What did we Inherit as Arabs?
The lighthouse of Alexandria was built aroung 300-280 BC on an island off the coast of Alexandria. It was over 100 meters tall and is the most recent of the seven of wonders of the world. The lighthouse was destroyed by an earthquake in the thirteenth century.
What is the name of the island where the lighthouse was built?
One of the most distinguished mathematicians in the medieval tradition of Arabic Islamic science, al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham became known in Europe in the thirteenth century as the author of a monumental book on optics—the mathematical theory of vision. The eleventh-century scholar offered a new solution to the problem of vision, combining experimental investigations of the behavior of light with inventive geometrical proofs.
In which Arab country was Ibn al-Haytham born?
Copts is the term used to describe the Christians of Egypt. Although Egypt is predominantly Muslim now, it celebrates a strong history of religions beginning with ancient Egyptian religion, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Today standing monuments and living traditions indicate this deep history.
The word Copt itself is a big indication to how deep and far Christianity goes in Egypt. It is derived from the Arabic word Qubti, which is an Arabization derived from the Greek word Agyptos, meaning Egypt. There’s also a Coptic language written with letters from the greek alphabet and symbols from the Demotic script which is a development of the late Egyptian language. It is still used today in chanting and in ceremonies in churches.
Today visiting Old Cairo is also visiting Coptic history. It is easily reached by underground and descending in the station of Mar Girgis or Saint George. It encompasses the Babylon Fortress, the Ben Ezra Synagogue, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church, and many others. The area was a stronghold for christianity in Egypt until the Islamic era, although most of the churches in coptic Cairo were built after the Muslim conquest.
The most celebrated aspects however of the Christian religion- wether by Muslims or christians, is the Holy Family. The Holy Family fled into Egypt from Herod and today many churches are located on their trails and hiding spots throughout Egypt especially south of Cairo. There are also many moulids, or local celebrations of Christian Saints, that are held and attended by both Christians and Muslims.
Although there may be many conflicts between Christians and Muslims today, they are mostly generated by economic and political differences and least of which are caused by religion. Many Muslims endear and love the Virgin Mary and Jesus (or Eissa in Arabic) as they are celebrated and praised in the Quran. There’s a whole chapter in the Quran called ‘surat Mariam’ or the chapter of Mary, in which the story of her birth, upbringing, bravery and sufferance are narrated. It is not therefore surprising that many Muslim girls are called Mariam. Jesus, or Eissa peace be on him, is also celebrated as a loving and gentle prophet and is referred to as ‘the word of God’, as he was conceived without a father but by one word ordering his existence by God.
Zeinab el Seginy
Hitting the art scene in Cairo is quite exciting, especially in Zamalek . The area is alive with restaurants, bookshops and stores. We meandered a little bit in the Diwan bookshop where there are all kinds of books and objects to buy and a nice place to sit. Then we strolled down Brazil street, where there are a few galleries one right after the other. We started at the Safar Khan, a small space with two levels and as I found out one of the more popular galleries. Down the road to the right was the Zamalek Art Gallery. It’s a two apartment gallery right on top of ‘Mix and Match’. They had an exhibition for artist Zeinab el- Seginy. Her subjects are Egyptian women and children. I found out by speaking with the artist that she likes to paint scenes from the life of Egyptian women and children. Her women are often in a local setting or doing an everyday activity like eating together on a table or bathing a child. May favourite was that of a little girl sitting on top of a hill and starring far away. She also includes symbolic cultural items in her paintings, such as pigeons and fish. In many ways her subjects are similar to those of Impressionist artist Mary Cassat, who also only painted women and children. What I loved the most, however, is the simplicity of her lines. Her compositions are are not crowded with many figures or lines and her colors are clear and bright. As simple as her lines are, there’s a very modern and sophisticated edge to her work. I later found out that she is one of Egypt’s top artists; as are many members of her family, the most famous of which are her husband, el Nasshar, and her Uncle, who taught her how to paint, Gamal el Seginy.
Mahmoud Mokhtar (1891-1918)
As an Egyptian, when I see his statues I know they had been done by an Egyptian. No one else in the world could sculpt the sphinx and the fallaha (Arabic term for Egyptian peasant woman) and capture the Egyptian national spirit with such simple and sophisticated lines. No wonder Egypt Awakening is a national symbol today.
There’s probably not a single Egyptian who haven’t heard of Timthal Nahdit Masr, (the Statue of Egypt Awakening) located in front of the bridge leading to Cairo University. And who haven’t seen the statue of Saad Zaghlool, the leader of the Wafd Party, in Alexandria. His statues are in public display around Cairo and Alex and it is generally agreed that his impact on modern Egyptian art, specifically sculpture, is as colossal as his statues. Mahmoud Mokhatar, may have died early, however, his work remains a national symbol until today and recognized by all Egyptians.
Modern Egyptian Art and Artists
الفن المصري الحديث
‘What seems certain in any event is that those two factors-attachment to traditions and a strong system of hierarchical power-have led the Egyptian people, including their artists...to identify with their leaders’’ Lilian Karnouk on analyzing contemporary Egyptian art
I have often wondered about the art movement in Egypt and the break way from the traditional either Islamic or classic art. Who were the forerunners who established the basis of Egyptian modern art today and what were they inspired by? Their works are known, some are displayed all around Cairo, like Mokhtar’s statues- but more than the visuals, I knew very little.
From visiting art galleries, to doing a bit of reading and researching, I started a quest to find out a little bit more about the subject. I found that art produced since the time of the 1952 revolution speaks of changes in Egyptian cultural and political history. From the unveiling of women portrayed in Mokhtar’s monument Egyptian Awakening and the overthrow of the monarchy and British power, portrayed in Hamed Oeis’s The Soldier and Gamal el Siguiny’s Freedom, Egyptian art speaks not only of Egyptian culture but of the Egyptian spirit that is the drive behind its history.
Egyptian women during that period undoubtedly distinguished themselves as artists and political activists as well. When Huda Sha’rawy, in protest, removed her veil in public in 1923, she signaled the beginning of a feminist movement that was a repeated theme in many art works and that was joined by many female artists- of the most distinguished of them was Inji Aflatoon. Known for her radical feminist views, her personal painting style, as seen by many art critics, was mostly developed in prison. Many exceptional artists still distinguish themselves today in the Egyptian art movement and many still record our cultural history in exceptional ways.
In the coming entries, meet Egyptian artists who have set the flagpoles of modern Egyptian art.