"In a small bright yellow room tucked inside al Refaai Mosque, lied a tomb in the shape of a Cathedral, and that's the message of my exhibition," explained renowned Egyptian photographer Sherif Sonbol.
The Hanging church (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
In his latest photo exhibition, that has roamed several cities and finally landed in al-Ahram Gallery, Sonbol highlights the basic facts: in Egypt, all religions are highly respected. Being a true "Cairo crossroad of faith," as the name of the exhibition states, Egypt in general, and Cairo in particular, beholds the essence of compassion and acceptance which is deeply engraved on the walls of it's various houses of faith that sometimes share the same walls. "That is why I refused to put any name tags on any of my photos," added Sonbol, explaining that the first photograph that he showcases in the exhibition is one that most eyes mistake for a mosque. " If you look closer you would find over 200 crosses deeply engraved and Coptic verses written in Arabic, this is the Hanging Church ((690–92 A.D),"
Ben Ezra synagogue (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
The photography collection roams between Coptic, Mamluki, Ottoman, Shia and New Islamic architectural gems. The photo collection includes rare photos of the Jewish Temple Ben Izra, which is located within the Religion Complex in Old Cairo, sharing more than one wall with Coptic churches and a few meters away from Cairo's first mosque Gamaa Amr Ibn El Ass (641–642 AD)
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
The photo exhibition is a celebration of the beauty of faith. Depicting Al-Refaai Mosque (it's construction began in1869 but it wasn't until 1912 when it was first opened for prayers) as his poster, Sonbol explains the story behind his choice. In a bright yellow room that is seldom opened, lies the tomb of the French wife of Khedive Ismail, which was in the shape of a cathedral in honor of her Christian origins. "It took me a lot of official paper work to get permission to open the door of the yellow room and take this view of the mini cathedral in the heart of Al-Refaai mosque," he adds. "I am no sociologist, but as an Egyptian photographer, I am part Christian, part Muslim, part Pharonic and if any of such parts are teared from me I become disfigured," he explains. He is irritated that mainstream culture's discourse and also the ministry of Education's school curriculum, have simply disregarded five centuries of Egyptian Coptic History.
In his photographic journey, Sonbol raises a few basic yet essential questions about the true identity of Egypt, one that is not susceptible to any dissection. A melting pot of Faith? Perhaps. How else do you explain the harmonious bliss that glues all such ancient houses of God in one Country?
Cairo The Cross road of Faith, photo gallery by Sherif Sonbol
Al-Ahram newspaper main building, Hallway exhibition
Daily from 9 am to 8 pm
It runs till Thursday Feb 5