Egypt has always been the cultural heart of the Arab world and the recent regional art revival has shown that the country still sets the standard for arts and culture in the region.
While the Gulf countries are seeing massive cultural development prompted by generous government initiatives and a seemingly endless supply of funding, Egypt’s artistic renaissance is homegrown: local art lovers are taking the initiative to open innovative galleries to showcase the country’s talented up-and-coming artists and raise awareness about the rich art scene that has thrived largely under the radar thus far.
Recent high-profile auctions of Egyptian contemporary art in Dubai and London, along with the expansion of galleries and art initiatives like the Cairo Biennale, on now at the Opera House, have attracted growing interest in local art both within Egypt and internationally.
The recent presence of Sotheby’s in Egypt, represented by consultant to the prestigious auction house’s London office Mai Eldib, is proof of the rising interest in, and demand for, Egyptian art of all stripes.
An Alexandria native, Eldib worked in the Sotheby’s New York office before moving back home to work as a consultant serving and developing the company’s client base in Egypt and traveling between Cairo and Alexandria taking the pulse of the local art scene.
As part of the Arab and Iranian department at Sotheby’s London, Eldib is helping to provide a place for Egyptian art on the international level in London — a prime platform for global collectors.
A recent sale of Arab and Iranian contemporary art — including works by modern masters Mahmoud Said, Seif and Adham Wanly and Abdel-Hadi El-Gazzar along with other pieces by a younger generation of Egyptian artists like Huda Lutfi and Chant Avedessian held in October — attests to the appetite for Egyptian works among international collectors. Every piece put up for auction was sold, with many achieving the high-end of their estimated sale price.
Given that most modern masters of Arab art are Egyptians, it comes as no surprise that works by Mahmoud Said and his contemporaries would be snatched up at such sales.
“Great works of art from great collectors will always do well at auction. Egyptian modern works are the standard and have always been in demand internationally,” Eldib explains.
“Of course, when a certain painter achieves a record sale at auction that will garner more interest in other art coming out of the region, but for an artist like Said or the Wanly brothers or Abdel-Hadi El-Gazzar it is about their work, not where they come from,” she continued.
Nevertheless, interest in new artists from the region is undoubtedly on the up, and new local galleries are stepping in to offer support for new artists and help bring them to the attention of international collectors, who, in turn, are eager to receive them.
“Collectors love discovering new artists, learning about them and making a personal connection with the works and with the artist and buying and collecting new pieces; the interest in Arab art at the moment is a result of an increased focus on the region, but this does not mean it will be a passing trend,” Eldib explained.
As international collectors learn more about Arab art, art lovers closer to home also seem freshly eager to own a piece of local culture, reviving a long-standing Egyptian tradition of art appreciation, patronage and collection, embodied in famous local collectors like Mahmoud Khalil.
“Egyptians are keen to buy Egyptian art because it represents their heritage and they have a unique connection to it. Young Egyptians are driving the local contemporary art market, connecting with artists of their own generation as their parents and grandparents did with their generations before them,” noted Eldib.
All of this activity in the local art scene has culminated in a growing international platform and increased global attention, evidenced by Sotheby’s presence in Egypt and this can only be a positive sign for young artists as they work to get their art recognized and gain the patronage they need to grow and succeed on the international stage.
For Eldib, the private sector and its galleries and patronage will be integral to the ongoing vibrancy of Egypt’s art scene. She believes that the quality of local artists remains high and that the potential for future growth in the local art scene is promising. International interest, she expects, will expand as well as more and more regional artists come to the forefront of the global art scene.
“Egypt has a long history and was the center of the 20th century Arab art movement. Today’s expansion of galleries, museums and art events reflects Egypt’s ongoing centrality to regional art and that is why Sotheby’s is pleased to be here helping these artists achieve a global platform in London and helping local and international collectors learn more about the exciting work coming out of the region,” Eldib concluded.
Chant Avedissian: Lot 36- Chant Avedissian- Umm Kalthoum, signed and dated Cairo 2007 and dedicated For Marshall on the reverse, gouache, gold and silver paint on cardboard, 50 by 69 cm.
Lara Baladi: Lot 38- Lara Baladi, Sandouk El Dounia, digital print mounted on aluminium with Plexiglas face, executed in 2001, this work is from an edition of 6, Each: 232.7 by 96.4cm.; 91 5/8 by 38in. Overall: 232.7 by 289cm.; 91 5/8 by 113 3/4 in.
Huda Lutfi: Lot 60- Huda Lutfi, Democracy Is Coming, acrylic and collage on paper, 35 by 45cm.; 13 3/4 by 17 3/4 in, executed in 2008.