As Egyptians, we’ve been taught to relate to our history mainly through the lens of the history of Ancient Egypt, with ancient artifacts and monuments often taking the lead in how we conceive of and think of our history.
This is, of course, a fleeting misconception, as our history extends through medieval and modern times reaching up to today. The arts, buildings,and stories crafted by Egyptians through the centuries are still an integral part of our heritage, including contemporary art being produced by Egyptians today. One initiative that’s sought to bridge the gap between the past and present, and to connect artistic and cultural creations of today with those made by other Egyptians throughout history, is Art D’Egypte, the art consultancy agency that organizes the annual Art D’Egypte exhibition in which historic monuments are fused together with contemporary art to tell a story about Egypt.
“Art D’Égypte is a platform that aims to promote contemporary art and cross-cultural collaborations between Egypt and the rest of the world. Annual exhibitions show contemporary art at heritage sites linking Egypt’s rich past to its creative present,” says Nadine Abdelghaffar, founder of Art D’Egypte, to Business Froward. “Art D’Égypte’s first exhibition ‘Eternal Light’ occupied the Egyptian Museum in 2017, and was followed by ‘Nothing Vanishes, Everything Transforms’ taking over the Manial Palace in 2018. Finally in 2019, ‘Reimagined Narratives’, the third annual exhibition, was on view at four historic locations along Al-Mu’izz Street in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Historic Cairo.”
Nadine Abdelghaffar, courtesy of Art D’Egypte
Due to the lavishness of their opening events, which often make headlines across the country, Art D’Egypte’s annual exhibitions stand to be seen as ‘elite’ events, inaccessible to the masses – or at least it may seem that way.
“Making art accessible to everyone is at the core of everything we do. Our exhibitions take place in public spaces and display artworks in some of the most visited locations in Egypt. We take all the necessary measurements to make sure the exhibition goes on for a few weeks to make sure people have a chance to visit it,” says Abdelghafar. “The exhibitions are free entry and don’t require tickets, so are all of our talks and lectures that take place in parallel to the exhibition.”
Courtesy of Art D’Egypte
“Much of Art D’Égypte’s efforts aim to democratize art and make it accessible to everyone,’ she adds.
Money and (soft) power talk
One must wonder, from a business perspective, how does Art D’Egypte make ends meet?
“We help art collectors build their collections and advise them on what art to acquire. Additionally, we host commercial exhibitions to help young artists sell their work,” further explains Abdelfghaffar, however adding that ‘Art d’Egypte relies completely on the support of grants and sponsorship and to be able to sustain, we have also been establishing collaborations with different companies and entities to help organize cultural activations for them.”
Official entities across the world often claim a leading role in funding independent art initiatives, as success of such initiatives is usually reflective in the country’s image and soft power over other nations.
“It is very common globally for the art scene to have a mature infrastructure that allows initiatives like ours to be funded by institutions and for the government to offer grants that endorse these projects,” explains Abdelghaffar. “The more we raise awareness about the role of soft power and the importance that art and culture play in our society, the more the private and public sectors will be encouraged to support such meaningful initiatives.”
Creative industry and COVID-19
While it’s been a bad year for most, for art sectors across the world, it’s been absolutely devastating. Often coming second to basic necessities, the world’s art scene suffered shutdowns to its main lifeline; the audience. And what’s a better way to reconnect that through the World Wide Web?
“Last year, due to COVID-19, Art D’Égypte’s presence in the creative economy is taking a different shift and focusing more on online platforms. We have partnered up with MIA Art Collection, which is a platform that exclusively collects and promotes female artists on a global scale. Their virtual museum hosted a retrospect of Art D’Égypte’s past three exhibitions, highlighting the works of 10 contemporary Egyptian female artists,” recounts Abdelghaffar.
“We also launched the first cultural podcast in Egypt titled “Cultural Conversations” talking to leaders, disruptors and pioneers in the local, regional and global creative economy.”
Success of such initiatives and their achievement of their ultimate purpose of infusing art into the daily life of average citizens has many hurdles, some intuitional and the rest, societal. One day, Egyptians may start to perceive themselves beyond being only the descendants of the pharaohs, and that would be the result of such initiatives as well as a sustained public effort to instill the value of art in everyday life.