All kinds of pyramids

Reham El-Adawi , Tuesday 14 Nov 2023

The global exhibition of contemporary sculptural installations on show on the Pyramids plateau is a must see, writes Reham El-Adawi

Mohamed Banawy s work As Above, So Below / photo: Bassam El-Zoghby
Mohamed Banawy s work As Above, So Below / photo: Bassam El-Zoghby


“Forever Is Now”, an annual exhibition of contemporary sculpture, opened for the third year in a row on 26 October. Held around the Giza Pyramids until 18 November, it features 14 artists from a range of countries and backgrounds: the Belgian Arne Quinze, the Brazilian Arthur Lescher, the Emirati Azza Al-Qubaisi, the American Carol Feuerman, the Greeks Dionysios and Costas Varotsos, the French duo JR and Stéphane Breuer, the Egyptian Mohamed Banawy, the Argentinean Pilar Zeta, the Bahraini Rashid Al-Khalifa, the Saudi Rashed Al-Shashai, the Dutch Sabine Marcelis, and the Egyptian-British Sam Shendi. They all engaged with the mythical landmarks, blending the present with the past in a fusion of history and nature. They use fiberglass, steel, stone, marble and bronze, among many other materials.

Arne Quinze’s project The Gateway of Light

“Forever Is Now” was organised and curated by CulturVator - Art d’Egypte under the auspices of the ministries of Tourism and Antiquities, Foreign Affairs and Culture as well as the Egyptian National Commission for UNESCO. According to CulturVator - Art of Egypte founder Nadine Abdel-Ghaffar, “the Forever is Now exhibition has achieved outstanding success in attracting attention to contemporary art since its first edition. This year, the exhibition raises questions about the new era of technology and cultural change that the world is going through, by combining cultural heritage with the rich diversity of contemporary art practices. It also highlights the importance of cultural exchange among artists and showcases the position of human creativity at the heart of history and ancient Egyptian civilisation.”

On the tour organised for media professionals, the participating artists gave detailed talks on their installations. About the title of his piece, As Above, So Below — 42 stars representing the 42 Laws of Maat  — the Egyptian Mohamed Banawy said, “The phrase comes from the emerald tablets written by the god Thoth. It represents keys that speak to us from the realm of the spirit, not from the realm of the mind. The material world is a reflection of another world existing in another dimension where the negative confessions made to the goddess Maat — ‘I did not lie’, ‘I did not kill’, etc. — sustain the balance and harmony that brought the universe out of chaos and darkness and continue to prevent it from falling apart. Since King Zoser looked to the stars which never set, thinking they were his ancestors and hoping to join them in heaven, we too must follow our stars until the ethical principles of Maat show up in our souls.”  

Also on show is an inspiring statue by the American artist and astrologer Carol Feuerman, entitled Egyptian Woman in the Form of Goddess Hathor. A bronze statue of the ancient Egyptian deity of love, fertility and beauty holding the ankh, it was inspired by the surroundings. “The Pyramids of Giza are the most important of the great sculptures created in the world. My dream as a small child was to see the Pyramids. So to see them and show my sculpture in front of them is incredible. I want to share my statue of the goddess Hathor with Egypt. I did a series of sculptures on goddesses, but when I read a book about goddesses in ancient Egypt, sent to me by Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, I found myself connected to Hathor. Maybe in the other life I was Egyptian — I definitely found myself here. I specifically created this piece for the third edition of ‘Forever Is Now’, because of my passion for the concept behind it. The piece represents my personal interpretation of Hathor as a contemporary woman. While the similarities between my sculptures and the goddess may not be immediately evident, the resonance I feel with Hathor is strong. I sought to affirm women’s power too.”

Bahraini artist Rashid Al-Khalifa’s piece, Reality is Timeless, depicts parts of a maze emerging from the earth at different angles, each adorned with patterns inspired by the 1679 book Tower of Babel by the Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher. “My hope is that the viewer will feel they really are in a ‛timeless’ moment while interacting with the project,” Rashid says, “where the past, present, and future come together.”

The French artist JR, who is participating in the exhibition for the second year running, offers the second part of the project he began last year, Inside Out Giza 2022/2023, a platform that helps communities worldwide to defend what they believe in and incite local and global change through public art. Anyone in the world can create a “From the Inside Out” movement by displaying large-scale black-and-white portraits of members of their communities in public spaces. The project was launched by JR after winning the TED Prize in 2011. Over the past decade, more than 500,000 people from 152 countries and regions have participated in the project. Through these activities, cooperation and dialogue between communities worldwide have been fostered.

The Greek artist Dionysios presents a geometric sculpture entitled Meditation on Light, which employs AI to achieve its effect. He believes that the exhibition at the Pyramids is a profound experience far beyond mere professional recognition. “Seeing a part of myself in front of the Pyramids and allowing everyone to see themselves through my work is an emotional experience that leads to a transformation in life,” he says. “History meets the future, and I am already present for that moment. My goal is to create a space and conditions that enable people to communicate with universal values, and the Giza Plateau is one of the most highly charged places I have ever visited. As a Greek artist, I feel a close connection to my heritage, which is directly intertwined with Egyptian heritage. I wanted to create a work that transcends time frames and cultures, honouring the history of the host country in a visual language commensurate with contemporary Egyptian and Greek culture.”

On her first visit to Egypt, Dutch artist Sabine Marcelis is contributing Ra, which honours the sun god and the birthplace of the sundial, which is the core inspiration behind her glass piece: an installation that harnesses the power of the sun, transforming it into energy. This reflects her deep respect for ancient Egyptian culture and their reverence for the sun god Ra. Glass is Marcelis’ favourite medium, and it is supplemented with other materials that play with reflection and colour.

The Egyptian-British artist Sam Shendi, who was not present for the tour, offers The Phantom Temple, a meditation on the passage of time and the mark the ancient artists left. His sculptures are vibrant reflections of the human condition, and they always serve as a bridge between the past and the future, transcending classifications and fitting in any context.

As for the Belgian artist Arne Quinze, his piece, The Gateway of Light, isolates one of the Pyramids, citing as a reference to often invisible and cosmically vast axial lines that are frequently rediscovered at significant archaeological sites: “Through this gateway, I connect the past with the future. The Pyramids are so powerful, so it’s difficult to connect from a far distance: when the sun is going down it will be at the centre of my work. For me to travel to this world which is still a big mystery to many is a dream come true, and I want to be part of this dream and to answer many questions about the Pyramids. When viewers take a specific position and look at the pyramid through my installation, they will see a carved image that summons them to inspect those remarkable architectural wonders.”

The Emirati artist Azza Al-Qubaisi, who studied art in London and has been working for 20 years now, is showing Treasures, a power symbol designed to make the viewer feel as though the Pyramids are embracing it. She painted the top of the installation in gold to suit the other parts, made of rusted iron, because gold was abundant in ancient Egypt while silver was difficult to find. The work represents a journey capturing the secrets, shapes, and patterns of desert landscapes. Her work utilises materials reflecting the surrounding nature with earthy colours inspired by the surroundings.

Stéphane Breuer, another French artist, displays Temple •I•, a piece that conveys a strong material and spiritual message, invisibly preserving the digital imprint of each individual who interacts with it. This makes the now eternal as the temple takes viewers on a contemplative journey through both the external world and their inner selves.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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