Despite the push and pull between Egyptian artists, the culture ministry and a curatorial committee, the 35th annual General Art Exhibition was held on Sunday evening at the Palace of Arts as scheduled.
The opening of the exhibition put an end to a debate over its fate, as the minister had decided on Thursday 23 May that he would postpone it after he received complaints from unidentified artists that some artworks schedule to be exhibited had been submitted past the official deadline.
Under pressure from contemporary visual artists, the minister retracted his decision to postpone the event, but insisted that the artworks allegedly submitted late would be eliminated.
The curatorial committee, headed by Mohamed El Tarawy, was outraged by the minister's order, arguing that a decision like that falls under the jurisdiction of the exhibition's curator, not the ministry's. They argue that it is the curator who, together with the committee, sets the criteria based on their specific artistic vision.
Some artists arrived an hour and a half before the exhibition's official opening and chanted against the minister and the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide, asserting that the palace of arts is theirs – not the minister's nor the Brotherhood's.
The minister had sent a fax on Sunday 26 May morning informing the organising committee that he would not attend the opening, due to their disregard for his decision to eliminate the selected artworks. The artists contended that they would not allow one single painting to be eliminated.
While the minister did not appear on the opening night, the head of the Central Administration of Museums and Exhibitions and of the Fine Arts sector, Salah El-Meligy was present.
Abdel-Aziz's appointment earlier this month was met by protests from Egypt's cultural community, who accuse him of collaborating with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and aiming to 'Brotherhoodise' the state institutions, including the culture ministry. Abdel-Aziz was appointed earlier in May by former Brotherhood top leader and current president, Mohamed Morsi.
On Tuesday 14 May, actors, filmmakers, theatre directors, musicians and singers, along with several university professors, organised a protest march from the Hanager Arts Centre – located on the grounds of the Cairo Opera House – to the nearby culture minister's office in Zamalek.
Open now - 25 June
Palace of Arts, Cairo Opera House