Egyptian sculpture pioneer Adam Henein dies at 91

Soha Elsirgany , Friday 22 May 2020

Apart of his great art, the most significant Henein's contributions to Egypt's arts scene is founding the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium and a museum that carries his name

Adam Henein
Adam Henein

Egyptian sculpture pioneer Adam Henein died Friday at the age of 91, his family has said. 

"Henein recently suffered from age-related health complications and was taken to a hospital in Cairo where he died," AP quoted Essam Darwish, deputy director of Henein's foundation, as saying.

The sculptor rose to prominence in the 1950s, influencing numerous younger Egyptian artists and producing a prolific oeuvre which has left an indelible mark on Egypt's cultural landscape.

At the heart of a family of artists, silversmiths and jewelry makers from the southern province of Assiout, Adam Henein – born 1929 – modelled his first sculpture of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton at the age of eight.

After obtaining a BA in Sculpture from Cairo's school of Fine Arts, Henein pursued training in Munich and Paris, where he lived until 1996.

Residing in Paris for 25 years, Henein significantly grew as an artist. But brimming with nostalgia for his homeland and knowledge of his predecessors, his art was infused with a fidelity to his Egyptian roots. Henein eventually founded the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium, which he headed for many years.

Henein’s work was exhibited in Egypt, the Arab world, Europe and the US. With his works displayed in the world's finest museums, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre in Paris, his exhibitions catapulted him to international recognition and awards.

Henein's career can be defined by continuous work infused with incessant passion. The artist was a keen observer, with a meditative approach to life and art and a “tendency for abstraction and a feeling for the environment and life itself,” as artist Mustafa El-Razzaz describes it.

In his quest for his own voice, Henein immersed himself in the ways of his ancestors. He created plaster surfaces and used coloured oxides as they would, to work as they worked, to feel the material through their hands.

AP obituary of the artist adds that "he often featured birds, cats and dogs, which were all popular in ancient Egyptian art, in sculptures that were non-traditional, bold and smooth, in strong geometric forms, sometimes small, sometimes monumental.

"He also depicted people from Egypt's working class, particular from the southern city of Aswan, a traditional village figures. In the early 2000s, he produced a large statue of Egypt's and Arab World's iconic singer Umm Kalthoum."

Adam Henein’s work is not about unlocking truths or debunking mysteries. In fact, he celebrates the mystery of his subjects.

Henein skillfully handled various materials, including bronze, wood, clay, granite, stone, iron and slate. He has also worked with Aswan clay and used papyrus for a series of paintings he produced in his Parisian years.

After returning to Egypt in the 1990s, Henein initiated the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium, which over almost three decades has become an important hub for many sculptors exploring this art form.

While some years were limited to Egyptian sculptors, others included the participation of international artists. The symposium also includes an outdoor museum in Aswan where the works are exhibited.

The outdoor museum was added to the Symposium in 2015 during the 20th Aswan Symposium, an edition which honored Henein. The museum has become one of the important attractions of Aswan.

Also in the 1990s, Henein "led the restoration of the famed Sphinx of Giza, work that won him a national decoration," AP adds.

While dedicating his life to sculpture, Henein was also interested in painting. Henein’s paintings are abstract, featuring an earthy palette of reds, pinks, ochres and warm greys, placed to contrast the heavenly hues of chromes, greens, cobalts, azures and turquoises. What they share with his sculptures is a secret, simple and poetic language.

In January 2014, the artist inaugurated the Adam Henein Museum at Cairo's Al-Harraniya district. The museum is a priceless gift from the artist to the country.

In 2017, the Adam Henein Foundation established Adam Henein Annual Sculpture Prize. The prize is given to one member of the younger generations of Egyptian sculptors during an official exhibition that is held annually, presenting the best works of the Egyptian artists.

It includes the largest and ever-growing collection of Henein’s sculptures as well as some of his paintings.

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