An inspirational setting: Exploring art in Luxor

Rania Khallaf , Wednesday 5 Jan 2022

After the historical inauguration of the Sphinx Avenue last November, Luxor saw many significant cultural events including, on 12 December, the Faculty of Fine Arts’ Silver Jubilee celebration.

Al-Meligi  Zareh  Hassan
Al-Meligi Zareh Hassan

Presided over by the faculty’s popular dean Ahmed Mohie, the three-day, impressively well organised event featured artists and scholars from Palestine, Lebanon, Sudan, Jordan, Iraq and France. It included a group exhibition by 120 graduates and professors with a folk dance for the opening.

Among the highlights of the latter was a 35 by 50 cm abstract drawing in ink on paper by the celebrated artist and graphics professor Salah Al-Meligi, a veteran of both the Luxor and Zamalek art colleges. It features lines, blocks and circles reflecting a far-fetched political theme. “The rise and fall, or the construction and deconstruction of a block or line captured my mind in the time when Egypt was under the control of Muslim Brotherhood, before the 30 June Revolution,” Al-Meligi says.

Another highlight is the Luxor graduate and Assiut assistant professor Beshoy Zareh’s 90 by 90 cm acrylic on canvas portrait of a woman that seems to mimic the Fayoum mummy portraits. “I am greatly inspired by Luxor’s ancient Egyptian and Coptic legacy,” he said. “This portrait is inspired by Nout, goddess of the sky, and her custom of devouring of the reddening sun at the end of each day in order to give birth to the white sun at the start of the next.”

On the second day’s programme was a workshop by cartoonist Amr Fahmi and a lecture by Al-Meligi. The 2009 Luxor graduate and current teaching assistant Ahmed Saber, who lives and works in “this open museum”, feels it is a blessing: “It always inspires me with ways to rework ancient symbols into a modern visual context. My graduation project,” a 7.5 by 3.5 m mural that places the goddess Maat in the crowded city streets, “was inspired by the goddess of justice, and my work from then on has drawn on the symbols and techniques of ancient Egyptian art as well as the modern traditions of Luxor residents.”

Both Saber and Zareh lamented the lack of strong galleries in Upper Egypt.

At the closing ceremony, held at the Luxor Cultural Centre, university President Mohamed Azouz announced that the celebration would be ongoing, with new events on the first Thursday of each month. Former faculty dean and Luxor-based artist Mohamed Orabi praised the international Luxor Painting Symposium, whose 14th round closed on 20 December, stressing its contribution to Luxor’s cultural life. Another important initiative, inaugurated by Culture Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem on 25 December, is the UNESCO-restored Hassan Fathi village in Gorna, first established by the great architect in 1948, on the west bank of the Nile. It boasts an old theatre, a gallery, a souk and a mosque.


Back in Cairo, Luxor University professor Ali Hassan’s exhibition “Safe Haven” (13 November-9 December) was one of last year’s more popular shows. A 1997 Zamalek college graduate, Hassan chose to relocate to Luxor, and much of his work is inspired by the city. His 2016 exhibition at the Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum, “Earth Sequence”, zeroed in on the landscape to show the farmers’ rituals and their connection with the land in an abstracted style.

“Safe Haven” featured 48 mostly large paintings in oil, on paper as well as canvas, mixing realist with expressionist – even Fauvist – elements to critique women’s treatment in Upper Egypt, the safe haven being the prison to which many of them are confined. The project began in June 2020 after one of his female students, Arwa, began to recount her dreams to him, describing the restrictions that her typical southern family placed on her.

One painting shows a girl with a motorbike – Arwa has always wanted to ride one – standing stock still in a room. Other paintings show the aquarium fish and chickens the girl raises, transformed into ferocious monsters as they appeared in her nightmares. “It happened that in the morning Arwa would wake up to find dead fish that had leapt out of the glass vessel onto the floor,” Hassan says. “And this is exactly what she aspired to doing; breaking the limits of the box to which she was confined in order to love.”

In Temporary Marriage, the girl can be seen in her grandmother’s wedding gown: “It is one of the girl’s dreams to be a bride and wear a white dress like her grandmother’s in old photos. But in her nightmares wolves would tear it off her body. For this painting I had the dress designed by a female dressmaker in Upper Egypt before my student wore it to model for me.”

The exhibition also featured paintings of wild cats creeping around a dark forest, huge birds and fantastic creatures. “I wanted the viewers to face this tense situation psychologically,” Hassan says, “to be disturbed and motivated.”


Another Luxor-inspired event is the Jordanian artist Mohamed Al-Jalous’s first solo exhibition at the Picasso Gallery, “The Magic of the West Bank of Luxor” (9-30 January). Al-Jalous has painted cities like Al-Salt, Nablus and Jaffa.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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