If iron could speak

Rania Khallaf , Tuesday 29 Mar 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly reviews Nevine Farghaly’s new sculpture exhibition.

Titled “With Love”, Nevine Farghaly’s new exhibition (16 March-5 April), taking up the upper floor of Ubuntu Gallery, features 45 sculptures in metal. Many are kinetic, a genre the artist has studied and pioneered in Egypt.

A 1997 graduate of the Faculty of Applied Arts, Farghaly earned her PhD in 2007 and now teaches installation art. Her thesis focused on how to incorporate movement into mural art, and she has since animated metal in numerous group exhibitions all over the world, notably the 2010 Venice Biennale and the 2017 and 2019 Peking Biennales.

She gave her first solo exhibition, “There is still time to play” — also here at Ubuntu — in 2018, and her second, “Laughter and Play”, at Gezira Art Center in 2020. Both had somewhat smaller sculptures and less colour than this new work.

Inspired by the notion of love, these pieces are attempts to demonstrate and define love’s various manifestations. Varying from the fantastical to the naturalistic, the sculptures embody and enact that particular joy.

Medium to large in size, they often have a touch of colour and sometimes turn into elaborate installations. One such piece in iron and aluminium features a tall girl in a pretty dress who stands holding a yellow lollipop and flanked by two puppies, one red and one blue.

A more typical, kinetic piece shows a girl climbing over the back of a boy who in turns stands on a swinging platform with a tiny bird to his right. It seems to be about weight – heaviness and lightness – but also about the balance between them.

There are flower-filled vases that seem to gain in impact for having no colour. Elsewhere the childlike decorative motifs – buttons, birds, butterflies – evoke children’s clothes. This is one sense in which love opens out onto other themes: nostalgia, balance, joy. In this sense, though she brings in colour, Farghali has not abandoned her theme. “I love play. Actually it might be a reflection of my childhood memories, and equally my present experience with my two children.”

The exhibition is beautifully curated, balancing stand-alone pieces with complex installations, with a separate room full of tiny, cheerful people. It took Farghali two years to complete the work exhibited here, which she produced using her own machinery at her own workshop. There she spends time with her favourite medium. She makes sketches, brings them to life and will eventually add colour.

“I fell in love with iron,” she says. “I consider myself lucky. It took me a long time to understand the medium. I didn’t have time to experiment with another. People might think it is hard to deal with, but I believe it just needs a clever hand and a loving soul. We are in continual dialogue, iron and I, and it always has more to say to me. At the beginning, I had technicians help me, but I didn’t like the results. So I learned how to work the machines. At first the iron was very rigid, but with time and experimentation, I managed to make it more supple. In my first exhibition, movement and the accompanying sound was the biggest challenge, and then I was preoccupied by the idea of how to make my iron sculpture more appealing to the audience. Adding colour was another challenge,” she adds. “It needed a special technique to preserve the identity of iron...”

Nowhere is this more evident than in the sculpture of a girl holding a flower simultaneously on show at The Scene, an ongoing group exhibition at the Aisha Fahmy Palace in Zamalek, not far from Ubuntu.

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