Art: A ray of forgotten sun in Egypt’s schools

Ati Metwaly, Monday 13 Jun 2011

The student art exhibition at the British International School in Cairo offers inspiring hope that art education is not completely forgotten in schools in Egypt

BISC exhibition

As the school year approaches its end and many schools have already started theit summer holidays, this time of closure is an opportunity for many schools to present their students’ achievements, including their artistic productions.

On 12 June, the British International School in Cairo (BISC) opened its annual art exhibition presenting two years’ worth of works by students enrolled in arts classes. British judges grade the works and the best pieces are presented in an open exhibition held at the school premises.

During the two-year General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) curriculum course students work with multiple media and follow a theme.

“Each student is free to choose the direction of their artistic expression, by using different mediums: clay, painting, drawing etc,” Peter Jenkins, art teacher at the BISC told Ahram Online. “It is not only about teaching skills, but the history of art. Students are invited to compare numerous artists and find inspiration in their techniques, as well as themes. Then they take this inspiration a step further and present their own personal interpretation.

One of the main themes explored during the two-year course was “Differences and Similarities.” Students create a mind map of different ideas and while studying the works of different artists before they create their own artistic proposition.

“The art teacher’s role is not to impose their own style, but to rather help the student explore and develop in his chosen direction under professional and valuable supervision,” Jenkins added.

“It is a pleasure to follow those young artists’ development. Many of them become more mature and artistically sensitive within the two years of studies.”

In exhibited works there is an obvious development of skills, ideas and solutions for each topic tackled. Students managed to build comprehensive levels of artistic consciousness, each at their own pace. “Some students mature faster; they master some skills with more confidence.”

Commenting on the obvious cultural multiplicity in many works exhibited: “We have students from Japan, Scotland, Poland, Pakistan, Korea, but mostly from Egypt and Egyptian mixes.”

Not many of the BISC exhibiting students are interested in further pursuing a career in the arts field. Jenkins notices that in today’s Egyptian culture parents usually prefer their children to become engineers or doctors and, leaving art as a not desirable career. “Due to social convictions and preferences the majority of students in art classes are girls.” Jenkins, however, mentioned a few students, one of them being a boy, who have serious plans of taking their artistic vocation to a professional level, preferably in the fashion industry.

“Today the professional art field is very competitive, especially in Europe and the United States. For some people it is not easy to get into the scene,” Jenkins concluded, adding that the group includes a number of interesting students who will definitely develop even more with further courses and studies.

Art education plays a strong role in shaping young minds and opening their creative capacities, which spills over into non-art-related fields. In Egypt, where arts education in primary and secondary schools is either marginalised or, in many cases completely non-existent, attending a fully-developed and well-organised exhibition of young students is an inspiring experience. Unfortunately, with Egypt as it is now only children from the most financially-privileged families have an opportunity of being taken into the journey of art.

BISC exhibition is paralleled by a number of other art exhibitions held in schools of similar standards. Accordingly, only a fraction of Egyptian students have the full ability of indulging in artistic expression. Even of the students who do have the privilege, not many of them pursue further artistic career, but at least art awareness and sensitivity is already imprinted in student’s characters and will definitely nurture their individual paths. This is the high value that all Egyptian schools need to look into.

A glimpse at the exhibition held at the BISC schools reveals a lot more beyond the works themselves. There is a sense of achievement, accomplishment and well-earned pride on the part of both students and teachers. As such, the exhibition is not only a valuable reward for its students but, hopefully, it will serve as an encouragement for many other educational institutions in Egypt to give art a chance.

Open every day until Thursday, 16 June, 3pm -4:30pm
Visual arts section at the British International School, Cairo, Km 38, Cairo-Alexandria Road, Beverly Hills

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