To see the Pyramids of Giza is to travel through time. Whether one experiences the monuments in person through the natural lens of the eye, or virtually through a digital lens, it is undeniable that the perspectives of the people of ancient Egyptian civilization directly influence the lens of the present. This is central to the significance of the Art D’Égypte ‘Forever Is Now’ exhibition at the Pyramids of Giza, and is precisely why Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, founder of Art D’Égypte, developed the global platform as a means for people to understand that the future of humanity is being sculpted now, in real-time, by the perspectives of the present.
“Our mission is to democratize art. We are mainly working on big public projects or public installations and that is why we go into heritage sites,” says Abdel Ghaffar. The group of international artists that Abdel Ghaffar and Art D’Égypte’s curatorial board selected for this second edition of ‘Forever Is Now,’ are celebrated not only for their art, but also for their commitment to this mission they share with Abdel Ghaffar. Strategically positioned throughout the vast Giza Plateau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are the original works of artists Therese Antoine, Natalie Clark, Mohammad Alfaraj, Emilio Ferro, Zeinab AlHashemi, JR, Ahmed Karaly, Liter of Light, eL Seed, SpY, Pascale Marthine Tayou, and Jwan Yosef. By design, each work stimulates a unique visual conversation with the three Pyramids of Giza and beckons the viewer to transcend present time and wander through an exploration of the potential of humanity, of one’s own potential, bound only by the contours of the mind. “Literally the artists become the vernacular, they become a guide, the translator, the gateway between the people of today, and this ancient civilization,” says Abdel Ghaffar. With ‘Forever Is Now’ aligned with Cop27, several of the artists’ works address climate change through themes of sustainability and social impact.
It took the ancient Egyptians over twenty year to build the Pyramids of Giza, but in only five years, Abdel Ghaffar and her small team, most of whom are women, built an empire that can withstand the shifting sands of society. “We started in 2017 at the Egyptian Museum, then Manial Palace, then Al Muizz Street. And now the Necropolis,” says Abdel Ghaffar. “We’re really happy that this is taking place again, now under the auspices of the Ministry of Antiquities that has been supporting us from day one,” she adds. As a multi-disciplinary firm, Art D’Égypte also conducts year-round outreach programs and leads CIAD, the Cairo International Art District, which exhibited the works of 100 Egyptian artists this year. “This is really important to have the people who don’t have access to go and see art, to be part of it,“ says artist Therese Antoine who, like Abdel Ghaffar, hails from Alexandria.
Her belief that “art should be accessible for all,” and desire to cultivate pride among Egyptians for their own arts and culture, fuel Abdel Ghaffar’s unrelenting drive. “What keeps me going is the result. We see the result in the people,” she says. Abdel Ghaffar describes how at last year’s inaugural edition of ‘Forever Is Now,’ the infamous carriage drivers at the Pyramids of Giza voluntarily learned about the artists and even acted as impromptu guides for visitors. “The changes that happened in the society itself, in the people themselves, this for me is priceless,” says Abdel Ghaffar.
Abdel Ghaffar is already dreaming big for what is on Art D’Égypte’s horizon. “Culturvator is a global brand that we launched because we believe that we would like to replicate what we have done in Egypt in the rest of the world.” And with HE Noura Al Kaabi of the UAE Ministry of Culture as a global cultural partner this year, Art D’Égypte is poised to expand throughout the region. “I truly believe that together we are stronger,” says Abdel Ghaffar.
Visitors may embark on their journey through the exhibition carrying a sense of personal identity or heritage, yet they will depart the experience feeling fluent in the artistic ‘languages’ of the artists. “The symbolism of the pyramid and the artwork is to have this conversation,” says eL Seed. “There’s a certain truth that artists tell because I think a lot of the artists tap into their own storytelling, their own visual language,” adds Emirati artist Zeinab AlHashemi. British-American artist Natalie Clark agrees, “this diversity of ‘language’ and perspective is a primary source of the exhibition’s power. Public art, at its most successful, creates its own language, a universal language.”
JR: Inside Out Giza
In this era of “the society of the selfie,” as French artist JR describes it, the phenomenon of identity built by the ego creates distorted realities that are out of proportion, out of touch with what is beyond oneself. “In the time when they built the Pyramids, they were building something greater than them, for the common interest and for the future civilization. And I don’t think we’re building anything for the future of our civilization,” he adds. His work ‘Inside Out Giza,’ a pyramid-shaped photobooth that prints participants’ portraits within minutes, is a gratifying playful take on this idea that “the pyramid of today that we will build is a look into our own self.”
Jwan Yosef: Vital Sands
In his work ‘Vital Sands,’ Syrian-Swedish artist Jwan Yosef amplifies self-portraiture in a way that conjures a “monumental intimacy” within the viewer. From the sand emerge larger-than-life abstractions of Yosef’s chin, lips, and nose, sculpted from the same Galala limestone ancient Egyptians used to cover the Pyramids of Giza. “Even though this is a deeply personal self portrait where in many ways ‘the artist is present,’ it is also a way for you to reflect yourself onto these sand dunes.” Tapping into human instinct to discover the world through touch, the work invites the viewer to do exactly that – to touch the stone facial features and to wonder what else may be buried in the sand beneath one’s feet. “I’m offering you as a viewer the idea of you imagining yourself excavating this piece out,” says Yosef.
Mohammad Alfaraj: Guardians of the Well
For Saudi artist Mohammad Alfaraj, intimacy is grounded in one’s relationship with the natural environment. He challenged himself to use only existing materials from communities in Egypt to create ‘Guardians of the Well.’ “I absolutely rely on this idea of use and reuse,” he says. The work is an oasis in the desert, rich with detail and nuance, and is a continuation of his series ‘Thirst.’ Metal pipes sourced from abandoned wells transform into wind flutes, and delicate palm fronds assemble into the form of a ribcage of a fossil. In the expansive environment of the Giza Plateau, his work speaks to the quiet moments that draw one in to listen, observe, and absorb. “It’s not just the object and material, it’s also the stories and the people that you meet, the energy, the feeling, and the connection,” says Alfaraj.
eL Seed: Secrets of Time
Tunisian-French artist eL Seed is known well in Egypt for his acclaimed 2016 work ‘Perception,’ which illuminates the stories of the Manshiyat Nasr neighborhood of Cairo, home to a community that is in many ways invisible. He returns to the city that is so close to his heart to create a new labor of love, ‘Secret of Time,’ for one of the world’s most visible and recognized sites – the Pyramids of Giza. “I wanted to celebrate and capture the history and the greatness of Egypt as a civilization in a certain way. And being in front of the pyramid, I couldn’t find a better spot,” he says. Featuring the words of the late Egyptian writer Radwa Ashour, “Time doesn’t disclose its secrets to humanity,” the work offers a new perspective of the Pyramids yet plays with the element of mystery around them that survives to this day. “I want to invite the viewers into this kind of discovery of the pyramid, but through a calligraphy gate,” he adds.
Zeinab AlHashemi: Camoulflage 1.618: The Unfinished Obelisk
For Zeinab AlHashemi, there is truth in the questions that linger unanswered. A continuation of her series ‘Camoulflage,’ her new work ‘Camoulflage 1.618: The Unfinished Obelisk’ refers to the Unfinished Obelisk of Aswan, which rests horizontally in an ancient stone quarry, forever suspended in a permanent unfinished state. “I try to understand how as civilizations and as human beings, how much have we repeated history in different places, different levels of understanding, whether it was in art, in architecture, in religion.” she says. Covered partially by camel hides, with the top of the metal structure remaining exposed, the work resembles a modern building mid-construction.
Emilio Ferro: Portal of Light
“Remember tradition and push forward to the future,” says Italian artist Emilio Ferro. A spectacular homage to the mathematical genius of ancient Egyptian civilization, ‘Portal of Light’ reveals secrets in the alignment of the Pyramids of Giza. A beam of light slices through the night sky to illuminate the invisible line that follows the cardinal points of the three Pyramids. It ushers the viewer along a metal line in the sand to pass through a portal. The physical structure ends, but the mind continues into the void of darkness as the light vanishes. The work also features a sound score Ferro created using recordings of the wind at the site.
SpY: Orb: Under The Same Sun
Hidden within the design of ‘Orb: Under The Same Sun,’ by Spanish artist SpY, are references to ‘pi’ and the geometry of the Pyramids of Giza. But like the Pyramids, what catches the eye and stirs awe in the viewer are the “multiple fragmented reflection” of the surroundings, the sky and clouds, even the viewer themselves, in the orb’s surface of mirrors. “Mirrors held much symbolism in ancient Egypt, particularly solar symbols, by reflecting the sun rays and magically showing the images captured as true ‘microcosms of the sun,’” says SpY.
Natalie Clark: Spirit of Hathor
‘Spirit of Hathor,’ the work of artist Natalie Clark, honors the power of the divine feminine as expressed through bold steel interlocking horns that represent Goddess Hathor’s horns cradling the sun. It is a balanced aesthetic of razor sharp edges and sensuous curves. She recalls the mystical moment during installation at the Giza Plateau when she was blessed with a sign from the divine. As the setting sun descended in the sky, it passed through the pinnacle of the horns – the exact position she had designed the Carrara marble sun disc to be placed.
Therese Antoine: Pantheons of Deities
‘Pantheons of Deities’ highlights the symbols of five major ancient Egyptian deities: Ra, Horus, Osiris, Hathor and Maat through rose hued sculptures that echo the fleeting shades of dusk. With Ra in the center, five columns serve as pedestals for the symbols and form a spacious sundial in the sand. As if summoned to a ritual, one’s feet are compelled to weave through the space, circle the perimeter, absorb the energy, and warp time to witness the shifting shadows.
Pascale Marthine Tayou: Dreams of Gizeh
Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou’s work ‘Dreams in Gizeh,’ also invokes good omens of the divine with its plethora of colorful ‘cosmic eggs,’ symbols of birth. Inspired by a dream, there is a sense of the fantastical and unrestrained imagination.
Ahmed Karaly: A Pyramid In Other Vocabularies
If Egyptians were to build the Pyramids today, what does one imagine they would look like? This is the question Egyptian artist Ahmed Karaly posed to his own imagination to create ‘A Pyramid In Other Vocabularies.’ If someone is going to do this, who better than an Egyptian himself, “It’s my place I should create art here,” he exclaims. “Your culture should be continued, you can’t import it. It’s here, start from your heritage,” he adds.
Liter of Light
Graced by his mother with the Aztec Inca name Illac, meaning ‘God of Light,’ it is as though Illac Diaz’s destiny to create Liter of Light was written in the stars before the Pyramids of Giza even existed. Liter of Light is an ambitious undertaking to build solar lights by hand, specifically the hands of 600 students in Egypt and 600 students in the Emirates who constructed the circuits, and 200 UNESCO women artisans from Safi, Morocco who made the pottery containers – a sustainable alternative to plastic. After the exhibition, Liter of Light will then distribute these solar lights to energy poor communities down the Nile and throughout Egypt. Perhaps it is also no coincidence that the shape of a pyramid is the basis of the project’s “bottom up” approach to energy, which Diaz says is growing in the region. But his true passion is for the women and students who participate in the project to understand they have the power to create change now. “The greater artwork is to inspire these young people,” says Diaz.