When statues tell stories: A ride on the Nile with Egyptian sculptor Ayman Saadawy

Ossama Lotfy Fateem, Saturday 30 Dec 2017

One of the oldest and most inspiring themes in Egyptian art is tackled once again with freshness by Ayman Saadawy in his solo exhibition at Cairo Zamalek Art Gallery

Afternoon Light
Afternoon Light by Ayman Saadawy (Photo: Courtesy of Zamalek Art Gallery)

Sculptor Ayman Saadawy’s exhibition opened at Zamalek Art Gallery on 10 December and continues until 2 January 2018. The theme chosen was the Nile, a theme that has been dealt with thousands of times in various artistic venues yet still inspires artists and all of us.

The relation of Egyptians to the Nile is very particular and each has his own experience with the great river. Saadawy’s experience was a first hand one. Growing in a village near the Nile made him chose the longest river on the planet to be his inspiration. He used memories and vision to create twenty statues expressing the relation between the past and the present with a hint of political vision. In his works, Saadawy mainly used the noble metal bronze. 

Though it is a hard metal to master, Saadawy carved the minute details is each piece, whereas his confidence in each chisel stroke is very apparent.

The Nile
The Nile's Bride by Ayman Saadawy (Photo: Courtesy of Zamalek Art Gallery)

Saadawy’s talent and creativity is particularly obvious in many pieces in which he intertwines bronze with the use of granite. The viewers feel that the statues are carved in the stone and metal, not designed or burned. No doubt, the confidence in the lines, sincerity in the strokes and the undulating rhythm are the main brilliance of Saadawy's talent.

The exhibition can be divided into two groups of sculptures, modern and ancient. The modern ones are all in bronze, depicting the lives of fishermen making a living through one of the oldest economic activities related to the Nile. The artist displayed a collection of boats in different sizes and shapes that are used in Egyptian daily life.

The ancient-style statues were the ones mixing bronze and granite, inspired by Ancient Egyptians art and their gods.

For instance, in the piece called the Nile’s Bride, a well dressed Egyptian girl proudly seated on deck of a stone boat whose bow and rear take the shape of the famous Egyptian papyrus.

The Boats Man
The Boats Man by Ayman Saadawy (Photo: Courtesy of Zamalek Art Gallery)

The Nile’s Bride was an old tradition where a girl was sacrificed in worship of the river Nile in order to keep it flowing with water and prosperity.

 The details are glorious underscoring the respect and greatness to the bride.

The statue is made with bronze and green marble, a rare mix that adds to the glory and gives an impression that it belongs to one of the old dynasties.

The second relying on a mix, this time bronze with Aswan’s black granite, is The Boat. The Boat’s body is in granite while the bow is lotus-like and the rear is in the shape of the God Anubis in his famous jackal face. It is here that we experience the Ancient Egyptians’ style of boats aiming at creating a clear bond between the past and the present.

The sculptor’s confidence is striking. It is very hard to control the force of the chisel stroke or measure how the stone will react or be shaped according to the stroke, yet Saadawy was capable of getting the shape he wanted, especially in the mixed statues.

The Fish Vendor
The Fish Vendor by Ayman Saadawy (Photo: Courtesy of Zamalek Art Gallery)

In the Abundance of the Nile, Saadawy chose fishing as the intimate economic activity related to the Nile. Saadawy started by forming the mass of clay from point zero, while using his imagination to complete the final product. The piece embodies both movement and expression, allowing a dialogue between the viewer and the piece.

The statue shows a fisherman throwing his net into the river while standing on the boat. Though it is made of bronze, we feel we are looking upon a living human being. The statue is impressive for the accuracy of proportions and clearly sculpted details. The spirit of the fisherman becomes familiar.

The Boatsman carries a similar theme, the details of the fisherman relaxing after a day of hard work on the boat.

The lives of Nile people return in the Fish Vendor, a woman carrying fish in order to sell them. The clothing and the container she carries are traditional to that of peasants in Upper Egypt. Again the statue is in bronze and the details are amazingly accurate, an undeniably a strong suit of Saadawy’s.

The Abundance of the Nil
The Abundance of the Nile by Ayman Saadawy (Photo: Courtesy of Zamalek Art Gallery)

On the other hand the Afternoon Light shows a practice that is related to farming by the Nile. When the cows swim in the Nile, traveling from one side to another, the farmers sometimes place their feet on the cows’ backs to jump into the Nile for a swim.

The Three Fishermen statue has a different spirit though. The shapes do not seem to relate to fishermen in general; fishermen are big people, overweight yet proportional at the same time. The three are pulling a rope, each in a different direction but there is no net, boat or fish.

The sculptor tells us about going in different directions, pulling in different ways, societal problems even if they are confined within the small community of the fishermen. Indeed, the fat cats who gain from the activities of the less fortunate exist everywhere and in all times.

Afternoon Fishing
Afternoon Fishing by Ayman Saadawy (Photo: Courtesy of Zamalek Art Gallery)

Afternoon Fishing, a bronze statue, represents the festive mood of a girl playing with a rope on a boat. The details are that of a happy smiling woman in a dancing position. This statue is an addition to the optimistic spirit that the whole exhibition represents.

Being on the Nile, whether fishing or enjoying its breeze, is a happy occasion and the river is worshipped in various forms, dancing being one of them.

Saadawy’s talent and skill are apparent in the statues whether they are stationary or in movement due to his firm grasp of anatomy and control of proportions and scales.

Sculpture is an art that will keep growing strongly in Egypt. Saadawy’s exhibition is a revival for the art and a continuation of this creative tradition. 

Anubis by Ayman Saadawy (Photo: Courtesy of Zamalek Art Gallery)

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