Egypt, the cradle of art

Contemporary Artists from Egypt

Catalogue of the Imago Mundi Collection "Egypt, The Cradle Of Art" (2014) by Contemporary Artists from EgyptImago Mundi

In a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Napoleon Bonaparte on horseback views the Sphinx of Giza, still half covered by sand. It is 1798, the year of the Battle of the Pyramids against the Mamelukes. Beyond military events, the year marked a turning point for Western interest in the immense archaeological and artistic heritage of Egypt. In the wake of Napoleon, 150 scholars from the Commission des Sciences et des Artes arrived on the banks of the Nile and began to uncover the immense cache of Egyptian treasures, including the Rosetta stone, the key to interpreting the language of hieroglyphics. Today, with this ancient past behind it, contemporary art in this great Mediterranean country is living through a significant era, which Imago Mundi wanted to intercept, bringing together 210 works from artists of diverse backgrounds, in the usual small 10x12 cm format.


Moushira Ibrahim Hanafi Elazhari – World, Moushira Ibrahim Hanafi Elazhari, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Moushira Ibrahim Hanafi Elazhari – World (2014)

"Amid oil paintings, gouaches, acrylics, mosaics on canvas, photos and collages – notes Luciano Benetton, the creator of Imago Mundi - a common aspiration for change clearly emerges. This is the case for the new generation that also works with new media and graffiti, taking a fresh approach, detached from the concept of the museum, the exhibition, the vernissage and the critics. But it is also the case for the older generations, who acknowledge the new air that is being breathed, while ensuring continuity with a history that dates back thousands of years.”

Marwa Mohey El Din – Adam, Marwa Mohey El Din, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Marwa Mohey El Din – Adam (2014)

Mohammed Keshk – Stone Window, Mohammed Keshk, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Mohammed Keshk – Stone Window (2014)

Taghreid Abdalla – Egyptian Tales, Taghreid Abdalla, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Taghreid Abdalla – Egyptian Tales (2014)

Curator of this Imago Mundi collection, Oriano Mabellini, President of Sarenco Foundation, recounts his itinerant search around a country traversed by political and social tensions. “Some important artists, for reasons of space, - notes Mabellini - have moved outside Cairo and opened large studios where they can work in peace and invite young artists. Most of the artists however have remained to work in the districts of the ancient city, at Attaba and Zamalek, where the traffic and the chaotic life of the economic and finance centre of Egypt does not arrive.” Mabellini moves next to the Delta, in the north, where in Alexandria and Mansura there are many artists to meet. Finally, from Alexandria he reaches his final stop at the oasis of Fayum, where an interesting group of artists operates.

Sally Elzeany – Memories, Sally Elzeany, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Sally Elzeany – Memories (2014)

The fruits of Mabellini’s Egyptian tour can be enjoyed in the small canvases in the collection. Tangible results in Egyptian art have been achieved with the support of non-governmental organizations, such as the Atelier of Alexandria and the network of Egyptian artists (EAN), alongside the Sarenco Foundation and the Fondazione Benetton.

Rania Fouad Ahmed - Enlightened, Rania Fouad Ahmed, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Rania Fouad Ahmed - Enlightened (2014)

Ann Abdel Fattah – Composition, Ann Abdel Fattah, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Ann Abdel Fattah – Composition (2014)

“The objective of this common work - emphasizes Moataz El-Safty, director and founder of the EAN group – “is to provide a greater opportunity to spread the various Egyptian arts, so that the world will get to know new and contemporary Egyptian art.” He adds: “In Arabic EAN means ‘eye’, so we can adapt it for bright flashing points in the formative artistic movement that shed light on a group of artists in several artistic fields. Aiming at the convergence of these illuminated points onto the nucleus of the coming generations in order to renew artistic dialogue, once again coming together in a single point, EAN creates a dialogue between cultures by bringing together the activities of local and international workshops and preparing the appropriate environment through different arts.”

Donia Abdel Ghany – Eye Of Truth, Donia Abdel Ghany, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Donia Abdel Ghany – Eye Of Truth (2014)

The safety net of the non-governmental organizations has made it possible to protect at least part of Egyptian artistic activities, despite the turmoil of the past three years. Martina Corgnati, teacher of the History of Art at the Accademia Albertina of Turin, gives the example of Khaled Hafez, “who from the edges of the megalopolis not only continues to produce a flourishing and caustic Egyptian pop in a pictorial and video form, but is also involved in the critical-artistic debate, and the formation of younger artists and intellectuals.”

Reda Abdel Salam - Egyptian Oranges, Reda Abdel Salam, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Reda Abdel Salam - Egyptian Oranges (2014)

Miriam George Hathout – Donkeys In Love, Miriam George Hathout, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Miriam George Hathout – Donkeys In Love (2014)

Modern Egyptian art has been influenced in certain periods by Italian academic art and Impressionism, especially by the inauguration of the School of Arts in 1908. Academic art and Impressionism were an addition to Egyptian culture, and helped in shaping Egyptian art at that time, even though any product of these European forms was considered a clear deviation from national culture. This idea dominated the scene until several artists started serious attempts to explore the features of Egyptian identity and combine them with input from academic art and Impressionism.

Shahira Morsi – Red, Shahira Morsi, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Shahira Morsi – Red (2014)

The 1940s-1950s brought early signs of Surrealism in Egypt. As a result, artists from the same generation decided to pursue different paths. The first group of artists remained faithful to Impressionism, but the second group set about investigating different artistic aspects, and were rebellious to techniques, materials and Expressionist forms. These artists made serious attempts to shape and develop the Egyptian Art Movement by exploring Egyptian identity and establishing the concept of liberty in the Arts.

Ahmed Mohammed El-Ganainy – Egypt and 30/6 Road, Ahmed Mohammed El-Ganainy, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Ahmed Mohammed El-Ganainy – Egypt and 30/6 Road (2014)

Such groups freed themselves from standard artistic traditions, basing themselves on the concept that art is accessible to all. They believed that any unconventional tools and materials could create genuine Egyptian art stemming from Egyptian society, even if it had a western artistic tendency, which was obtained through participation in international events, and direct interaction with different cultures.

Abdalaziz Ahmad – Ekhnaton, Abdalaziz Ahmad, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Abdalaziz Ahmad – Ekhnaton (2014)

Karim Ibrahim Abdelmalak – The Hidden Half, Karim Ibrahim Abdelmalak, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Karim Ibrahim Abdelmalak – The Hidden Half (2014)

The Nineties witnessed a breakthrough in the Arts Movement through the works of a new generation. They were able to open new horizons for Egyptian art, leaving behind criticism that the new movement was a replica of western art. The new materials used were highly criticized. Several articles described the new movement as lacking substance and identity, and as a stranger to our society. As the years went by, the new trends became more familiar, and criticism turned from rejection to serious attempts to explore and analyze their art, in order to be able to grasp these new concepts adopted by the new artists.

Moataz El-Safty – Back to Civilization, Moataz El-Safty, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Moataz El-Safty – Back to Civilization (2014)

Luciano Benetton notes this artistic wealth with satisfaction: “The idea of revolution stems from the authenticity of personal artistic aspiration, often pointing a finger at the contradictions of the country, exploring forms, inhabitants, weaknesses, beliefs and hopes, with vivid languages that speak of the future. The Egyptian artists also seem to tell us that not everything can be explained. And at the heart of everything, in the visible as in the invisible, lies a bit of mystery.”

Hanaa Ashaia Khalil Makarious – Egypt Revolution, Hanaa Ashaia Khalil Makarious, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Hanaa Ashaia Khalil Makarious – Egypt Revolution (2014)

Credits: Story

Project management
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd

Valentina Granzotto

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Martina Corgnati
Moataz El-Safty
Oriano Mabellini

Editing and translations
Emma Cole
Jozef Falinski
Pietro Valdatta
Demetrio De Stefano

Special thanks to:
Mahmoud Barakat Shafey
Reem Hassan
Dahlia Moustapha
Hannan Kirollos
Kaled Hafez
Fondazione Sarenco

Art direction
Laura Bolzan

Marco Zanin (artworks)
Reem Hassan,
Oriano Mabellini

Marco Pavan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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