'Egypt's art gains momentum': Inauguration of Adam Henein annual sculpture prize

Maryam Saleh, Sunday 16 Apr 2017

The Adam Henein Foundation debuted the first edition of the newly established Adam Henein Annual Sculpture Prize on 31 March at Cairo’s Hanager Arts Centre

Winners of the Adam Henein Sculpture prize; Ahmed Magdy Abdo, first prize (left) and Moawya Helal, second prize (right) (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Driven by Egypt's renowned sculptor Adam Henein, an annual prize carrying his name wil be given to one member of the younger generation of Egyptian artists. In its inaugural year, a selection of sculptures that caught the jury's attention were on display at the gallery of Hanager Arts Centre. The winners were announced during a special ceremony that took place 31 March.

Some 50 works in total were submitted from Egypt and the Arab world at large, exemplifying a strong and positive resurgence of interest in sculpture amongst new generations of artists in the region. 

Renowned sculptor Essam Darwish, who had served on the jury panel, commented to Ahram Online that the display is a testimony to the “noticeable shift in sculpture art as evidenced by this expanded participation and interest that had not been prevalent since the mid-1970s to 1980s."

Darwish cited the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium, that was also founded by Adam Henein, as the instigator and catalyst behind this newfound movement, achieved through enabling contemporary artists to broaden their experiential sculpture work as well as widening the scope of their exposure to work done by international contemporaries.

He expressed his belief that “the sculpture prize will parallel the achievements accomplished by the Symposium and even build on them on a wider scale of development, ensuring increased participation in next year’s edition, perhaps even garnering 150 submissions.”

The exhibition at Hanager also showcased the 20 works that made it into the final selection stage, including the first and second prize winning pieces.

Darwish described the rigorous selection process that involved an extensive narrowing down of submissions undergone by the jury panel in order to arrive at the winning works.

He specified the criteria that ultimately determined the winning works; namely, “that the artist holds personal work experience with the intention to continue creating and building on said experience, as well as employed real durable materials such as granite, bronze and wood, which fulfill longevity, one of sculpture's most important qualities.”

The artist Adam Henein gave himself an introductory welcoming speech that marked the commencement of the event in which he thanked the various entities involved in organisational efforts. After which the winners were announced by Henein and Minister of Culture Helmy Al-Namnam.

The winners

The first prize of EGP50,000 went to Ahmed Magdy Abdo and the second prize to Moawya Helal, who received a two week apprenticeship opportunity under Henein.

The final 20 works included in the exhibition featured an array of diverse materials, including bronze, clay, stone, iron, slate, granite, wood and plaster, as well as blends of two or more of these in some instances. For the most part, the color palette consisted of both cool and warm greys, chestnut and mahogany woods, along with terracotta clay browns.

In the midst of these earthy tones were five stark white sculptures which, in their minimalism, provided a visual palate cleanser. Two particular works stood out quite emphatically due to their vibrant colours.

A true green in one and an amalgamation of intense blues in the other, the latter of which resembled a lapis lazuli stone with its composite of inward colors. Textures varied between smooth wood and granite, rough grainy plaster, jagged stone and polished stone sculptures.

The 20 works exhibited covered the entire spectrum of representational forms, between abstract and figurative sculpture. On the illustrative front was a sculpture of a cat caught mid-playful stretch; this work by Alshaimaa Darwish brought a cheerful and whimsical addition to the selection shown.

Rowaa El-Degwy’s green two-legged figure also exhibited movement thereby presenting to the spectator a sense of action and by extension a lifelike quality to the sculpture. Mahmoud Hassan’s square man holding a banner in protest presented the artist’s socio-political engagement.

Mohamed Artouf and Mohamed El Sheikhawy each displayed two-legged metal figures devoid of any facial features, thus provoking thoughts about their nature. Likewise, Ahmed Kamal’s two legged decapitated bird-like plaster figure, second prize winner Moawya Helal’s wooden sculpture, which abstracted the head and neck of a flamingo mounted on a miniature chair, as well as AlaaYehia’s three-legged humanoid-like figurine, all evoked a similar reaction.

On the opposite end of the spectrum lay numerous abstract works of mostly granite and stone in which solid blocks with smooth textures were offset by sharp edges. A commonality emerged with regards to the form of these sculptures, few of which displayed two parts of a whole connected together.

Eman Barakat’s piece was the exception featuring two granite halves positioned side by side with a space left in-between creating the impression of a break within the sculpture.

When speaking to Ahram Online, Ahmed Magdy Abdo allowed for further insight into his process, starting from the inspiration behind the piece through multiple trials resulting with the final winning piece.

"My experience with sculpture centres around the modern interpretation of Egyptian heritage work. The piece I submitted named Taraqob (Anticipation) represents a woman sitting down. It was inspired by a long term favorite of mine, the seated block statue found in Egyptian heritage which is exhibited at the Egyptian Museum.

The process started with multiple sketches of the statue and witnessed an evolution through various versions resulting with this fifth final piece shown today," Abdo explained.

He went on to elaborate on how most of his work is made with granite in its different colours, whether it be pink, grey or black granite. "I find that, for me, most of my ideas in their conceptual stages naturally originate in the form of granite."

Concluding, Abdo expressed his satisfaction with the fine art movement in Egypt, saying it is "very active" and "has been gaining a lot of momentum. There has been a significant number of young contemporary artists as well involved in this movement. That all 50 submissions to this prize were made by artists under the age of 35 is a positive indicator towards this growing participation."

The foundation has already issued a detailed timeframe for the selection process, starting next September, for the second edition of the prize.

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