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An artist on an intercultural mission

Mohamed Abla draws international artists to his Fayoum art center A 4-wheel drive would help maneuver the unpaved narrow lanes to Fayoum’s International Art Center tucked away in the hillside village of Tunis on Lake Qaroun. It is as unlikely a place as any to attract artists from the region, Europe and as far away …


Mohamed Abla draws international artists to his Fayoum art center

A 4-wheel drive would help maneuver the unpaved narrow lanes to Fayoum’s International Art Center tucked away in the hillside village of Tunis on Lake Qaroun.

It is as unlikely a place as any to attract artists from the region, Europe and as far away as Canada. As breathtaking as the natural scenery is, what draws them to Fayoum is the center’s founder, Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla.

“It’s an opportunity for artists from different countries to exchange ideas, Abla said. But it’s a simplistic explanation of what drove him to create the center. His laid back attitude disguises that he is an artist on a mission.

“I welcome anyone who wants to communicate, he said. “I [want to] create a dialogue between civilizations. He wants to disprove “that Huntington book he added, referring to “The Clash of Civilizations.

“The most important thing in life is for people to understand each other, and make an effort to do so.

Having traveled extensively for the past 25 years – showing his work in Europe and the US and teaching at the International Summer Academy in Salzburg, Austria – he’s come to the same conclusion as many others that have mingled with the international community: Foreigners have very little understanding about Egypt.

Through cultural exchange, Abla hopes to remedy that by bringing them to Fayoum, to live among “ordinary people.

For some – even our close neighbors – it’s quite a culture shock. The young Jordanian university students hadn’t expected such “rustic – to put it kindly – accommodations at the local guesthouse.

Graphic arts student Heba El Hadid, 20, visited the center upon the recommendation of her professor at the University of Jordan. She wasn’t prepared for the shock she got from the poor facilities of her room, she said, “We don’t even have our own bathroom.

“All in all, we’re having fun and doing our best, she added almost stoically.

Her fellow student, Muhanad Torman, when asked why he decided to come to Fayoum responded, “To do something new.

Other artists from Sweden, Spain and Germany were among the visitors. Though a few were off to explore Cairo and nearby Wadi Rayyan, the center was off to an encouraging start mere weeks after its opening.

Mahmuda Ali, a Canadian artist from Edmonton, came to the center primarily because of Abla, having been his student at the Salzburg Summer Academy. She was in the region and decided to hop on over.

“I hope to become more playful, more spontaneous in my work, Ali explained. Her figurative drawings always contain a political and feminist context. “I want my storytelling to become looser and freer.

Canvas paintings and prints leaning against the walls of the central room, Abla’s own style is proof that art can have a message, and still be fun. “Art has to create happiness and hope, he asserted.

“Life is depressing enough. Art has to alter life. Underneath a large bird sculpted from recycled tin hanging from the domed ceiling, Abla sat on the handmade cane chairs, with one foot on the floor and the other on the chair.

The exchange is mutual. The free and open dialogue is also an opportunity for the Egyptian artists that take part to broaden their thinking as well. He nonchalantly states that this is a way to save Egypt from succumbing to “fanaticism.

“I see people going to Hajj [pilgrimage] and building a mosque. I’m not going to build a mosque, he said. His statement is more matter-of-fact than cynical.

The art center is his contribution, his dream. Visitors only have to pay for their travel expenses and accommodation, which isn’t too costly given the available lodgings. Everything else is free.

Abla has invested his own money into creating the center, and when he has more he’s thinking of building on-site rooms and possibly planting some vegetables. Currently one of Cairo’s most respected and established artists, some of his work fetching up to LE 70,000, it’s likely that the center will flourish.

Across from the light, airy studio for the artists, the main structure reflects the casual atmosphere with its simplicity and openness. The view of the plush green plantations leading down to the lake, and the contrast of the arid desert-scape on the farther side, makes it hard to believe it is only an hour outside of Cairo.

It is peaceful, except for the surprisingly loud “mooing of the buffalo.

Visitors are welcome, though preferably on the weekends when they won’t interrupt any of the resident artists at work. The only entrance fee he asks is a book or a magazine to contribute to the center’s library.

“It’s the beginning of something beautiful, Abla said proudly.

Fayoum International Art CenterTunis Village, Fayoum on Lake QarounWinteracademy.ablamuseum@gmail.com

Topics: Gamma Islamiya

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