A stone and two mantras

Reham El-Adawi , Saturday 26 Aug 2023

The Egyptian-Armenian sculptor Armen Agop is participating in “Reversed Safari: Contemporary African Art” (13 July-3 September).


The exhibition is ongoing at the Menage Central Exhibition Hall in St Petersburg, Russia, and focuses on the development of contemporary African art over the past 60 years.

Work by Agop as well as Wael Shawky and Lara Baladi is also showing at the Triumph Gallery and the Béton Centre of Visual Culture in Moscow, alongside some 300 exhibits by 47 African artists.

There are nine video and three large-scale installations, the latter created specifically for the project. “Reversed Safari” is a reference to the need to reconsider the usual, one-dimensional view of Africa.

The award-winning Agop shows three round pieces in dialogue with each other: one of black granite from Zimbabwe with a rising line ending in a point that captures the light, and two round paintings from his Mantra series, made using a 0.1 pen tip on black canvas to generate light out of darkness.

Frequently named one of the most important contemporary artists from Egypt, Agop employs a meditative approach to cultivating a personal relationship with both matter and time. Whether it is granite or canvas and ink, he makes perplexing forms reminiscent of UFOs and influenced by the formal perfection of ancient Egyptian art.

“The exhibition,” he has said, “explores colonial heritage, mechanisms of cultural interaction, everyday life, and the search for identity in the practices of self-determination.

In the exhibition space, they enter into a dialogue with traditional African art. The works of the Russian artists visualize the changing perception of the African region.

‘Reversed Safari’ will become one of the most significant events in the framework of modern cultural exchange between Africa and Russia. The Manege team also presents an extensive educational programme that includes guided tours, art mediation, lectures and discussions.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 24 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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