The 42nd annual General Exhibition of Egyptian art is underway in Cairo with the title of Art: Memory of the Nation.
The theme is illustrated by the Arabic calligraphy displayed in many paintings and by the use of traditional materials, notably in ceramics, but also by recycled stuff.
Ahmed Refaat Suleiman, the exhibition’s general commissioner, was keen to dismiss the notion that the show was restricted to established artists.
“This year, we sought to confront these fallacies by inviting a number of young artists who had, years ago, distinguished experiences at the Youth Salon in order to exhibit their works in the General Exhibition’s activities,” he said.
The exhibition is housed in the Palace of Arts in the grounds of the Opera House. The six halls contain more than 350 works in the fields of fine art and visual arts, most notably painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, graphics, murals, and installation art.
“The General Exhibition is a mirror that reflects the fine arts’ situation in Egypt, and through which one can learn about what is new there and the developments at the heart of the world’s fine art movement,” Suleiman said.
Inaugurated on August 2 by Ines Abdel-Dayem, the Minister of Culture, and Khaled Sorour, head of the Fine Arts Sector, in the presence of a large number of artists and fine arts fans, the exhibition will continue until August 30.
“An artist has special eyes that make him constantly capture details and freely transform these views into a visual and documentary memory using canvas and colors,” Suleiman said.
“While coordinating the artworks in the halls, we made sure that the works representing different generations were adjacent to each other, in an attempt to create a state of artistic dialogue.”
Not an Elite Occasion
Another of this year’s objectives is to counter the idea that the General Exhibition is an elite occasion for specialists in fine art only, Suleiman said, adding that it is an opportunity for the public.
In addition to Arabic calligraphy, the theme of memory is also evident in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs employed in some paintings and graphic works.
“The General Exhibition is a mirror that reflects fine arts’ situation in Egypt, and through which one can learn about what is new there and the developments at the heart of the world’s fine art movementAhmed Refaat Suleiman
The exhibition’s general commissioner
Memories of the Mawlid ceremonies—the prophet Mohammed’s birthday—and the spirit of popular cafes are also prominent. Some artists resorted to the spontaneity of childhood memories, highlighting artistic details inspired by circus games, employing boisterous colors and collages. We also see dolls in miniature sculptural formations, as well as metal and wood sculptures.
The exhibition’s ceramic works renew the memory of clay as a primitive artistic raw material, transformed in modern techniques of reduction, coloring, formation and abstraction.
This year the exhibition honors Mohie El Din Hussein, one of the pioneers of ceramic art in Egypt and the Arab world. It also honors other pioneer artists, like the late sculptor Ahmed Gad, and the late painters Sameh El-Banani and Sabry Abdel-Ghani.
Scenes from Egypt’s General Exhibition
Themes from ancient civilizations and epics inhabit some works, including one by Amal Nasr, a painter and art critic, who contributed a figurative painting abstractly inspired by the impact of primitive civilizations and arts.
“The primitive sense also appears in the painting in a modern expressionism, creating a visual dialogue between the fears of first men and modern ones in the Covid-19 era.”
Nasr says that her artistic idea was technically reflected on the surface of the painting by giving it cumulative paint layers to grant the surface itself an ancient touch.
With classic and modern variations, sculpture is featured in the General Exhibition, with statues of bronze, granite, and wood, besides a hard iron work by Ammar Shiha. This fantasy piece shows a farmer’s skeleton clad in a traditional rural turban, sitting with his laptop in an automated desk position.
Shiha used a large amount of scrap, like the remnants of nails, screwdrivers, and worn-out metal gears, to create his artistic protagonist that sits in the reception of the exhibition’s audience.
“I imagined the character of a farmer getting involved in the atmosphere of the online work environment imposed on us by the Covid-19 pandemic, so he decided to impose his presence in the modern world,” said Shiha. “So I carried out this work, focusing on the element of surprise and artistic paradox.”
“I imagined the character of a farmer getting involved in the atmosphere of the online work environment imposed on us by the Covid-19 pandemic, so he decided to impose his presence in the modern world.”Ammar Shiha
The first stage in implementing this metal work included collecting scrap in the required quantity to cover the sculptural design. “Recycling the scrap and employing it technically gives it amazing aesthetic values,” said Shiha.
Recycling materials is obvious in a number of works. Some mural paintings employ broken cups, marble waste, and wooden combs.
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Amal Nasr, who is also head of the Painting Department at Alexandria University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, thinks that an artist’s relationship with ancient objects is surrounded by emotion, adding aesthetic glimpses to old belongings and neglected materials, and rediscovering them anew. “The artistic relationship with old and neglected objects is closely linked to the memory theme this exhibition revives and explores,” she said.