The late Adam Henein, one of the most prominent Egyptian artists of his time, has left an unparalleled legacy in his country and beyond.
Renowned architect Akram El Magdoub is among the best people to speak about the late sculptor Adam Henein. In fact, the friendship between the two men goes back 25 years. “In 1995, I was a resident at the Egyptian Academy of Arts in Rome, and I heard that Adam and Afaf, his wife, were coming to stay here for a while,” remembers El Magdoub. “One day, I was working on some designs when Adam entered my studio through the common balcony of the floor. It was a very nice surprise. At the time, I knew him as the renowned sculptor but had never met him in person. We had a short talk and he invited me to his own studio to meet Afaf and to watch some of his new works.” This is how it all started. Today, El Magdoub leads his eponymous design studio and art gallery, but he is also the vice president of the Adam Henein Foundation’s board of trustees – a nonprofit organization committed to preserving his friend’s art and continuing to make it known. Since Henein’s death in May 2020 – at 91 years old – the mission has become even more important. “Adam’s sculptures and paintings were not done as artworks to show [something]; rather, they are his personal reflections and thoughts that manifest as art,” says El Magdoub. “The common thread of all his pieces is his own life; we can consider his art as the diary of his life’s journey.”
A witness of his time who was always in search of balance and beauty, Henein had been inspired by the rich history and culture of his country throughout his life, and naturally wanted to give something back. Case in point: Appointed by Farouk Hosny, then Egypt’s minister of culture, Henein spent almost a decade (from 1989 to 1998) restoring the Great Sphinx of Giza. In January 2014 the self-funded Adam Henein Museum opened its doors in Cairo with all the artist’s work donated for the collection. The images on these pages were photographed by Amina Zaher on the museum’s grounds. “Adam was keen to keep the architectural form of the museum simple and not overwhelming,” remembers El Magdoub. Collaborating closely with art director Onsi Abu Seif on the gallery display that includes groups of works – as if they were installations – Henein wanted the different pieces to be in dialogue with the building and each other. “I once wrote about Adam the following,” says El Magdoub, ‘Just as he is a sculptor, he is also sculpted, like all the values in Egypt that he was born and raised in.’”
Born in 1929 in Cairo, Henein was first called Samuel before converting to Islam and changing his name to Adam to be able to marry his wife. He used to wander among metal studios in Haret el-Yahoud, observing the work of craftsmen, including his father, who made him appreciate the beauty in simple things and objects at a young age, even as he already excelled in drawing. Henein’s first encounter with sculpture took place when he was only eight years old, during a school visit to the Egyptian Museum – an experience that left an indelible mark, leading Henein to dedicate his entire life to this discipline and passion.
As written in the book Adam Henein edited by Mona Khazindar, the artist said: “I met the director of Antiquities, a Frenchman by the name of Etienne Drioton. He noted with pleasure my interest and my frequent visits to the museum, and gave me an encyclopedia in which there were reproductions of statues in wood, in stone, and in jewels, going back to the oldest eras. Those black-and-white engravings, printed with an elegance whose secret seems to have been lost today, had a considerable influence on my life… When I look back on that exceptional moment, I find myself wishing for the return of that event, aspiring to relive that instant when I learned to see.”
In the early 1950s, Henein started to train as a sculptor at the Cairo Faculty of Fine Arts and had the opportunity, at the end of that same decade, to spend a year and a half in Munich thanks to a government scholarship, where he approached Western European art and society. According to El Magdoub, two other moments were key in Henein’s career: “At the beginning of the 60s, Adam and his wife left Cairo for southern Egypt. They lived in the city of Aswan and toured between Luxor and Nubia for several years. This was an essential experience in his life. Then in the early 70s they moved to Paris and lived there for 20 years.”
Henein originally planned to stay in Paris for only one year and then move to Mexico (which he didn’t); however, it was here that painting and drawing became part of his practice. But sculpture always remained at the center of everything he did and the best way for him to express his thoughts and observations. “In fact, since that visit to the Cairo Museum, I have never ceased doing sculptures,” said Henein in his book. “As an elementary school pupil, and then as a secondary school student, I already considered myself a sculptor.” While always curious about other cultures and artistic experiences even when living abroad, Henein never left behind his own identity and interest for the Arab world. On the contrary, his origins constantly nurtured his art and he came back to his country permanently in 1996. “He was a contemplator of life and nature with all its components – of things, living beings, and humans,” says El Magdoub.
Originally published in the January 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Yasmine Eissa
Makeup and hair: Agneszka Hoscilo
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