Where old meets new

Creating a dialogue rather than a contest between the country’s glorious antiquities and its contemporary art scene lies at the heart of everything Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, founder of Art D’Égypte, sets out to do, as she explains to Miriam Dunn 

While its glorious ancient monuments, antiquities and artefacts are legendary worldwide, Egypt is also home to an impressive contemporary art scene, which enjoys a thoroughly deserved place in the country’s rich cultural narrative.

Many of us, whether tourists or art afficionados, would assume that these wonderful displays of ingenuity and creativity spanning the centuries are best viewed in standalone form. However, Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, the founder and general manager of local platform and art consultancy Art D’Égypte, thought differently. In a groundbreaking move she decided to do away with the ‘either/or’ approach and instead explore ways of showcasing Egypt’s old cultural riches and latest artworks side by side.

“My thinking was that artists painting today aren’t in competition with the pyramids, so we should be looking at creating a dialogue between the two rather than a contest,” she said. “I was also convinced that juxtaposing the 4,500-year-old architectural wonders with today’s art would help to highlight the fact that they form part of the same journey, representing a continuing transcendence from the ancient to the contemporary.” 

Despite being both challenging and far-reaching, Nadine’s vision became a successful reality in 2017, when Art D’Égypte hosted its inaugural show, titled ‘Eternal Light’, at the Egyptian Museum. Since then, the team has never looked back, with its fourth and most ambitious project to date, ‘Forever is Now’, set to take place in October 2021.

Given her background, it’s not surprising that Nadine is so passionate about marrying Egypt’s old treasures to its contemporary art. Born and raised in Alexandria, she grew up in a household surrounded by art and where Egypt’s legendary archaeological treasures were championed. “My mum was an avid collector, which definitely influenced me,” she explained. “I also became very aware of Egypt’s rich history and the need to preserve our heritage, especially in Alexandria, where the city’s treasures were at very real risk of disappearing.” 

Her passion for all things art-related took Nadine to the Central Saint Martins College of Art in London and, after completing her studies there, she soon began organising exhibitions aimed at promoting Egyptian art in her homeland and Dubai. Establishing Art D’Égypte in 2017 was undoubtedly a natural next step for Nadine, whose commitment to raising the profile of the country’s contemporary art scene and cultural heritage has brought her several accolades, including the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a place on Egypt’s list of Top 50 Most Influential Women, produced under the auspices of the Prime Minister. 

Another of Art D’Égypte’s key aims is to make art more inclusive, with a particular focus on involving the younger generations. “The youth of today will be the gatekeepers of our heritage tomorrow, so it’s really important that we ensure they understand the value of our ancient relics and feel passionate enough to safeguard them,” she said. 

With this in mind, Nadine and her team chose the historic al-Mu’izz as one of the four locations for the ‘Reimagined Narratives’ project, setting out to foster links between the art world and the community and create a mutually beneficial synergy. To achieve their aim of “taking art beyond intimidating white spaces and out amongst the people”, the team came up with several initiatives that included workshops and interactive local projects, organised in collaboration with UNESCO, that were free of charge and open to the public. “We also wanted to send out a message to visitors that Egypt has a lot of energy and is a safe, welcoming destination,” she added. 

Those principles remain at the heart of Art D’Égypte’s forthcoming landmark ‘Forever is Now’ project. A truly groundbreaking exhibition, ‘Forever is Now’ will be set on the Giza Plateau, marking the first time in its history that this wonderful space will be used to showcase anything other than its own iconic monuments. In another first, international artists have been invited to take part in the show, which has been co-curated by the independent curator Simon Watson and received the support of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNESCO. 

There are many reasons why the chosen setting, which is home to the sole remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is significant, ranging from the profound influence of ancient Egypt on artists over the centuries to the incredible hieroglyphics housed there. For Nadine, the concept of art perpetually moving through the passage of time remains at the core of this project, as in the others she has created.

“Whether practised by ancient Egyptians or by contemporary artists, art permits one generation to bear witness to the present and speak to the next,” she said. “It is an unrelenting undertaking that reflects humankind’s enduring talent for creating works that inspire the imagination and reveal the wonder of humanity itself, its tenacity and, through the arts, its unity.” 

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