Nubian culture exhibition brings ancient heritage to life

Farah Montasser, Sunday 4 Mar 2012

Prominent artists from Egypt and Sudan joined forces at the Cairo Opera House in a three-day exhibition celebrating Egypt's cultural heritage

nuba exhibition
Photo by Nada Mahrous

The Nuba People Tie Festival 2012, launched Thursday 1 March and running through Saturday 3 March, aimed at strengthening bonds between Egypt and neighbouring Nile Basin countries.“The story began in an arts competition I created on Facebook. Here are the chosen pieces of 56 Egyptian and Sudanese artists,” explained exhibition curator and artist Nihal Dahab.

The first idea was include only Nubians. “But we thought since Nuba is part of Egypt, any artist from across the nation could participate,” Dahab explains. Because of the closeness between Sudan and the Egyptian Nuba, “We also accepted works of Sudanese artists,” she added.

Nuba is one of Egypt’s core cultures that has long been neglected by Egyptian society and government alike, according to Dahab. “Therefore, we wanted through collective work that includes paintings, sculpture, arts and crafts to highlight this vital part of Egyptian culture,” Dahab told Ahram Online.

According to the exhibition statement, Nubians have sacrificed much for the nation, giving up their lands and homes throughout Egypt’s modern history, especially in 1964 with the building of the Aswan High Dam, where they were forced to leave their villages to make room for Lake Nasser.

In spite of their loss, Nubians kept their traditions and culture alive and continue to pass it on from one generation to another. “This arts exhibition is one way of viewing their identity and its contribution to the entire Egyptian heritage over the course of history,” Dahab comments.

At the Cairo Opera House, paintings and photography covered the walls of the exhibition gallery. A canvas of a male Nubian face was the first thing you'd see when walking in, with its dark-skinned and African features. As one moved closer, the brilliance of its creator, Waleed Farouk from Sudan, came to life.

Through newspaper cut-outs, Farouk assembled his portrait of a man. The audience were mesmerised by the piece, depicting a face full of lines, representing the hardships of Nubian life.

Shaima Mostafa, among the artists represented in the exhibition, also managed to attract a number of visitors with a medium sized canvas with a vivid abstract of three female Nubian villagers: one carrying an olla (a traditional clay jug to keep water cool), another holding a toddler, and a third carrying flowers. Mostafa added a modern touch by not having her figures in bright and colourful traditional Nubian clothing.

“What one notices about the artist's work is her familiarity with ancient Egyptian art,” said one visitor pointing at the hands and fingers of Mostafa’s models, depicted in similar fashion to those found in ancient Egyptian temples.

Haytham El-Saeed showed the festive side of Nuba with three cheerful male musicians and dancers in his piece. El-Saeed also placed Nubian culture in its Egyptian context, depicting the male Nubians in clean white galabeyas (traditional Egyptian clothing) carrying a duff (Egyptian drum) and dancing.

The second floor of the gallery included photography and hand-woven bags and home accessories. At the far end there was a beautiful face captured by the lens of Nada Mohamed Mahrous that got audiences talking. It was as if the model herself was standing in front of them.

Mahrous represented well Nubian beauty: young girl with dark skin and long thick and braided hair smiling. “The face of ancient Egypt,” one observer said.

Arts professor Khalaf Tayee, who served on the jury of the competition, noted: “Nubians carry the features of the pure ancient Egyptians.” Along with Tayee, the jury committee included professors Sayed El-Kamash and Mervet El-Shazli.

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