Nagi Farid: An Egyptian sculptor's adventures with scraps, metal and stone

May Selim, Tuesday 16 Aug 2016

Recently awarded the State Encouragement Award, Nagi Farid is now bracing for the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium 2017 in which he will succeed Adam Henein as its general commissioner

Nagi Farid
Nagi Farid (Photo: courtesy of the artist)

The sculpture for which Egyptian artist Nagi Farid won the State Encouragement Award this year is an abstract work.

Titled “The Queen,” it represents a woman sculpted in black granite, with head and chest in bronze and nickel chrome. The sculpture is part of a series, in which the artist combines granite with metals.

With a career spanning 27 years, Nagi Farid continues to explore the materials, new techniques, new forms and styles.

Farid’s queen is delicate and feminine. Despite the hardness of the black granite, the body is very subtle. The majesty’s head and torso shine in silver and her body reveals the smooth curves.

"I submitted my work to the State Awards twice. This year, I won, having submitted six sculptures which were on display at El-Gezira Arts Centre back in 2014. I think The Queen is my most mature sculpture, the most representative in terms of the size, technique and the subject matter," Nagi Farid comments.

However, this is not the first award received by Farid.

In 1989, he won the first prize at the first edition of the Youth Salon, an annual event launched by the Ministry of Culture with the aim of encouraging the creativity of artists aged under 35 years. At the time of the recognition, Farid was still a fourth year student at the faculty of art education, a vocation he chose after failing in his law studies.

The winning work was a figurative sculpture in scrap metal depicting a man trying to get up.

Farid smiles as he recalls how he created his award-winning work, as well as another one which also brought him an award from the Youth Salon’s second edition. 

“One day, I bought those two junk vehicles, a car for EGP 10 [almost $1] and a carriage for EGP 12 [$1.2]. I used the scrap metal to create the sculpture. At that time, the Youth Salon’s prize was EGP 3000. Following the salon, the sculpture was bought by the Hanager Arts Centre, also for LE 3000. With the remaining parts of the vehicles, I continued working. And again, another work I created from same materials, brought me one of the first prizes from the second edition of Youth Salon, also amounting LE 3000. Then this work was acquired by Farouq El Gohari for the same amount."

Sculptures by Nagi Farid. The central photo presents the award-winning work titled The Queen (Photos: courtesy of the artist)

Between 1989 and 1996, Farid garnered a total of six prizes at the Youth Salon's editions. While winning his living, the awards, particularly the first two, introduced the young artists to the scene.

“No doubt, any young artist in Egypt faces a lot of challenges. It is really hard to sacrifice yourself entirely to art and make it your sole source of income. However, I decided to do only art and I do not regret it. In life in general, I reject any negative emotions. This is how I am," he adds.

Farid's sculpting passion was already emerging in his school years. During holidays, he would spend all his time on moulding plaster, not even knowing he was in fact creating his first sculptures.

"My only pleasure was to buy plaster and mould it to different shapes and sizes," he recalls.

"My father was a simple official, but his true calling was carpentry. He made all furniture in our home. I inherited the ability to work with my hands from him."

After the death of his father, Farid took all the carpentry tools, while the family encouraged him to pursue art.

"In the high school I started attending art exhibitions. I was amazed by abstract art. I met the late sculptor Abdel-Hady El-Weshahi at one of the exhibition's openings. Since then, our paths kept crossing, often in different galleries and sporadically we talked about art together."

El-Weshahi believed that young Farid was a promising artist and advised him to enroll at the Fine Arts Faculty. But Farid chose to study law so he would “defend the people and establish justice. What a naive dream," the artist comments.

During his studies at the University of Ain Shams, Farid took part in an art competition and won the first prize. El-Weshahi and late artist Zakaria El Zeini were among the jury. During the awards ceremony Farid met El-Weshahi again.

"I went to greet him, and he scolded me. He almost yelled at me saying ‘For the Love of God, what do you do at the faculty of law? Your place is not here!’,” Farid recalls.

The art professor was right. It didn't take Farid long to fail in his law studies and finally he moved to the Faculty of Art Education. He then enrolled as an auditor (free listener) at the lectures El-Weshahi was giving at the Faculty of Fine Arts.

During those preparatory years, Farid used to worked in silence and his presence was hardly noticed. "I was very shy -- I still am," he explains.

Sculptures by Nagi Farid. (Photos: courtesy of the artist)

Through participating in numerous exhibitions, he met yet another Egyptian master of sculpture, Adam Henein.

"At the fifth edition of the Youth Salon, I displayed a monumental, three-metres tall sculpture that was spinning. Henein was contemplating my work and congratulated me aloud. Then he invited me to his studio at El Harraneya [south of Cairo]."

The young and timid artist feared the visit: "What will I do with Henein?" I was asking myself.

Farid didn’t respond to the invitation immediately and it was three months later that he met Henein again in one of the galleries. The latter renewed his invitation and this is when the relationship became closer.

"The sculptures of Adam Henein fascinate me. He is interested in small details and pays great attention to the surface of the work. I learned a lot from him."

Faithful to the master, since year 2000, Farid assisted Henein in the organisation of the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium, taking the position of the deputy commissioner.

It is precisely through this symposium that he could let loose the many mysteries of the granite infusing his sculptures with a Pharaonic scent.

"The ancient Egyptians sculpted to worship kings and gods. I do not look into the religious motives behind their work and I am more interested in the techniques and aesthetic concepts," clarifies Farid who is particularly known for his creative association of stone with metal.

"In my studio in Cairo, I had a small block of granite with a large crack. While working, the block broke. I thought to cover the damaged part with a piece of metal. Both materials, bronze and granite, are very contrasting yet this idea gave birth to the many sculptures I have worked on since 1998 until date."

Even in his more recent bronze sculptures, more human, and more contemporary in nickel chrome, he admits that while being inspired by Pharaonic art, he creates lines and features that are more abstract and simplified.

In his latest exhibition titled Visual Memories which was held at the Nile Art Gallery in June, Farid fuses his signature style photography and typography.

"The metals invite to experimentation and adventure. I have even founded my own metal foundry. Bronze and nickel chrome provide a nice, polished and shiny surface. I’d say they become like a mirror that draws the viewer to interaction. I also resorted to photography and typography, through which I add other dimensions, other connotations to the work, so I can better communicate with the viewer."

Whether he works in scarp metal, stone or bronze, Farid’s style and lines become very familiar. 

“I choose subjects which speak of my concerns and personal experiences. Many sculptors tend to cut shapes that resemble them physically. Above that, I also aim to create forms that reflect my personality and my stance vis-a-vis the short life,” he explains.

Starting in 2017, Farid will succeed Adam Henein in the role of the general commissioner of the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium. He hopes to put his imprint and help make things happen.

"The 22nd edition of the symposium will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh. This annual event is already well recognised internationally. Sinai is plentiful with granite quarries and after so many crises with tourism, the region needs a boost," concludes Farid, not without enthusiasm.

Monumental sculptures by Nagi Farid. (Photos: courtesy of the artist)

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