Art in Dialogue with the Monumental Pyramids of Giza
Imagine larger-than-life public installations by artists from around the world in a 4600-year-old setting of giant pyramids in Giza, Cairo! That is the gist of Forever is Now currently showing in Egypt organised by Art D’Égypte. The second edition of Forever is Now is more stunning and mysterious than its earlier version and is based on time and timelessness, situating contemporary artworks in the magnificent site of the pyramids.
Through an immersive experience of public art, the exhibition envisions a future that is anchored in a deep knowledge of the past, indicating that there is no conception of the future without history, and that there is no time without the present.
Strategically positioned throughout the vast Giza Plateau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are the original works of artists Therese Antoine, Natalie Clark, Mohammad Alfaraj, Emilio Ferro, Zeinab AlHashemi, JR, Ahmed Karaly, Liter of Light, eL Seed, SpY, Pascale Marthine Tayou, and Jwan Yosef.
Through their works, each installation stimulates a unique visual conversation with the three Pyramids of Giza and beckons the viewer to transcend present time and wander through an exploration of the potential of humanity, bound only by the contours of the mind.
The artists showcasing their work in Forever is Now II respond to connections of history and rituals. Their artworks, made from a combination of natural and industrial materials, are in dialogue with Giza’s 4600-year-old iconic monuments of natural stone, pointing to our past and present conditions.
“Forever is Now II is an ode to the transcendental power of art, where historical and global influence converge, and artists can become co-creators, collaborators and protagonists in a larger narrative of art. Art becomes a collective responsibility, a conversation across time that enables each artist to contribute his/her own story to history,” says Nadine a. Ghaffar, Founder of Art D’Égypte, an Egyptian curator, art consultant, and cultural ambassador. In 2016, she established Art D’Égypte to advance the international profile of modern and contemporary Egyptian art, and to help preserve and promote Egypt’s rich culture and heritage.
“The contemporary art and culture scene in Egypt is vibrant and booming. There are many initiatives and passionate individuals creating unique events and artworks. But there is space to do more,” she says about the initiatives she has spearheaded, “There are many galleries and platforms but there is room for so much more. Egypt is a big country with huge untapped reservoirs of talent.”
She says that the country and the art scene and particularly Art D’ Egypte is in the cusp of change. “We recently launched our new global brand Culturvator. Through Culturvator, we plan to engage with the art and heritage that makes our region so rich and diverse and to foster and promote new connections across the global creative industry.”
She calls out for support for the cultural initiatives in Egypt as she stresses on the importance of art investments. “I think investing in the creative sector is critical. You cannot just talk about art or music; you need to create an enabling environment for artistic creation in all its forms, whether cinema, art, fashion, music, or digital arts. It is all intertwined, and we hope to see more support for cultural initiatives in Egypt.”
“The 2nd edition of Forever Is Now promises many surprises. It brings together a group of 12 international and regional artists to create large-scale site-specific artworks in dialogue with the monumental Pyramids of Giza. The artists explore questions such as how to navigate between our ancient world and our technological futures, between eternal monuments and endangered environments. This year, the exhibition coincides with the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh, making these questions particularly relevant. We are also happy to announce a partnership with Meta and we are launching AR Instagram filters on Instagram.”
Reflecting the theme of the event, which merges ancient heritage and contemporary art; Meta will bring together art, culture and technology through AR filters that will help visitors not only navigate the exhibition but also tell the stories behind some of its most iconic works of art.
“The guide will be accessible through a set of 13 AR filters via Instagram on smartphones and will comewith an audio guide, which will illustrate the backstory of each piece and showcase its creation through work-in-progress images, while also providing biographies ofespecially for this exhibition,” she says.
SCALE looks through the works of few artists on display at the Art D’ Egypte;
A Pyramid in Other Vocabularies
“When you are fascinated by something, you see it in everything. My fascination with the many civilizations of Egypt has made me see them as one entity, each reflecting the other. From another visual dimension, I see them completely intertwined, no matter how different their details are. This project represents the merging between the ancient Egyptian and the civilizations that followed it in a contemporary rendering that interprets what I see,” says Egyptian artist Karaly who won the State Prize for Creativity in 2005 for a project “Al-Masrakhankeeh”, which is the re-development of Islamic architecture in a sculptural form, envisioning an entire city that started from the city’s gates.
Secrets of Time
EL Seed is a contemporary Egyptian artist whose practice crosses the discipline of painting and sculpture. He uses wisdom of writers, poet, and philosophers from around the world to convey messages of peace and to underline the commonalities of human existence. eL Seed uses his art as an echo of the stories of the communities that he meets around the world and aims to amplify their voices.
“Secrets of Time celebrates the greatness of the Pyramids of Giza and encompasses everything from the country’s ancient civilization to a long list of Egyptian superlatives and achievements in culture, science, and more. Inspired by the words of Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour, time does not disclose its secrets to humankind. The sculpture’s striking colour will contrast with the monochrome beige of the Great Pyramids. The sculpture will stand as a testimony to the mystery of the Pyramids while offering the viewers an anamorphic experience from a certain focal point,” says the artist.
JR exhibits freely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not typical museum visitors. In 2011 he received the TED Prize, after which he launched Inside Out, an international participatory art project. His recent projects include a large-scale pasting in a maximum-security prison in California, a TIME Magazine cover about COVID, a video mural including 1,200 people presented at SFMOMA, a collaboration with New York City Ballet
“Inside Out Giza is the first inside out photobooth installation in Egypt – every participant will visit the pyramid shaped interactive photobooth and receive a large-scale black and white portrait, that will be pasted onto billboards in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza, making an ephemeral personal statement in front of timeless monuments,’ according to the artist on his work.
Dreams in Giza
Pascale Tayou lives and works in Ghent, Belgium and Yaoundé, Cameroon. Since the 1990s and his participation in Documenta 11 (2002) in Kassel and at the Venice Biennale (2005 and 2009), Tayou has been known to a broad international public. His work is characterised by its variability; he does not confine himself to one medium nor to a particular set of issues.
‘Dreams in Giza’ is a monumental artwork especially created for the second edition of Art d’Egypte and sponsored by Galleria Continua. It’s a perfect union of the colourful and exuberant art of Pascale Marthine Tayou and the majestic and timeless history and culture of Egypt. Twenty stainless steel tubes rise from the hot sand. Like flutes, ancient witnesses of the banquets and celebrations of the pharaohs, these new totems whistle and play with the wind. They are adorned with coloured wooden eggs, symbols of good omen, of rebirth: a key element in the works of Pascale Marthine Tayou but also a reference to ancient Egyptian mythology, where the Cosmic Egg held a central place as a primordial symbol of birth and creation, generating the sun god Ra.
Guardians of the Well
Mohammed Al Faraj
Having studied engineering and growing up loving the camera in Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, Al Faraj’s work can be described as a cinematic collage of mediums, practices and ideas that create a world charged with stories, poetry, and search for truth by exploring documentation and interpretation, which results in works that the artist hopes to nurture imagination and empathy in the experiencer.
The Thirst series comprises works that are closely and directly related to water and air in addition to the stories that shape human connections from a local, global, and cosmic perspective. The Guardians of the Wind is a figurine made from rusted water pipes used in the dried-up springs on rural farms which are transformed into an interactive musical instrument with air, animals, and people. These pipes are covered with various branches of palm trees that make them look like futuristic fossils of mythical creatures making musical sounds as the wind moves through them while people walk between and under them. The parts of the palm trees and metal/plastic pipes are sourced from the Egyptian countryside. The work is in harmony with its context and the context of ancient Egypt, which was a marvel in irrigation and watering systems. It gazes deeply at space and the stars searching for that knowledge.
The Spirit of Hathor
Natalie Clark, is a sculptor, collector, art advisor, educator, and author. Influenced by extensive travels around the world, Natalie’s work is a global fusion of modern design, indigenous art forms and organic inspirations found in nature. Her current work includes large-scale sculpture in a variety of mediums, including marble, steel, ceramics, and natural materials.
The beloved Goddess Hathor embodies all that is universally feminine—beauty, love, fertility, music, dancing, and pleasure. Loved equally by all women and men, she was the counterpart of the Sun God Ra and the Sky God Horus and honoured as the symbolic mother of the pharaohs. Strong of spirit, a protector of women in body and soul, for rich and poor alike, Hathor maintained order and harmony, balanced the light and the dark and was worshipped as the Goddess of the Afterlife. In the Spirit of Hathor, the sensuously curved interlocking horns reach up to the heavens balancing the implied masculinity of the bold steel in a harmonious Great Pyramids. Such is the power of the Goddess Hathor.
ORB: Under the Same Sun
SpY is an international urban artist whose work consists of transforming spaces into experiences through artistic interventions. The contextual art projects of Spanish artist SpY are among the most original and talked-about contributions in the evolution from urban art to public art.
Orb draws its inspiration from the historical Egyptian heritage around it. The choice of form and materials in the piece is presented as a direct reference to elements of mathematics and symbolism present in classic Egyptian culture and in the pyramids in particular. The shape of the piece alludes to the ‘pi’ number concealed in the geometry of the pyramids and found when dividing the perimeter of a pyramid by twice its height. The sphere is an invisible part of the resulting geometry since a sphere with a radius as high as the pyramid would have a circumference very close in length to the pyramid’s perimeter. The surface of the artwork captures the pyramids, the sky, the surroundings, and the viewers in a multiple fragmented reflection. It references the role of the circular mirror in historical Egyptian symbolism, where it was linked to the sun and conveyed notions of creation and rebirth.
Pantheon of Deities
Therese Antoine Louis
Therese Antoine Louis is an Egyptian sculptor who lives and works in Alexandria, Egypt. The ability to transform a symmetrical, streamlined body shape into simple abstract, geometrical forms and figures has always been a great fascination of hers.
“I took the concept of the sundial for my installation as a metaphor and link between the sun, the earth, and the passage of time. I created five vertical columns influenced by the ancient obelisk: one at the centre of the circular shape and four at the edge of the outline in reference to the principal points indicating time and the cardinal directions (compass). Only three different shapes are repeated symbolizing the number of the Great Pyramids of Giza. Those columns represent several significant deities of the old kingdom. By producing a repetitive production of each form and by showcasing in an unsystematic and unorganized way, I created a dynamic composition which will help in designing a layout of a new dimension of the space and in building an interactive environment between the audience and the space itself.”
The Unfinished Obelisk ‘Camoulflage’
Zeinab is an Emirati conceptual artist based in Dubai. She examines the contrast between the geometric shapes of urbanism and the organic form associated with her country’s natural landscape.
‘Camoulflage’ is a portmanteau, a combination of camel and camouflage, inspired by the history and legacy of the camel in the region and the way the animals blend with the desert dunes. The installation strikes the audience as a desert scene from which an abstract camel silhouette emerges. Just as the animal’s natural colouring and form enable it to blend in with its surroundings, so too does the installation meld with its desert backdrop, almost mimicking ancient Egyptian artefacts. In this work, the camels have transformed into an obelisk, revisiting the story of the Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan. Reinforced metal rotes, used in all modern construction, are used in mesh form in the obelisk, reflecting a scene we witness every day in our modern lives and cities, that of half-done buildings and skeletons of the future landscape.
All Images Courtesy ART D’ÉGYPTE
Photography by © Hesham Alsaifi