CAIRO: Located on the second floor of Alexandrina’s Bibliotheca, a well-presented exhibition documents the life and work of Chadi Abdel Salam, (1930-1986) an Egyptian film director and producer, but perhaps most well known for his set and costume design.
Chadi worked intensely to create costumes that were as historically accurate as possible, allowing each film to portray the lifestyle and image of what ancient Egypt would have been like. Each costume for every actor on set would be detailed in an intricate and often beautiful sketch; colours in watercolour and accurate depictions of the actor’s features would allow stitching and preparation of the material to be precise.
The exhibit clearly pieces together his meticulous interpretation of the ancient cultures and historical lifestyle present in Egypt 4,000 years ago, bringing to life the modern understanding of an important period of history. Of this, Chadi Abdel Salam famously said: “We must form a link between the past and the present Egyptian in order to obtain the Egyptian of tomorrow. This I believe is my cause.
He ensured that each film set and costume replicating ancient Egyptian design in fine detail. His sketches and watercolour paintings of Egyptian costumes and designs are more detailed and intricate than the materials he ordered for the actors and actresses that played the roles on screen. Ensuring accuracy and filming on location meant that his films held the mysticism and atmosphere required to replicate events in Ancient Egypt on screen.
The central element to the exhibit is a like-life reconstruction of Abdel Salam’s living room, stocked with books and a working fireplace, inviting the viewer to step inside his humble abode, envisaging how his intense research process for each film would have taken place.
To the corner of the living room, Abdel Salam’s life is laid out in a montage of photographs, depicting his military service, his relationship with his brother, famous actors, actresses and directors that he worked with, documenting his lifestyle and leading the viewer through his childhood and into late adult life. A timeline is helpfully provided alongside to match the photographs through each stage of Chadi’s life.
Abdel Salam directed “Al-Mumiaa (The Night of Counting the Years) which later won the Outstanding Film of the Year in London’s Film Festival in 1969 – authentic posters from the time are framed and carefully displayed in the exhibit, as are billboard advertisements for “The Pharaoh (1965).
Abdel Salam’s films are intensely stylised, dark and very unique. The exhibit documents his working process, how such unique films were produced and the artistic integrity that he maintained on set. “The World of Chadi Abdel Salam remains an interesting and adept insight into one of Egypt’s greatest directors.