A destination for frazzled Cairenes looking for a more relaxed pace accompanied by a fresh sea breeze and great seafood, Alexandria is often overlooked as a destination for art lovers.
This is unfortunate, as Alexandria, and in particular it’s famed Bibliotheca Alexandrina, have a lot to offer in the way of cultural enrichment — from modern art, to astronomy, to Arab folk art.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a stunning piece of modern architecture, but also a surprisingly high-tech, efficient and bustling center of learning.
Students from the nearby campus of Alexandria University mix with tourists and locals paying a visit to the amazing space, the Middle East’s largest library.
But the library has much to offer aside from books; visitors will be surprised at the high quality exhibitions, well-stocked bookstore, and packed calendar of events on offer each month.
In Cairo, a museum outing is synonymous with massive crowds and frustrating unannounced closures, not to mention the fact that appreciation of more than one era or genre of art at a time often requires tedious cross-city treks through a maze of traffic jams.
In Alexandria, the permanent collections at the library offer a satisfying sample of some of Egypt’s most exciting art collections, along with carefully-curated displays of fascinating pieces from the country’s heritage. The current exhibition on the Bulaq Press features old printing presses and samples of printed material along with explanation of the press’s past and present significance in Egyptian publishing.
Also exhibited is a collection of Arab folk art, which includes paintings by Abdel-Ghani Abul-Enein, as well as a fascinating display of costumes and jewelry from across the Arab world — lovingly collected by the artist and his wife, Reaya El-Nimr. A retrospective of pioneering calligraphy artist Mohamed Ibrahim highlights the achievements of the artist and his brother Ibrahim, who dedicated their lives to documenting and preserving the art form.
The library’s modern art exhibitions are a truly excellent collection of the works of Egypt’s modern masters. Visitors can view the works of Abdel-Salam Eid, a diverse collection spanning different work in different media, along with samples from the work of celebrated Egyptian painters Hamed Saeed and Hassan Soliman.
Surprisingly contemporary are the paintings of brothers Seif and Adham Wanli, Alexandrian artists and intellectuals with a unique style emphasizing quick brush strokes and strong expressiveness. Favorite themes included theatrical scenes, folkloric dance, and the circus, but the library collection contains quirky works depicting sports scenes — tennis, soccer, boxing and cycling — that go well beyond the traditional themes of Egyptian art.
The sculpture collection is also impressive. Works by Ahmed Abdel-Wahab explore Egyptian subjects spanning everything from Akhenaton to the Egyptian female face, utilizing an array of stone, pottery, and bronze. A series of sculptures entitled “Egyptian Girl” is carved in fine detail and evocative of the country’s famed and distinctive facial features.
The work of Adam Henin, ranging from statues of contemplated donkeys to abstract drawings on papyrus, is in prominent display at the library, whose collection spans the diverse stages of the artist’s development and offers ample examples of the vast array of media and subject matter Henin draws upon in his work.
Another painter-sculptor, Mohie-Eldin Hussein, is also featured in the collection. Hussein’s creative use of color, form, and experimentation with ancient and contemporary ceramic techniques revolutionized the ceramic arts movement in Egypt, while his vibrant paintings explore modern takes on the planes of the human face.
An afternoon contemplating these exhibitions at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is an afternoon well spent: The quality of both the works themselves and the curation is extraordinary, restorative, and well worth the trip.
Adam Henin’s sculptures are exhibited at the library.