Art Consultancy CulturVator Is Merging the Ancient with the Contemporary to Put Egyptian Art on the Map - The World News

Art Consultancy CulturVator Is Merging the Ancient with the Contemporary to Put Egyptian Art on the Map

Later this month, the Acropolis Museum and The Lemon Tree & Co. Athens-Riviera will host a unique exhibition, “A Tale of Two Cities.” The exhibition, the first half of which runs until July 16, spotlights millennia-old historical and cultural links between Athens and the Egyptian city of Alexandria, where the second half of the exhibition will be hosted at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and Graeco-Roman Museum in October.

The exhibition, historical and contemporary in equal measure, is typical of its organizer, the French Egyptian curator and art adviser Nadine Abdel Ghaffar. Nearly 10 years ago, Ghaffar founded the art consultancy Art D’Egypte to solve a problem: contemporary Egyptian art has long struggled to gain the same kind of international recognition as its wealth of historic artifacts and monumental archaeological landmarks. Rather than try to escape the historical, Ghaffar instead decided to merge with it, developing high-profile exhibitions that leverage iconic sites like the Great Pyramids of Giza as a backdrop to create a dialogue between the historical and the contemporary.

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The mummified remains of several people lined up.

“The whole idea is to go away from the white cube to have meaningful pairings with heritage or the space we’re in,” Ghaffar told ARTnews. “It’s a cultural platform. My view is that you cannot separate heritage from art, from music, from theater, from cinema, from design. It’s all intertwined.”

Art D’Egypte’s most notable series is the recurring “Forever Is Now” exhibition, which held its third edition last November. Staged on the Giza Plateau, the exhibition featured large-scale sculptures and installations from 14 artists, many of whom drew inspiration from the location. For example, Saudi Arabian artist Rashed Al Shashai, whose works have appeared in the 2021 Diryah Biennale and multiple editions of the Noor Riyadh light festival, created the site-specific installation, Translucent Pyramid, a 20-foot-tall pyramid constructed from wicker crates. Egyptian artist Mohamed Banawy, meanwhile, contributed As Above, So Below (Dome of Starry Sky), the 30-foot-tall installation of starfish-shape sculptures mounted on rods, referring to an ancient Egyptian text.

Mohamed Banawy’s As Above, So Below (Dome of Starry Sky), at the “Forever Is Now” exhibition in Giza, Egypt.

Courtesy of CulturVator

In 2022 Ghaffar launched CulturVator as an evolution of Art D’Égypte. While Art D’Égypte focuses on local art, the larger brand, CulturVator, focuses on a broader cultural scope to include art, cinema, fashion, and international projects, as with “A Tale of Two Cities.” That exhibition will feature seven artists at the Acropolis Museum and five at the Lemon Tree restaurant in Athens. The Acropolis Museum will showcase three Greek artists and four Egyptian artists, primarily from Alexandria. Meanwhile, the Lemon Tree, with an iconic sister restaurant in Egypt, will display works exclusively by Egyptian artists. The lineup includes notable names such as Costas Varotsos, Danae Stratou, Omar Toussoun, Said Badr, and Karim El Hayawan.

“As a Greek artist, I see this exhibition as a creative dialogue between two ancient hubs of culture and intellect,” Dionysios Ka, whose work appeared in last November’s “Forever Is Now” show and will appear in the upcoming exhibition, told ARTnews. “By bridging these two cities, Nadine is managing to reunite the rich historical ties—celebrating the intertwined narratives and inviting viewers to reflect on the enduring legacy of these vibrant cities.”

At the heart of CulturVator’s work is a deep respect for history and its preservation. For “Forever Is Now”, a bed of sand 50 centimeters thick was laid down before placing any artwork at the Giza site in order to protect the underlying historical ground. For the 2017 exhibition “Eternal Light: Something Old, Something New” at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, Ghaffar paired more than a dozen contemporary artworks with the museum’s ancient artifacts to draw out their connections. She also collaborated with Azza Fahmy Jewellery to curate a specific protective box to showcase the jewelry of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the 19th-century leader of Egypt, and his daughter, the first time the items were displayed to guests. CulturVator/Art D’Égypte and its outreach have even operated under UNESCO patronage for its “protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expression.”

An installation shot from CulturVator’s “If the Walls Could Talk” exhibition at Cairo’s Salah El-Din Citadel, one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

Courtesy of CulturVator

The mission to preserve cultural heritage has become only more vital as urban development threatens historic sites. In recent years, the rapid transformation of Cairo has led to numerous ancient tombs, cemeteries, and other historical landmarks being leveled for new developments and roadways. Since 2020, for example, the Egyptian government has progressively demolished the historic City of the Dead mausoleum, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Those efforts have continued over the last year. Meanwhile, in January, the government demolished the iconic contemporary arts center Darb 1718, located in the Fustat neighborhood, to make way for an elevated highway. The neighborhood, much of which has since been demolished, was known as the home of Cairo’s last traditional craftspeople.

“You don’t live for yourself,” Ghaffar said, adding that from a young age she was raised with a community-focused mindset. “You’re out there in the universe to do things for others.”

Through Art D’Egypte and CulturVator, Ghaffar has worked to create a virtuous ecosystem, employing hundreds of workers to build out the exhibitions, as well horse-and-carriage drivers to guide visitors on art tours. According to Ghaffar, the organization’s mission of promoting Egypt has led to such workers taking pride in their contributions to the exhibition, becoming friends with the exhibiting artists, and learning the stories of the artworks to teach visitors. This community-first ethos is perhaps best expressed by the fact that CulturVator’s exhibitions open with a public opening; private VIP showings come in the later days.

Ghaffar’s initiatives have boosted art-centric tourism, drawing international visitors who attend specifically for the events she organizes. More than a thousand VIPs traveled to visit her “Forever Is Now” exhibition, according to the organization.

Mohamed Awad, an architectural historian and a consultant to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, told ARTnews that “Nadine’s cultural manifestations bring Egyptian art to our contemporary culture. The motto is: proud of being Egyptian.”

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