Celebrating Egyptian culture

Farah Montasser, Wednesday 23 Mar 2011

The third amateur photographers competition, organized by the European Union delegation to Egypt, showcases unique perspectives of our culture today

first prize winner "Colour Your Life"
first prize winner "Colour Your Life"

On Sunday March 20, under the auspices of the European Union, the “Celebrations” photography exhibition was inaugurated at the Townhouse Gallery in downtown Cairo.

The exhibition features the work of amateur photographers, who had competed in the “Celebrating Egypt” competition organised by the European Union in Egypt.

This marked the third annual competition to promote and stimulate interest and creativity among amateur photographers, and to provide an opportunity for disseminating and exhibiting their work in Egypt.

“Celebrations” captured the personal visions of the different celebrations in Egyptian culture.

Out of 222 photos submitted in October 2010, the jury selected the best 28 pieces to be displayed at the Townhouse Gallery this week, according to the EU statement.

Terrific talent in Egypt

"There is a terrific talent for photography in Egypt and this is evident from the overwhelming response we have received. I am honoured this evening to showcase the 28 best images in the Townhouse Gallery," EU Ambassador Marc Franco announced.

“The theme this year was ‘Celebrations’, with contestants invited to express their individual vision of how, what and where Egyptians celebrate,” Nabila Massrali, the press officer said in her statement

The members of the jury were of prominent artists, including international painter Soad Mardem Bey, top set-designer and art director Salah Marei, as well as prominent photographers Randa Shaath, Zein Khalifa, Hisham Labib and Faouzi Massrali.

The four winners and runner-ups of this year’s competition were named in November 2010. Originally, the exhibition was scheduled to take place from 30 January until 10 February 2011 but due to the recent political events in Egypt, it was moved to 20 March.

Egyptians, foreigners, young and old all packed into the gallery to see the 30 photographs selected within the framework of the exhibition. The focus of this year’s event was moments of celebration in Egyptian culture and is one of the few occasions that focuses the public's attention on the work of amateur photographers.

This special exhibition kicked off with an award ceremony, with Ambassador Franco as head of the delegation honouring the winner and was more like a cocktail party than a traditional art exhibition!

Ahmed Mostafa Abd El Atty, an accountant received the first prize of €1,000 Euros for his photo, “Colour Your Life”. The second prize, a SLR digital camera, was awarded to Sameh Al Tawil an advertising agent, and Dina Mohamed Saleh and Roger Anis received certificates of merit. 

The ritual of celebration

"We believe that each society marks key moments in its individual, family and collective life with rituals of celebration and even more so in Egypt," Ambassador Franco told the audience.

From wall to wall, photographic images representing the many cultural festivals in Egypt, included weddings, funerals and mulids, in addition to a small section showcasing the Egyptian revolution.

Some shots were of a local wedding in a small alley in Cairo. The street is full of red chairs and flags are hung from one building to another, awaiting the arrival of the guests.

Other images included the bride and groom enjoying their wedding celebrations and sharing laughter with family members and guests.

Another interesting work of art shows the very special moment of a young man and woman signing their marriage contract. The photographer focuses on the contract and both of their hands, with artistic henna drawings visible on the woman.  

From weddings to funerals

From weddings to funerals, another amateur photographer captured a family outside the cemetery with a 1990s Mercedes parked outside the gate, waiting as members of family pay tribute to their loved one.

The exhibition also included a close-up of a Christian family, a grandfather with his grandson and granddaughter, lighting some candles and praying in church. 

Some images are of a mulid. The photographer took a shot of a local Egyptian in his galabeya (traditional long cotton garment) and scarf, enjoying the swings in the street. The photographer has captured the man swinging high in the air.  

Another photo, in black and white, shows local Egyptian men performing folk dances during the mulid.

A corner of the exhibition is dedicated to close shots captured during the Egyptian revolution. A young man has his face painted with the colours of the Egyptian flag, red, white, and black, sitting on top of a street lamp in downtown Cairo and waving his big flag in support of the revolution.

The joy, courage and fear in Tahrir

"A celebration that you can see, hanging side by side with the competition photographs, in images of the revolution given to us by some of our winning photographers, the joy of Tahrir Square, but also the courage and the fear, without which there would be no hope, no celebration,” Ambassador Franco declared.

Another image was of one of the largest protests during the revolution. The photographer has captured a Christian priest hand-in-hand with young people and Muslims, during one of the demonstrations. 

A close shot included a large demonstration led by women, while other images show men waving flags and chanting against the former president in Tahrir Square.

The selected artwork displayed at the Townhouse Gallery is also featured in the European Union to Egypt’s calendar and catalogue for 2011.

The “Celebrations” exhibition will continue until 26 March at the Townhouse Gallery and will then move to the residence of Ambassador Franco in Zamalek and will be open to the public, confirmed Radwa Adel, the programme manager.

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