Cairo International Biennale makes a strong comeback after 8-year absence

A total of 78 artists from 52 countries, including 12 Arab and 15 African countries, participate in the edition, which kicked off June 10.
Sunday 16/06/2019
Exploring roots. A painting on display druring the Cairo International Biennale. (Hassan Abdel Zaher)
Exploring roots. A painting on display druring the Cairo International Biennale. (Hassan Abdel Zaher)

CAIRO - The Cairo International Biennale, Egypt’s largest cultural event, made a comeback this year with its 13th edition after an 8-year hiatus.

The biennale, which first took place in 1984, was suspended in 2011 following the revolution that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It returned with a larger and more comprehensive scope, organisers said.

A total of 78 artists from 52 countries, including 12 Arab and 15 African countries, participate in the edition, which kicked off June 10 and runs through August 10. Events are scheduled for three art centres in Cairo, including the Egyptian Opera House.

“We promise everybody that this edition of the biennale will be more daring than ever before,” biennale organiser and sculptor Ehab el-Laban said.

The biennale is a meeting point for all types of artists, including painters, printmakers, sculptors, photographers, video film-makers, designers and architects. It is also an occasion for artists to get in touch, exchange experiences and be exposed to influences from other regions and cultures.

After eight years of absence, the biennale’s comeback was greeted with national euphoria and reaffirmed the restoration of Egypt as a cultural powerhouse, organisers said.

“It gives a strong message that Egypt is still present and coming back with force on the cultural scene,” said Yasser Mungi, a member of the biennale’s organising committee. “This country will continue to be a meeting point for creative people in all fields.”

Arab countries participating in the biennale include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Lebanon.

An international jury, headed by Austrian artist Felicitas Thun-Hohenstein and including Catherine David and Annabelle Teneze from France, Amelia Jones from the United States and Teresa Grandas from Spain was brought together for the event. French artist Gerard Garouste is the guest of honour of the biennale.

Six finalists were selected for the event’s awards with the top prize, the Grand Nile Award given to Belgian artist Joris Van de Moortel. Other awards went to Egyptian sculptor Ahmed al-Badry, Iraqi artist Sadik Kwaish Alfraji, South Korean artist Kim Heecheon, Austrian artist Brigitte Kowanz and Jordanian artist Ayman Yosri.

This year, the Ministry of Culture allocated 1 million Egyptian pounds ($60,000) for the biennale’s awards.

The biennale convened under the slogan “Towards the East,” which Laban said “sums up the message of the event, namely showcasing Eastern arts and bringing them together with influences from other parts of the world.”

He said works by Arab artists demonstrated the tangible progress on the artistic and cultural stage of Arab countries.

“The Arab artists participating in the new edition of the biennale are highly competitive. They brought in dozens of works, some of which are real masterpieces, even though they did not win any awards,” Laban said.

Marwa Adel, among seven Egyptian artists participating in the event, presented 75 photo portraits and a video of a woman drawing and redrawing her face several times. Each time the woman draws her face, she removes one of the features of the previous drawing.

The message the video wants to deliver, Adel said, is that sometimes women must part from their natural beauty under social pressure and criticism. “Most of us want to please those around us, even if this will make us lose a beautiful trait,” said Adel, a first-time participant.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for me to showcase my work and see the works of other people. It is very rewarding,” she added.

Egyptian artist Hazem el-Mestkawy’s work consists of a room whose parts were brought together in an innovative and intriguing manner.

“The room contains chairs, different pieces of chess and historical slogans. It is meant to reflect the different influences that cultures have on each other,” Mestkawy said.

“There is unprecedented enthusiasm for the biennale this time,” said Mestkawy, who has participated in the event since 1990. “Such cultural events bring Egypt back to its rightful position on the international cultural map.”

culture
Art with a message. “The Room” by Egyptian artist Hazem Mistkawi. (Hassan Abdel Zaher)
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