Art workshops, initially the preserve of the Ministry of Culture, have spread to the private and independent sectors. One such event was the seventh International Ostraca Carnival for Painting (24-30 June), organised by Ostraca, the cultural organisation founded by sculptor Mohamed Hemida, and held at the upscale Steinberger Hotel on the Red Dea coast in Hurghada.
Hemida has been organising cultural events since 2007, when he gave Sharm Al Sheikh its first cultural festival. The word ostraca is an ancient Egyptian term for what would have been a sketchbook, and it was the name he chose for the name of the company he registered in 2016 to organise art events, sometimes with support from the ministries of culture and tourism. “I wanted to break with the cultural centralisation of the capital and to create a hub to help artists from different countries to merge and learn new techniques and make friendships,” Hemida told me.
In 2018, in Hurghada, Ostraca brought together 38 sculptors from Egypt and Europe, samples of whose work are now permanently on show along the Hurghada Tourist Promenade and at other parts of the city. “Luckily, we have good support from local businessmen and the municipality of Hurghada, as they are aware of the role of art in supporting tourism. In the last few years, over 87 sculptures by foreign and Egyptian sculptors were made, to decorate the streets and squares of Hurghada, Sharm El Shiekh and New Cairo. It is hard work but it’s fun,” he smiles. “Each festival is a journey on which we enjoy exploring new regions together.” Some of the art produced goes to the sponsors, the rest is sold at Ostraca Gallery at the Tourist Promenade.
The present round features 30 artists including Mohamed Abdelhady, Omar Gabr, Gehan Seoudi, Heba Amin from Egypt, Abdallah Al Tamimi from Jordan, Mark Butler from Britain, Muberra Bulbul from Turkey, and Galina Stetco from Canada, among others. To avoid the heat, the open-air workshop started daily at 5 pm and went on till midnight. The theme was open, so some artists depicted Hurghada while others resumed their own prior interests.
Al Tamimi – who is participating for the first time with an acrylic on canvas – says the event is a good way to develop “creative industries”, the emergent academic field in which he is currently doing a PhD at Minya University. “It is also a good tool for refreshing local economy, and connecting visual artists with collectors.”
Mohamed Abdelhady’s brilliant 1 x 1.5 m mixed media on canvas painting is a fantastic medley of human and animal figures inspired by the artist’s love for history and myth. Dominated by different shades of blue, the painting’s composition is very peculiar, dividing the space into small inconsistent regions, each telling a different story. The cartoonish style is reminiscent of Persian miniatures.
Fish are a perennial symbol of the origin of life, eroticism and fertility. Two artists depict them. Heba Amin’s 1 x 1 m collage depicting three generations of woman features a flying fish on a dark red background. More realistically, Omar Abdelzaher’s 1 x 1 m oil on canvas shows a woman on the shore in a red blouse holding a huge fish as well as a fisherman is in his boat in the middle of the sea.
Influenced by ancient Egyptian history and popular mythology, Gehan Seoudy depicts the highly sensual scene of a strong, yellowish ox with a human head, representing strength and wisdom, with the blue shape of a woman taking refuge in its company.
On the last day of the workshop, an exhibition of the performed paintings was open to tourists and and the local community. For the rest of the year, six workshops and exhibitions are scheduled by Ostraca, the first in Istanbul in September. As a participant in the workshop, I believe it would have been more fruitful, if the mornings were allocated to sightseeing and trips to such places as the Hurghada Museum, to help inspire the artists.
On Saturday 16 July, Art D’Egypte organised an event entitled Art by the Sea on the North Coast beach, featuring works by four Egyptian artists: Mohamed Banawy, Aly Moustafa, Taha Nasser, and Ahmed Hafez. It took us nearly five hours to reach the location of the summer resort, Masyaf, located in Ras Al Hekma. Eight sculptures and installations are scattered across the grounds of the newly established resort, most of them on themes of summer and leisure.
According to Nadine Abdel Ghafaar, the chairwoman of the organisation, the aim of the project is to bring art out of its limited traditional precincts to make it available to a different kind of audience. “Our plan is to feature different artists and trends every summer, in an attempt to support contemporary Egyptian art and to refresh cultural tourism.”
Between latitude and longitude is the title of one powerful large steel sculpture by Mohamed Banawy. Featuring a network of colourful steel panels, is inspired by nostalgia for places and childhood memories that inhabit our collective memory.
Less elaborately styled is Joy on the beach, an equally large stainless steel piece featuring a father carrying his daughter on his shoulders, who in turn joyfully holds a kite. The simply designed piece, all in reddish orange, by Taha Nasr captures a moment of joy that multiplies in the presence of family.
Aly Mostafa depicts a steel bicycle with multiple tyres in different sizes, an impressively imagined piece placed at the entrance of the village. Pure Waves by Ahmed Hafez, in wood and transparent resin, features the magic of the sea, seen by the artist as a powerful source of feeling and a window to human aspirations.
The exhibition, which runs until 27 July, is a positive initiative, but requires better planning and a higher calibre of art work.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.