Exhibition takes modern art to Cairo’s Fatimid quarter

The exhibition brought together the works of 28 of Egypt’s most innovative artists to exhibit on Moezz Street, the oldest street of Fatimid Cairo.
Sunday 17/11/2019
Sherin Guirguis’s large earring (L) in the main hall of Beet al-Qadi. (Saeed Shahat)
A transformative experience. Sherin Guirguis’s large earring (L) in the main hall of Beet al-Qadi. (Saeed Shahat)

CAIRO - An Egyptian cultural institution is putting new life into Egypt’s ancient arts by putting them side by side with contemporary arts and placing both in the view of the public in a mesmerising manner.

Art D’Egypte, a private cultural platform that supports contemporary artists, is giving artists an opportunity to display their work.

“Few cultural institutions play this role in the life of the artists,” said Art D’Egypte founder Nadine Abdel Ghaffar.

She and her colleagues brought together the work of 28 of Egypt’s most innovative artists and exhibited them on Moezz Street, the oldest street in Fatimid Cairo.

The street, 1,050 years old, contains the largest amount of architectural proof to the greatness and artistry of the builders of Cairo. It is home to some of the oldest mosques in the city, the oldest hospital and buildings where rulers and luminaries of the city lived.

Art D’Egypte is taking contemporary art to the middle of the historical buildings. Organisers opted for four buildings to create an unprecedented open-air museum.

Called “Reimagined Narratives”, the exhibition reinvents the story of the street, its buildings and its people from a contemporary angle and as the artists participating view them.

Some of the works are symbolic and others are an expression of the rejection of contemporary artists of some traditions and the political and religious lines prevalent in Cairo hundreds of years ago.

Artist Sherin Guirguis contributed a large earring that moves back and forth in a dancing manner. The wooden work of art resembles a playful woman dancing in the middle of the main hall of Beet al-Qadi, where the religious court convened in the early 1800s.

Women were banned from the hall and were only allowed on the second floor of the building. Hiding behind the wooden interior balcony fence, women’s earrings and jewellery sometimes dropped out of the balcony fence as they looked at men in the hall.

“This is a transformative experience for artists and for the people who come to see these works of art,” Guirguis said. “Bringing works of art that close to the public makes people interact with them in ways that transcend public interaction with the same works when they are in closed places.”

Artist Ahmed Asqalani created gigantic prayer beads and placed them at the entrance to Sultan Qalawun Mosque, which was built in 1285. The beads symbolise the extent of piety the mosque represents in the street.

Ahmed Qarali reinvented the design of the mosque and its complex in a more modern manner.

It took the artists a year to make their works of art and customise them to the location. Before starting, the 28 artists spent much time on the street, studying details and to decide the works they would create to suit it.

One of the artists created a bed and placed it in one of the rooms of the main hospital of Moezz Street, which was known as Bemaristan. Another artist reimagined a low sky in a symbolic scene of close connections between mystic Muslims and the sky.

In organising the Moezz Street exhibition, Art D’Egypte set standards higher and maintains a tradition of juxtaposing ancient and contemporary arts.

Last year, the institution organised an exhibition at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It included works of dozens of contemporary artists and exhibited them beside ancient pieces and relics displayed at the museum.

“Reimagined Narratives” coincides with the 1,050th anniversary of the founding of Moezz Street. It is sponsored by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and UNESCO, which declared the street and the area surrounding it a World Cultural Heritage Site in the 1970s.

Visitors to the exhibition include celebrities wanting to be part of a cultural event that reformulates relations between modern and ancient arts and relations between new and old artists.

“True, I do not know most of the artists exhibiting their work here,” said Zahi Hawass, an Egyptologist and the former minister of culture, “but the works they are bringing to this street are making its walls speak.”

Reinventing history. A new design of Sultan Qalawun Mosque and Complex by one of the artists participating in the exhibition.  	                                                                		            (Saeed Shahat)
Reinventing history. A new design of Sultan Qalawun Mosque and Complex by one of the artists participating in the exhibition. (Saeed Shahat)
Proximity with the public. Gigantic prayer beads by Ahmed  Asqalini at the entrance to Sultan Qalawun Mosque.    (Saeed Shahat)
Proximity with the public. Gigantic prayer beads by Ahmed Asqalini at the entrance to Sultan Qalawun Mosque. (Saeed Shahat)
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