The 13th Luxor International Painting Symposium (LIPS, 3-17 December) closed in the buildup to New Year’s Eve, the perfect time to go to Luxor.
The 10-hour train journey had been hectic but the participating artists’ warm reception more than made up for it. Organised by the Culture Ministry’s Culture Development Fund, LIPS is an annual event in which artists from all over the world gather to exchange views and create paintings usually linked to some concept.
This year, the symposium was held at the Mercure Hotel, which boasts a vast and brilliant view of the Nile.
Shortly after my arrival on 15 Dec, dazzled by lack of sleep, I made my way to the workshop hall buzzing with activity. Almost finished paintings, being readied for a one day show in the hotel’s open air space, together with twisted colour tubes and brushes and classical music coming from an indefinite source, made for a fabulous scene.
The artists are divided into two groups. Ten workshop participants represent the younger generation while ten others – including Wael Darwish, Fairouz Samir and Hany Rizq– represent the older. All participants are required to produce two paintings during the symposium and participate in daily seminars and presentations of artworks.
For Mohamed Khaled, a teacher of mural art at the Fine Arts College who exhibited in Youth Salon in 2018 and 2019 and the Peking Biennale in 2018, the symposium is an excellent opportunity to meet and work with other professional artists.
He contributes a 80x80 and a 80x120 cm painting inspired by the Dandara Temple. One features Horus hugging Hathur with his wings, visualising the ancient story in a contemporary style. The other features a profile of a modern young man, sitting on a chair holding Thout, the god of wisdom who appears in his monkey avatar.“The Symposium offered us a superlative art residency, where you do nothing but paint and have discussions with brilliant artists,” Khaled says.
Kamal Abdelgawad, a final-year student at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Mansoura University, contributed oil portraits of 70x100 cm. As Luxor is divided into two lands, barr gharby and barr sharqi, which in ancient times represented the land of the living and the land of the dead, he painted two portraits of the same woman featuring life and death, light and dark, during the day and at night.
Due to Covid restrictions, the Sudanese Adel Kebida and Saudi Samir Aldaham were the only Arab guests were invited this year.
A regular visitor to Egypt, the Um Durman-based Kebida named Al-Sayeda Zainab Mosque in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, and Karmakol, the village in North Sudan where the novelist Al-Tayeb Saleh was born, as his most inspiring places. A 1980 graduate of the Fine Arts College in Khartoum, his paintings reflect his fascination with ancient history, Arabic calligraphy and Sufism. A 60x60 cm painting mixes calligraphy, verses from the Sufi poet Ibnul Farid, with still life, and sights of accumulated small ornamented houses inspired by mural popular paintings and the Sidi Al-Hajaj shrine in Luxor.
“My paintings offer a reading of both Egyptian and Sudanese Sufism and ancient history. This is featured in the casual appearance of Sobek, the crocodile god of power and fertility in ancient Egypt and a symbol of goodness in Sudan.” An exchange program between independent artists in both countries is underway to activate and enrich artistic experiences, he disclosed.
Amany Moussa, assistant professor of painting at the Faculty of Art Education, contributed two mixed media paintings of 100x120 cm. They feature a pair of crows mixed with elements of the open landscape.
According to the artist, her excessive use of goldleaf, which made the paintings look brighter than usual, refers to ancient Egyptian civilization. The magic passage of time and tracing the trail of ancient people is her favorite theme. She was careful to use turquoise, usually found in ancient Egyptian murals. “My work is an attempt to analyse the secrets of ancient Egyptian art.”
Asmaa Genedi, a professor of painting at the Faculty of Art Education, went back in time to depict tensions in the wake of the 2011 revolution. Genedi’s two paintings, which are among a few works representing pop art, feature two youthful figures wearing masks with balloons coming from nowhere against a blank light blue background.
The artist having been one of the protesters herself, the mask stands for a kind of shield. The balloon and tear gas canisters stand for unexpected dangers. Her unusual palette of baby blue, white and orange generates anxiety in the scene, but makes up a very captivating painting.
Dina Samuel’s two acrylic on canvas paintings, 160x100 cm each, provide a monochromatic vision of the present and the past. In one, she paints a clock like circle, in which Anubis, usually depicted in black, is painted in light and dark brown, and functions as a symbol of regeneration, life and the soil of the Nile. The other painting features a portrait of a young woman, most probably a self-portrait, with ancient Egyptian temples in the background.
For Samuel, assistant lecturer at the Faculty of Art Education, the circle is a symbol of the connection between the universe and life, between the dawn of a new civilisation and the demolition of another. Entitled The Game, the painting reflects the artist’s vision of life, which is based on “a mysterious rule; once you put a strategy to play, you should accept the risk. We continue playing, searching for the winning card, and the game goes on until we arrive at the final point.”
Yara Hatem, 29, a teacher at the Faculty of Fine Arts, chose to depict sacred geese in her two mixed media paintings. “During our group visits to Luxor Temple and the Valley of the Kings I noticed the magnificent inscriptions on the offering tables, which was a significant element in the Egyptian cult of the dead. I was inspired to paint the goose in two different positions, with a new palette that reflects a color contrast inspired by the diverse light degrees in this particular spot in southern Egypt.”
On a wheel chair, due to a recent car accident, Omniya Sayed, 28, a teacher of painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, opted to paint the marvelous view of the Nile River in three mixed media paintings. The landscape is painted in a modern way, where the soil and the water and remote shadows of boats are all mixed up. “Although it was very tiring to sit in the same position all day, the landscape was very inspiring and the lighting was brilliantly different during the day,” she said.
From Alexandria, two young independent artists adopt different approaches: Ahmed El Nemr shows two female nudes while Nahla Darwish shows an abstract ox in a pop art style.
Symposium Commissar Emad Abu Zeid, professor of art criticism at the Faculty of Art Education, believes that holding this event despite Covid is in itself a great achievement. “We decided on the link between different generations of artists and ancient Egyptian art as a theme.
In addition, the aesthetics of the city of Luxor itself is another valid theme. I am really surprised by the awesome energy and professional level of the young artist participating in this round. I wish the Culture Development Fund could establish similar symposiums in other cultural and historical regions.”
He added that the participating artists were carefully selected for a balance of gender, age and artistic background. “Besides working for many hours during the day, visiting new historical sites in Luxor offered us totally fresh views. It is the spirit of ancient Egyptian art invading modern artists over and over again.”
The date of an exhibition of LIPS paintings to be held at Hanager Art Gallery has yet to be decided.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.