A Night At The Museum
The mummy and the sarcophagus at the centre of Esmat Dawestashy’s The Half Circle of Death almost jumped out of the mixed media work when I saw it placed behind a real sarcophagus. The piece, rendered in the colours of the modern Egyptian flag in an attempt to make connections across centuries between the ancient and the contemporary was one of several pieces installed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for a one-night-only exhibition that attempted to show how crucial the influence of ancient Egypt is upon artists practicing today as well as how relevant it still is to culture and communities.
Organised by Art D’Egypte, a company founded by Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, the exhibition titled Eternal Light: Something Old, Something New featured a selection of artists whom she said “bring to life the flow of light and energy of Egypt’s history, connecting its past to its presence.”
The installation and placement of certain pieces was excellent. Hany Rashed’s four collage pieces featuring faceless women in awkward poses cut out from magazine fashion shoots and repeated out of context to highlight the unnatural stance were suddenly reminiscent of the dancing scenes played out on ancient tomb paintings visible on the walls around the museum. Placed on a Plexiglas panel and seated next to a black granite seated sphinx, the connections were underlined.
Adam Henein’s Dynastic Bird (1965) and Huda Lutfi’s Obelisque (2010) were two of several sculptures on show, whose third dimensions made the bridge between the old and the new. Henein’s practice has long been heralded as one of the most important in Egypt and his seamless transition between modernist forms and ancient traditions is rightly celebrated. He is a master and no show of this magnitude would be complete without him. Lutfi, who is better known for her layered, textured two-dimensional works is a critical commentator on contemporary Egyptian culture. She used the obelisque, as the most ancient symbol of phallic masculinity to question male bravado and hubris and adorned the piece with text in English and Arabic. “I was excited to see it in the museum,” she told me. “The colours and the form integrated really well with the context of the museum.”
What was really successful about the event was that it asked audiences to consider both the ancient cultures and contemporary practices with new eyes and with a probing insight that might not have been present before.
Dr Gemma Tully, a British archaeologist and scholar specialising in the relationship between ancient and contemporary Egyptian art emphasised this in a speech she gave as part of the programming that happened the following day. “Contemporary art is produced in a context where people are trying to use elements of the past to speak about today,” she explained. “It draws on the palimpsest that is the Egyptian culture and when seen in the museum has a power to challenge interpretations of the present and, perhaps, also the way we look at history.”
- Eternal Light: Something Old, Something New at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo took place on the evening of October 28, 2017. The ensuing exhibition ran until October 31, 2017.
- For a full report on the evening’s events read my story on Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia