Desert stones in legible shapes, a fossilised star, the ancient Egyptian sky deity Nut, a knot of stone, the engine of a motorcycle, a clothes pin, and 17 granite sculptures were beautifully lit on the hill opposite the Nubia Museum and Fatimid Cemetery in Aswan this week, as sculptors from across the world gathered at the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium (AISS) to share the 45 days they had spent working in the Upper Egyptian city.
A newly carved red granite statue of famous professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery Sir Magdi Yacoub carved by AISS commissioner Nathan Dos to pay tribute to his efforts in cardiology and the medical centre he has set up in Aswan stands at the venue. It depicts the facial features of Yacoub, while presenting his body in the shape of an obelisk with four windows giving onto a stone heart lit by a candle.
The windows represent light, and the suspended heart represents the promise of a cure for patients. After the symposium ends, the statue will be transferred to the Aswan Heart Centre.
The participants in the symposium received newly designed honorary certificates depicting the carved diorite ancient Egyptian colossus of king Khafre, which was selected by the Supreme Committee of the AISS to be the emblem of this round.
“The emblem was carefully selected by the committee to reflect the uniqueness of Egypt in terms of sculpture over time and the skills of its sculptors who mastered the secrets of sculpture that were not revealed to all,” said Hani Abul-Hassan, head of the Cultural Development Fund.
He said that each year the AISS will have a new special emblem to mark the fact that it has managed to re-introduce stone sculpture to Egypt and gain a worldwide reputation for supporting it.
Since its foundation in 1996 by former minister of culture Farouk Hosni, the AISS has been encouraging a new generation of stone sculptors in Egypt. Abul-Hassan said that after 27 annual meetings, the AISS was now more ambitious and was envisioning new goals.
The symposium’s success in re-establishing the art of stone sculpture in Egypt and contributing to its development worldwide has meant the revival of opportunities for sculptors to produce large works in granite, instilling in young Egyptian artists the drive to regenerate Aswan as an international arts centre.
Culture Minister Nevine Al-Kilani said that this was a major aim of the AISS since it was established by the late great artist Adam Henein. “The history of the symposium has made it one of the most important art forums in the Middle East. It is considered the second platform in the history of modern sculpture in Egypt after sculpture was revived by the renowned artist Mahmoud Mokhtar at the beginning of the last century,” she said.
“The AISS has managed to re-introduce stone sculpture to Egypt and gain a reputation for supporting it,” Al-Kilani said, adding that the regional and international significance of the symposium had increased responsibilities in fulfilling the goals of the event.
It underlined the cultural leadership of Egypt, supported the economy, and promoted tourism and culture in Aswan, the repository of art and civilisation, she added.
From 17 January to 4 March, sculptors and their assistants dressed in gowns and masks came face-to-face with blocks of granite at the symposium. Standing, bending, or sitting astride large pieces of rock they diligently drilled, hammered, cut, polished, or added final touches to their works of art.
For a complete month they saw nothing but rock, channelling their energies, emotions, and desires into the sculpting process.
Influenced by a beloved childhood song “In my Garden I saw a Falling Star”, Spanish sculptor Pedro Jordan had carved a red granite fossil star with holes.
“This song has influenced my life and imagination, so in order to follow the song’s lyrics I decided to follow the star after the completion of its journey from the sky to the land until it reaches the decomposition stage and becomes a fossil,” Jordan told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The Spanish artist, who was participating in the AISS for the first time, is inspired by nature and prefers to use it in his artworks. “I always try to bring out the language of stone in its most elementary way. This raw material of mother earth needs to speak,” he said.
“The Challenge,” an abstract work suggesting a motorbike engine, is a piece by French sculptor Laurent Mura who was participating for the first time in a symposium outside France. Mura’s piece shows the talent of its sculptor and includes the details of a motorbike engine by depending on sharp contrasts between rough and finished pieces of granite.
Due to his believe in Yin and Yang, the Chinese philosophical concepts that describe opposite but interconnected forces, Egyptian sculptor Ahmed Bassiouni had carved his work “The Balancing Stress.” This is an interactive sculpture in which the artist represents the stress that people face in their lives and how to deal with it and follow a path to greater balance.
This movement can hardly be achieved due to the hardness of the material and the size of the work that measures 2mx3mx60cm. As a result, it is in the form of a moving clothes pin.
Egyptian sculptors celebrated International Women’s Day at the AISS this year through two related sculptures. Inspired by the body of the ancient Egyptian sky goddess Nut, Egyptian artist Samar Al-Bassal had carved a red granite female body presented in an unfamiliar position.
“The piece is full of inner energy suggesting the strength of a woman’s body and at the same time full of curves and flowing lines to express femininity and flexibility,” Al-Bassal said.
Bergo Al-Naggar had carved an abstract work of a woman’s body on which the sunlight will fall on 8 March to celebrate International Women’s Day. The piece will light up as the artist has inserted a piece of crystal in it to reflect the solar alignment during that day.
Al-Naggar said he had been influenced by the ancient Egyptian civilisation and the solar alignment at Abu Simbel, as well as by his belief in the need for greater freedom for women in society.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly