Al-Ahram Arts Centre adds arts museum to vibrant city of Cairo

Farah Montasser, Tuesday 11 Dec 2012

Al-Ahram Arts Centre just launched under difficult times, but with a dedication to develop the arts and culture with its opening exhibition - a sort of 'museum' of Egyptian art

Ahram Arts

With over 750 art pieces donning the many walls of their buildings, Al-Ahram Organisation held a grand opening of its Arts Centre on Monday 9 December.

They dedicate the Arts Centre space to display 100 gems of paintings to the public. The exhibition opened at Naguib Mahfouz Hall at Al-Ahram premises and was preceded by a symposium, which aimed to highlight the importance of the whole project and its historical and cultural wealth.

Sylvia El-Nakkady, editor-in-chief of El-Beit monthly magazine published by Al-Ahram, and the core initiator of the Arts Centre prefers to call it "a museum," a suitable term taking the whole scope of this valuable project. 

"This project started in 2009 and was immediately adopted by Al-Ahram, then CEO Abdel Moneim Said," El-Nakkady tells Ahram Online.

Four years back, El-Nakkady realised that the entire Al-Ahram Building is full of great art by "legendary artists of Egypt," she says. She wanted to find a special place for them to keep them safe from deterioration.

"It is not a commercial project or just an institutional development," she explains during her short interview with Ahram Online. "It is an appreciation of the arts scene in Egypt. We want to have an arts' haven where great artists and art pieces would be documented in our modern history."

Century of Egyptian Art, the exhibition inaugurating Al-Ahram Arts Centre, collects pieces that were exhibited around the buildings, normally hung at entrances and corridors. Some of the pieces decorated the offices of senior editors. Others ventured into the rooms of senior writers and literary figures, such as: Naguib Mahfouz, Tawfiq El-Hakim and Youssef Idris, in addition to those displayed in the newsrooms.

Al-Ahram's former CEO Abdel-Monem Said had formed a committee that included El-Nakkady, artist and historian Mostafa El-Razzaz, artist Helmi El-Toni and art acquisition chief Wahid El-Kalsh to review and shortlist 800 paintings to only 100. Al-Ahram now showcases its long interest in arts, featuring rare and exquisite masterpieces of paintings and murals.

Those 100 pieces are of great artists of Egypt, including Gazebeya Serry, Saeed Khatab, Salah Taher, Mahmoud Saeed, Helmi El-Toni, George Bahgouri, Ramsis Yunan, Seif Wanly, Fouad Kamel and Tahya Halim, to name a few.

"I am glad to have embraced that project but my journey with it ends today, witnessing this grand opening," El-Saeed announced during the symposium prior to the inauguration of the exhibition. "I am delighted with Al-Ahram they have an arts centre at a time when those who call themselves Islamists condemn arts, believe it to be sinful and considering acquiring artwork an act of infidelity [to God]," he stated.

"This centre or as I, too, believe 'a museum,'" El-Saeed continued, "adds cultural awareness with the value of arts to humanity. It also documents those great painters and artists and their contributions to Egyptian modern history."

In addition to paintings, the committee curating the exhibition produced a short documentary film about Century of Egyptian Arts in the making that was screened during the symposium. The movie showcased the murals on the walls of Al-Ahram building that could not be transferred to the exhibition hall.

"This documentary film includes more than nine murals found on Al-Ahram premises that tell many stories about modern Egyptians in general and their development throughout our modern history," El-Nakkady explained.

"I can only thank Egypt's great writer, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, for introducing the value of arts to Al-Ahram family decades ago," El Nakkady tells Ahram Online.

The history of Al-Ahram and arts dates back to when Heikal was the editor-in-chief in the 1960s. As an art lover, Heikal made it a mission to decorate the entire building with paintings and murals. He did this for two reasons:

"The first reason behind this initiative was Heikal's belief that art has an evident psychological effect on humans, especially when they are confronted by miserable times," El-Nakkady explains. During the 1960s and under Gamal Abdel Nasser's regime, Egypt was forced into war with Israel. In order to lift some of the journalists' spirits at Al-Ahram, Heikal provided and hung many art pieces around the building to "calm journalists down and help them relax more while working on dreadful stories," she says.

The second reason was simply out of his love for arts. Heikal also wanted to "provide artists with an additional place to exhibit their work," El-Nakkady tells Ahram Online.

Under the economic Egypt's during the prolonged battles with Israel, artists, like many Egyptians, struggled with difficult financial conditions and, therefore, "Heikal stepped in to fund and encourage artists to produce more and more."

"I appreciate art a lot and I admit that acquiring art at Al-Ahram came from the institution's budget and not from the government at all," Heikal's speech included.

"I argued many times with members of Al-Ahram board about the budget I spent on arts and every time I made up for it," Heikal recalls.

Following Heikal's speech filled with information about cultural values that the centre and the exhibition represent, Mamdouh El-Waly, current CEO of Al-Ahram and also head of the Journalists' Syndicate, took the podium.

"This art exhibition is an added value to Al-Ahram's long list of successes," El-Waly continued by pointing to the acquisition of the largest distribution units for Al-Ahram publications all over the country."

In his speech, El-Waly stated that Al-Ahram Arts Centre is "the first finished project to be followed by a number of endeavours, like opening up a number of offices in Upper Egypt."

Century of Egyptian Art is displayed at Al-Ahram Arts Centre for three months to be followed by a tour through a large exhibition at the National University of Singapore Museum, according to its plan.

El-Nakkady also confirms to Ahram Online that the centre will continue what Heikal started by adopting and supporting young artists of today. She's currently working to get contemporary young artists' works exhibited at Al-Ahram Arts Centre in the future.

Furthermore, Al-Ahram Arts Centre also launches the release of A Century of Art book by Mostafa El-Razzaz, which is currently available at the exhibition.

"Arts is freedom…arts is future, and you: the generation of tomorrow, are our future," El-Nakkady calls out to the youth of Egypt to come join Al-Ahram Arts Centre.

Exhibition is set to change end of February 2013
11am - 8pm
Al Ahram (New) building
Galaa Street, Ramses, Cairo


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