectly framed by the triangular shape created in Nasr’s installation.

One of the most popular and perhaps moving installations is “Together” by artist Quinn (2021), which shows two hands joined together in what appears to be a prayer. It is positioned so that the tips of the pyramids are visible just inside the hands.

“I will cherish this touching moment in life forever,” Quinn told Arab News. “Exhibiting my art in front of one of the only wonders of the ancient world is beyond anything I had ever hoped for. My work “Ensemble” was made in honor of the pyramids and Ra, the ancient Egyptian god of the sun, as well as my father’s work. Quinn is actor Anthony Quinn’s fifth son.

“Together”, Anthony Quinn. Supplied / Hesham Al-Saifi

As for the fate of the works of art in the exhibition, the plan of Art from Egypt is to have them remain in Egypt after the end of the exhibition. In this sense, “Forever is Now” continues, like its name and the legacy of the pyramids, to live both metaphorically and physically, taking with it the memory of a short-term contemporary art exhibition at the pyramids which will take place. surely the hit. test of time.

However, not everyone in Egypt was in favor of this exhibition. More recently, the @Fartdegypt Instagram account, with the line “Leave the Pyramids Alone” in its bio, quickly gathered 1,106 followers and posted harsh criticism of the event, condemning it as an “Instagrammable Burning Man” show that derides the ancient structures and only offers access to a few elites – many of whom have traveled to see the spectacle from the far corners of the world.

Moataz Nasr, “Barzakh” (2021). Supplied / Hesham Al-Saifi

“Imagine a future where Pharrell, in Egypt, would be surrounded by privileged Egyptians and white people all wearing symbols of the Ottoman Empire,” the last post said. “A future where the weight and the culture are practically the same? You don’t have to wait too long my friends. It happens. Right now. The future is now. “

Regardless of the critics, the fact remains that the staging of contemporary works of art by such a fascinating list of artists is no small feat. It is important to note that he once again turned the eyes of the world to the wonders of Egypt, reminding people of the enduring beauty, knowledge and power yet to be gained from dialogue with the ancient past of Egypt. humanity.

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