ARAB NEWS: Algeria’s energy transition: Algeria goes green

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ARAB NEWS: CAIRO: Egypt is experiencing a revival in its cultural and arts scene. A few weeks ago, the 4,500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site of the Giza pyramids was transformed into a platform for contemporary art at “Forever Is Now.”

The exhibition, organized by Art d’Egypte, showcased the work of 10 international artists for the first time in the historic setting. The government, institutions, patrons, artists, and curators are all supporting the renewal movement. They push the cultural scene in both directions: the revival of a rich past and the celebration a bright future.

JR’s Installation ‘Greetings From Giza’ – Credit to Hesham El Sayfi – Courtesy Art d’Egypte. (Supplied)

Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, founder of the arts and heritage consultancy Art d’Egypte said that “The world knows Egypt’s cultural and artistic past.” They are unaware of the present and the future. These places are not being explored, but we aim to educate, raise awareness and create opportunities. “Forever Is Now” featured artistic installations set against the backdrop pyramids and featured Lorenzo Quinn, an Italian artist, and JR, a French artist — the latter was accompanied by Pharrell Williams, his American friend and supporter. Abdel-Ghaffer told Arab News that the display, which ended on Nov. 8, “succeeded in its mission of democratizing art by making it accessible in public spaces, attracting 20,000 visitors a day from schools, universities and people from all walks of life.”

Contemporary Art in Old Downtown Cairo (May Barber)

In April this year, the world watched in awe as the “Golden Parade” of 22 mummies (18 kings and four queens) traveled in decorated carriages through the streets of Cairo from the Egyptian museum in Tahrir Square to their new home of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. The NMEC displays now selections from artifacts belonging to the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. This highlights their contributions such as the inventions of writing and mummification. Royal mummies carefully displayed in temperature-controlled glass cases include Ramses II, known as Ramses the Great; Thutmose III, once described as the Napoleon of Egypt; and Queen Hatsheput, one of the few women who ruled ancient Egypt. Preservation of the past is a key component to Egypt’s vibrant cultural scene. This lends itself well to architectural restoration. Al-Ismaelia, an Egyptian real estate investment company, has joined partners in efforts to restore the capital’s 150-year-old architectural legacy established by the Khedive Ismail in the 19th century.

“Breathing life into design magic,” the company set out to preserve iconic buildings such as La Viennoise, a 125-year-old landmark built in 1896 by English architect La Viennoise, and Cinema Radio Complex, built in 1932 as the center of Cairo’s theater and performance arts scene. The center has hosted performances ranging from Umm Kulthum in the 1920s to recent acts by Bassem Youssef and Abla Fahita. “Some choose politics while others prefer football in the quest to revive a neighborhood and build a community. Arab News was told by Eman Hussein (Deputy CEO of Al-Ismaelia). Al-Ismaelia aims to make the downtown area more inclusive by linking restoration projects with a variety of art and culture exhibits. Hussein stated, “When you lift one aspect of the community the entire ecosystem is lifted.”

An intimate exchange between JR, a French artist, and Pharell at Giza, his friend and musician Pharell. (May Barber)

Today, the company owns 25 properties in downtown Cairo, many of which have been transformed as co-working spaces, rental accommodation, retail outlets and offices. Al-Ismaelia’s plans were put on hold amid the turmoil surrounding the 2011 Egyptian uprising before the projects resumed in collaboration with the government. Hussein stated that restoration is not without its challenges. These range from acquiring the building from as many as 90 different owners all the way to licensing, infrastructure issues and operational limitations such as power supply. She is happy with the result and says the district is enjoying a genuine revival of the past and a contemporary flair.

Views from the Egyptian Sculptor Museum Adam Henein. (May Barber)

A strong cultural agenda for the future is part of the movement to revitalize the past. The district of Cairo is now home to historic pop-up galleries as well as contemporary art exhibitions. Ai-Da is a three-legged robot with AI-generated messages. It responds to the Riddle Of The Sphinx using AI-informed drawings. After Ai-Da arrived in Egypt, it caused controversy when authorities briefly detained the robot because they feared it was a spying device. Cairo’s Zamalek district, which is affluent, is home to several established art galleries, such as the Zamalek Art Gallery, Art Talk Gallery, and the Ubuntu gallery. The Adam Henein Museum, located in Giza, is three stories high and includes a sculpture park that was once owned by artist Adam Henein (formerly called Samuel). It is managed by Inas Lucia, who, as director of the Adam Henein Foundation, has been “entrusted” with the treasures. Henein, who died in 2020, founded the annual Aswan International Sculpture Symposium. The museum is dedicated to displaying his drawings, paintings and sculptures, including a collection previously displayed in the Metropolitan Museum in 1999-2000.

Lorenzo Quinn’s Sculpture ‘Together’ at Forever Is Now – Credit: HeshamEl Sayfi – Courtesy Art d’Egypte. (Supplied)

What’s next for Egypt? The country waits patiently to see the results of Zahi Hawass’s latest expeditions. He is an archaeologist, National Geographic Explorer, and ex-Minister of State for Antiquities . Hawass and Netflix have teamed up to produce a series of five episodes that will explore the mystery surrounding the death of Tutankhamun. The Grand Egyptian Museum’s opening is another exciting moment that the world is eagerly anticipating. For a country of 105 million people and an ancient civilization that continues to influence literature, film architecture and fashion, it is evident that there is no shortage of human capital and intellectual wealth, and that Egypt is ready to enchant the world once again. ———— May Barber is an architect and brand management consultant focused on sustainability and purpose-driven projects.

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