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Art d’Égypte Founder Nadine Abdel Ghaffar on Bringing Contemporary Artists to the Pyramids of Giza for ‘Forever is Now II’

After the first edition’s international success, Forever Is Now II by Art d’Égypte brings the works of contemporary artists from opposite ends of the world to the Great Pyramids of Giza to celebrate past, present, and future.

Nadine Abdel Ghaffar. Photo: Louay Nasser

For centuries, they stood tall, almighty, and mysterious. They spoke of humanity’s extended capabilities and unrestricted ambitions. Studied extensively, gazed at lovingly, and portrayed eloquently – they have been the subject of countless bodies of work. Eras passed and their charm never ceased to beguile. After lifetimes of the Great Pyramids of Giza being the subject of one-sided narratives, one day, one woman initiated a new conversation. Guided by her well-informed knowledge of their grandeur and anchored by her admiration, Nadine Abdel Ghaffar sought to invite the world to an unprecedented experience. A dialogue between the past and the present, an art-fueled meeting point bridging isolated moments in time.

Photo: Louay Nasser

Art d’Égypte’s Forever is Now contemporary art exhibition launched last year to tremendous praise from international figures such as Angelina Jolie, Pharrell Williams, Darren Aronofsky, and Angela Missoni. This year’s Forever is Now II made its return between October 27 and November 30. The event invited 12 acclaimed international and regional contemporary artists to use their large-scale, site-specific artworks to communicate with the oldest and the only remaining wonder of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Therese Antoine (Egypt), Natalie Clark (USA, Spain), Mohammed Al Faraj (Saudi Arabia), Emilio Ferro (Italy), Zeinab Al Hashemi (UAE), JR (France), Ahmed Karaly (Egypt), Liter of Light (Globally), eL Seed (Tunisia), SpY (Spain), Pascale Marthine Tayou (Cameroon) and Jwan Yosef (Syria, Sweden) gave visitors the chance to experience meaningful art. The participating artists chose to shed light on sustainability. Building on ancient Egypt’s interpretation of nature as a divine force – embodied and protected by the powerful gods – the artists created statements about the connections between nature, inheritance, and technology using natural and industrial materials. The second edition was made memorable due to a series of informational talks as well as Art d’Égypte’s partnership with Meta, which allowed visitors the chance to use AR filters as augmented visual guides, buy tokens, and even attend the event virtually.

Photo: Hesham Al Saifi

“The artist is here to interpret this civilization in the language of today. In a form of expression that does not necessarily confine itself to a certain spoken language,” founder Abdel Ghaffar says with contagious passion. “Many people should be able to exhibit their art at this amazing world heritage site. It gives hope to people knowing that these monuments are still here and have survived. This is something that reassures me; it is maybe why I like living in Egypt because I feel so rooted, it gives me stability and a sense of security. I think that it does the same for so many other people.” The French-Egyptian curator, art consultant, and cultural ambassador is a multi-talented professional who is no stranger to awards and acknowledgment. A woman determined to help preserve her country’s heritage and export its splendor to an international audience, it was not long ago that Abdel Ghaffar’s ideas were perceived as unorthodox and met with rejection. Guided by her passion, the journey to where she stands today was always inevitable.

eL Seed. Photo: AFP

Born and raised in Alexandria, Abdel Ghaffar’s childhood was shaped by her French mother’s profession as an archeologist and her strong ties with Alexandria’s culture scene, counting several art scholars and collectors as family friends. With trips to excavation sites being the material of her core memories as a child, the connoisseur learned from her mother the art of showcasing her country’s bequest at an early age. “A lot of my parents’ friends would come from abroad and my mom would take them on cultural trips. I believe having exposure to both cultures allowed me to fully grasp the beauty of Egypt, maybe more than those who are fully Egyptian. It also helped me learn how to showcase it in a way that would be appreciated by an international audience,” says Abdel Ghaffar warmly.

Photo: MO4

It was not long until the young girl grew to become an art advisor, helping people to build their collections. When she moved to Cairo, her calling started to formulate, leading her to Art d’Égypte. “One of the places that is very close to my heart is the Egyptian Museum, inaugurated in 1952 and designed by French architect Marcel Dourgnon,” Abdel Ghaffar shares. “In 2016, I had this crazy idea. Using my network of collectors from around the world, I thought that I could create something completely out of the box. A platform that can fuse the contemporary with the heritage; the old with the new.” Met with instant rejection from the archeological scene, Abdel Ghaffar was keen on executing her vision to exhibit the works of Egyptian contemporary artists among the artifacts on permanent display. Her argument was built upon the fact that contemporary art does not compare to Ancient Egyptian heritage, instead, it represents a lineage of influence. “All Egyptian artists are really influenced by their heritage. If anything, it does not just transcend to Egyptian artists, but all artists around the world. Yet, I had to phase it, take one step at a time.” Abdel Ghaffar’s breakthrough became a possibility when Dr Khaled Al-Anani, minister of antiquities at the time, chose to support Eternal Light at the Egyptian Museum, an interactive exhibition held in Cairo in 2017. “We decided to create a public-private relationship under the auspices of the Ministry of Antiquities. I managed to invite collectors from around the world to come to Tahrir at night. It was amazing that people flew in from around the world. It hit global news. As a matter of fact, until this very day, people still talk and write about it. Using this event as a launchpad, we started developing our concept.” With her list of supporters encompassing the most instrumental voices in the art scene such as Sultan Al Qassemi, Sawiris Foundation, Samih Sawiris, and the iconic archeologist Zahi Hawass, Art d’Égypte started cementing itself as a noteworthy platform.

Zeinab Al Hashemi. Photo: Hesham Al Saifi

Following a series of successful events, culminating in Nothing Vanishes, Everything Transforms at the Manial Palace (2018) and Reimagined Narratives at four sites on Al-Mu’izz Street in Historic Cairo, a Unesco World Heritage site (2019) – Abdel Ghaffar extended her platform’s spectrum by inviting international artists to participate in the annual exhibitions. Emboldened by the growing global attention and by the fervent interest conveyed by acclaimed artists, in 2020 the art maven started paving the way for Forever Is Now. With the great pyramids as her backdrop and international artists serving as articulate moderators, the event brought Art d’Égypte’s mission to fruition. “I believe the reason behind this success and the fact that 500 000 visitors physically visited the exhibition in two weeks was because people – including locals that came from all over the country – felt a connection to their heritage. Some even translated that into songs and dance routines around the artworks,” says Abdel Ghaffar proudly. The second edition was met with even more enthusiasm from local and regional audiences.

Jwan Yosef. Photo: Courtesy of artist

With a Unesco patronage and the French government’s Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres under her belt, Abdel Ghaffar’s pace is far from slowing down. Already immersed in her next big move, the entrepreneur is working towards launching a new global brand. Culturvator is a multi-disciplinary platform that seeks to collaborate with private and public entities to activate spaces for cultural promotion across diverse creative disciplines. “We believe that we have managed to create a case study that we would like to replicate in different places across the region and beyond. Culturvator is an accumulation of many different disciplines, spanning visual arts and film, heritage, design, and music. We have the know-how when it comes to education, programming of art guides, cultural trips, and more,” says Abdel Ghaffar. “I am overwhelmed, touched, and humbled that leaders from around the world are with us and supporting us and I think this is beautiful. The more we stand together, the stronger we are as a region. I believe you cannot play alone; you must have other players with you to march forward. If we stand together, we will be quite strong.”

Therese Antoine. Photo: MO4

Originally published in the December 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia

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