Diverse facets of Mahatma Gandhi in Cairo's Maulana Azad Centre

Ati Metwaly, Friday 4 Oct 2013

'Spirit of Gandhi in Egypt' presents posters, caricatures of famous peacemaker in bid to increase cultural cooperation between India and Egypt

Mahatma Gandhi
A visitor looks at the row of caricatures, part of "Spirit of Gandhi in Egypt" exhibition that opened in Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture on 2 October 2013. (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Born on 2 October 1869, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, was one of the world's most renowned teachers, whose social, political and spiritual philosophy inspired people across the globe.  Heavily influenced by Gandhi's work, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. argued that his preaching represents "the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom."

Committed to non-violence (ahimsa) and promoting a simple life, Gandhi became a symbol of peace and truth not only in his native India but also internationally.

"Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed," were Gandhi's opening words of a speech he gave during his trial on 1922, when he was sued for sedition by a British Raj.

Those words resonate today across the world, and they often re-emerge in areas of conflict or where the fight for freedom and human dignity becomes the national priority. No wonder, then, that Gandhi's philosophy was once again re-validated in post-January 2011 Egypt.

On Wednesday, 2 October – the International Day of Non-Violence, as designated by the UN General Assembly in 2007 – Cairo's Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC) inaugurated "Spirit of Gandhi in Egypt," an exhibition dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. The exhibition includes two segments: works by the prize winners of a 2012 poster competition held by the Indian embassy entitled "Did you sense the Spirit of Gandhi in Tahrir?", as well as caricatures of Mahatma Gandhi by prominent artists from the Egyptian Caricature Society.

Established in 1982 and operating under the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), MACIC presents India's cultural riches from its hidden location on one of downtown's busiest streets. The centre offers the best of India through its extensive library, exhibitions, film screenings, lectures, seminars, and yoga, dance, and cooking classes aimed at bringing Indian culture closer to Egyptian audiences.

Caricatures and portrait, part of "Spirit of Gandhi in Egypt" exhibition that opened in Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture on 2 October 2013. (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Upon entering the centre, visitors are welcomed by two sculptures: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888 –1958), an Indian scholar and political leader who kept close links with the Arab world, and a bronze bust of Mahatma Gandhi. Before reaching the main exhibition hall, visitors to MACIC pass through a corridor under the watchful eyes of dozens of dolls dressed in a variety of traditional Indian clothing.

On 2 October, the exhibition hall was filled with a large crowd attending the official launch of the large display of posters and caricatures.

"It is a great pleasure and privilege to be back at the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture to celebrate this important day. Gandhi's message is a timely memorial; it is as relevant today as it was in 1948 when he died or even in late 1800s when he started promotion of Satyagraha ["insistence on truth" or philosophy of nonviolent resistance] in South Africa," India's Ambassador to Egypt Navdeep Suri explained during the opening.

"We know that there are many differences within societies, and Gandhi's message was that peaceful and non-violent resistance is the best way to bridge the differences; it remains as valid for us today as it was in his time."

The "Did you sense the spirit of Gandhi in Tahrir Square?" poster exhibition is the result of a competition launched exactly one year ago, on 2 October 2012. The competition targeted two groups of artists: one from Egypt and one from an Indian-sponsored cooperation platform between India and African countries. Prizes were offered to each group separately. 

The posters have been on display before in El-Sawy Culturewheel's Word Hall, as part of the 2013 India by the Nile festival organised in Egypt between 13 April and 13 May. This time, however, the MACIC gathered the Egyptian entries and awarded the artists with medals for participation.

The first prize for the Egyptian poster design went to Amr Shaalan for his work depicting an aerial view of Tahrir Square.  Shaalan adapted the well-known image of Tahrir during the first 18 days of the January 2011 Revolution by using shades of sepia to create an image of Mahatma Gandhi emerging from the square.

poster by Amr Shaalan
Poster by Amr Shaalan, 1st prize winner of the competition "Did you sense the spirit of Gandhi in Tahrir Square?" (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

As a competition winner, Shaalan travelled to India, where he visited India's National Institute of Design.  He also toured the Gandhi Ashra, a museum and institute located in Ahmedabad whose main mission is to preserve and promote Gandhi's legacy. During the exhibition opening, Shaalan reflected on his stay to the audience.

The exhibition also presents a captivating selection of caricatures on Mahatma Gandhi by prominent artists of the Egyptian Caricature Society, including Adham Lotfy, Adnan Gaber, Bakr Abdel Rahman Abu Bakr, Hassan Khader, Fadi Abu Hassan, Amna Al-Hammadi, Emad Abdel Maksoud, and Hassan Farouk, among others. The opening was attended by veteran Egyptian artist Taha Hussein, also member of the Egyptian Caricature Society.

In their works, the artists used a variety of techniques – drawing in pencil, chalk, pen, ink, and even experimenting with conceptual photography – and demonstrate Gandhi's depth through their pictorial, thoughtful and at times satirical approaches.

'Caricatures of Gandhi' is part of an extensive collaboration between India's embassy and the Egyptian Caricature Society. The Society is creating another collection of portraits of prominent Indian personalities, including politicians, film stars, and other leading figures.

As the exhibition opening took place, eight cinemas in Cairo and Alexandria offered the first screening of Chennai Express, a 2013 Indian action comedy.  Starring Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan, Chennai Express was one of the most successful movies in the history of Indian cinema. The screening comes as an initiative to reinvigorate the presence of Indian cinema in Egypt after a 25-year absence, and it marks the 100-year anniversary of India's rich cinematic history.

inside MACIC
Cairo's Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC) with sculpture representing Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

The exhibition will run until 10 October, except Fridays and Saturdays.
Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture, 23 Talaat Harb, Downtown Cairo.

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